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Atlantic Division Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What The Red Wings Did Last Year

  • Record: 41-30-11: 93 points
  • Atlantic Division Finish: 3rd Place
  • Goals For: 211 (23rd in the NHL)
  • Goals Against: 224 (17th in the NHL)
  • PP%/PK%: 18.8% (13th)/81.5% (14th)

Playoffs Result: First Round Loss (4-1) to the Tampa Bay Lightning

Record vs Conference:

East: 26-20-8 West: 15-10-3

Record vs Division:

Atlantic: 17-10-3

Metro: 9-10-5

Pacific: 8-4-2

Central: 7-6-1

Detroit’s Offseason

The Red Wings offseason was filled with a bit of change but no external additions to the defense. Darren Helm re-signed at the last minute to remain a Wing, when it looked like he may have been moving on. Detroit traded the contract of Pavel Datsyuk to the Arizona Coyotes to create cap space in unrestricted free agency. There ended up being no sweepstakes on July 1 for Steven Stamkos after he re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning which led to the most significant addition Detroit being Frans Nielsen. He signed a six year deal with a cap hit of $5.25 million a season. In his career Nielsen has scored at least 20 goals twice (25 in 2013-14, 20 in 2015-16) in his ten year career and averages 0.58 points per game. He scored a career high seven power play goals last season.

The Wings also signed forward Steve Ott for his toughness and forward Thomas Vanek, who was brought out by the Minnesota Wild. Detroit is expecting Ott to add some grit to the lineup while making them tougher to play against. As for Vanek, they are looking for a bounce back year and hoping he can contribute beyond the 18 and 21 goals he scored in each of his two seasons in the Twin Cities. They are also hoping that Vanek will also add some scoring on the power play while playing with new teammates and return close to his form while he was in Buffalo when he was a deadly threat up front.

What Can We Expect Them To Do This Year?

The biggest question first off is “Are the Red Wings serious that they didn’t improve the defense at all?” Nope. Not one bit. The defense has regressed the past two seasons at least to be kind. Logic says it will only get worse this season. The only possibilities it seems are for Ryan Sproul or more likely Xavier Ouellet to grab a roster spot and make an impact. I know you want one of them as the 7th defenseman and the other to replace Jonathan Ericsson!

The next Question is Jeff Blashill a better coach than last year? Losing Datsyuk doesn’t help Blashill improve as a coach obviously. He must be more creative with his lineups and can't be afraid to bench a veteran player for a younger one. He has lots of forwards to work with and hopefully he will use them wisely. Andreas Athanasiou is the first player to come to mind. Also, with all the forwards Blashill and general manager Ken Holland must make smart decisions on who stays and who goes when the time comes after the injury situation settles.

Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard are back in net. Mrazek needs to prove this year, despite how well he has done, that he can play great for a full season and avoid the end of the season before the playoffs lull we have seen the previous two seasons.

Special teams must improve to the standard Detroit coaches have preached for years, both the power play and penalty kill in the top ten. Has Detroit done enough to increase its goal scoring from the bottom seven in the NHL?

What happens if Dylan Larkin has the dreaded sophomore slump? That, is an even more important reason for Nielsen and Vanek to have good years. It makes the opposing defenses forced to spread out having to focus on both of them, along with Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

“You haven’t mentioned Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist yet” Yes. that is correct, both players had reduced icetime last season. Blashill has acknowledged they need more. The Red Wings need both Nyquist and Tatar closer to 30 goals than the high teens and lower 20’s.

One last question. Are the knee injuries to Niklas Kronwall and Zetterberg something to be worried about? The information we have heard in nope not at all. We are hearing that we should expect things to be fine for the season. However, with both players 35 you never know as sometimes these things have a way of becoming a longterm issue. Hopefully not, but something to keep in mind. The team needs these two more than ever, especially the defense which cannot afford any injuries.

Realistically up front if things go well and we all know how tough it is for that to happen in this league, but the Red Wings could add 30 plus goals on the team total from last season in the most optimistic of thinking. This would put Detroit in the top five in scoring based on last season’s numbers. The focus of these extra goals would be from an improved Nyquist and Tatar and the additions of Vanek and Nielsen. With Datsyuk scoring 16 goals last season. Unfortunately someone still needs to step up and do they little things that Datsyuk did, which led to others being successful on the ice as well.

Why Detroit Will Make The Playoffs

The Red Wings will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they do the following things; improve the special teams, win more in regulation (going to extra time hasn’t worked out well for the Red Wings the past few seasons) and reduce the shots against. Without singling out any specific player, goaltenders included those are the biggest keys. You will see below why I didn’t mention scoring as one of the keys.

The Red Wings went 22-13-6 last season at home and 19-17-5 on the road. For a team that has to fight to get into the playoffs, you want to be a few games over .500 on the road at worst. They gave up 29.7 shots per game and 2.67 goals allowed per game. Both in the middle of the pack.

If they can improve the powerplay, even a little those 11 games of overtime/shootout losses could mean the difference from being in or out, assuming that between 93-97 points on the lower end to squeak In. A few more powerplay goals especially at home could add the additional points needed from the overtime/shootout losses that get them in. As will a slight improvement on defense.

Those things can boost the record to 46-29-7 with 100 points, while having only one less regulation loss than last season but winning five more games, (hopefully in regulation) with an improved power play.

Why Detroit Won’t Make The Playoffs

The biggest reason the Red Wings will miss the playoffs would be Defense! Defense! Defense! There is only so much Mrazek and Howard can do and there is no reason to believe the defense will be improved. With the way the blueline is constructed, both have to be great every night or it will be a long season.

It won’t matter if the goal scoring increases or the power play improves. The defense has to find a way to limit shots against, limit odd man rushes, limit turnovers and give Mrazek and Howard a chance to see and stop the puck.