The NHL trade deadline is finally in the rearview mirror, and the Detroit Red Wings are in the enviable position of having to decide how to best incorporate the 2 new players they acquired into their lineup.
On Sunday night the Wings picked up winger Erik Cole from the Dallas Stars, and Monday they obtained defenseman Marek Zidlicky from the New Jersey Devils. Neither player made it to Detroit yesterday, but both are expected to be available for practice today ahead of tomorrow night's game against the New York Rangers.
The Wings now need to figure out who Cole and Zidlicky are going to play with. While both players were acquired to add depth to the Wings' lineup, they are going to be counted on to contribute offensively and give Detroit another set of players that can score.
With the announcement that Darren Helm is going to be out 7-10 days with a strained oblique muscle and the potential return of Henrik Zetterberg combined with Teemu Pulkkinen being returned to Grand Rapids, Cole's spot seems to be set on Z's line, resulting in a lineup that will likely look like this:
However, the injury to Helm should get him back on the ice pretty soon, so some line shuffling will be necessary. In a perfect world where everyone is healthy (except Johan Franzen, who doesn't have a timetable to return), here's what the forward lines should look like:
It would be foolish to break up the top line that has been playing so well, and Cole has been playing with Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky for most of the year and used to top-6 minutes. Moving Jurco up with Sheahan and Abby gives the Wings a legitimate 3rd scoring line. The 4th line is comprised of 2 penalty killers and Weiss, who will still play on the power play. That would leave Andersson as the extra forward, while Pulkkinen will likely stay in Grand Rapids so he can get consistent ice time.
The defense is a little more straightforward. Alexey Marchenko is going to be out for 7-10 days due to an oblique strain (obliques are the new groins), so that removes a potential headache for Mike Babcock, who is going to have to find a way to get the best 6 defensemen on the ice. With Marchenko out and Kyle Quincey set to return, it's likely that Marchenko will be returned to Grand Rapids once he's healthy, so the pairings are probably going to look like this:
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Danny DeKeyser - Kyle Quincey
Brendan Smith - Marek Zidlicky
There are some out there who will want to see Zidlicky take Ericsson's place on the top pairing, but his foot speed isn't strong enough to have him out against the other team's top forwards, and the scouting reports on him are that he can be prone to making a big mistake. In Detroit, Zidlicky can be the veteran version of Marchenko, sheltered on the third pairing with Smith while getting power play time. Plus, Babcock is in love with that top pairing, and DDQ has been the most consistent duo for the Wings all season. Should there be an injury to anyone listed above, the Wings can either call up Marchenko or Xavier Ouellet, or go with Jakub Kindl, who didn't play terribly in his return from Grand Rapids.
It would not be a surprise to see different combinations used over the first few games while the Wings learn where best to use Cole and Zidlicky. We can only hope that whoever they play with, they gel immediately and the Wings never lose again.