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Detroit Red Wings Season Preview: The Defense

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last time we looked into the Red Wings’ forward lines for this season, it’s about time we all hold hands, take a deep breath and check out the defense too. Reader discretion is advised.

The First Pairing - “Your New Top Pairing Until 2020”

Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley will look to hold down the top pairing for the Red Wings similar to last year’s top pairing that saw Mike Green skating with DeKeyser. Daley’s profile is pretty similar to Green’s, he’s a smooth skater, likes to play in the offensive zone and will probably sit out roughly 10 games here and there due to injury. In those remaining games, expect him to contribute about 25-30 points.

I won’t go into too much analysis here on Trevor Daley as a player because it’d likely take the form of an article on its own. Fortunately, Peter did a fantastic job looking at Daley back when the Wings signed him and again just a few weeks ago.

You’ll notice that Peter mentions he thinks Daley’s best-suited for second pairing duties and a spot on the powerplay, both because he’s a real asset there and also because Niklas Kronwall shouldn’t play on the man advantage at this point in his career, two points I certainly agree with. That being said, I’m not crazy about keeping him on the first pairing, playing against what will probably be the toughest competition. He’s not quite the player Mike Green is, and Green by no means had the best season last year in this role.

And not for nothing, but he will turn 34 just four days into the Wings’ season. My big concern is the Wings just bought three years where Daley will get progressively worse every season and have no favors done for him in terms of deployment. Hopefully this first unit works out, but I think I’d still rather have Green here than Daley. Protect the guy you just invested three more years into, not the guy who should be trade bait at this year’s deadline. Also, here’s a friendly reminder the Red Wings have DeKeyser under contract through 2021-2022.

The Second Pairing - “#25 and #52 Finally Play Together”

Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green will take care of the second pairing to start the season. This should be interesting because these two haven’t played much together at all. So I’m not sure how this pairing will go, but I guess a lot of it depends on Ericsson’s health and confidence. And also whether or not Mike Green’s play starts to fall off this year.

Last season Ericsson got off to a decent start, but really seemed to hit the wall 25 or 30 games in. Back spasms kept him out of three games in December, and even though the Wings said it didn’t seem like a long-term issue, there’s a chance Ericsson had some nagging injuries he was playing through. A fractured wrist in February required surgery and ended his campaign, which had already taken a turn for the worst.

Visualization from

There’s not much way of telling, but it’s also interesting that right around the time he missed a few games in December, his partner on defense was changed from Alexey Marchenko to Xavier Ouellet. That could also have had something to do with his downward trend as the season drew on. Or, quite frankly, it could have just been that Ericsson didn’t have a good season last year and no defense partner or resistance to injury would have changed that. Either way, the Wings decided not to buy him out, so hopefully he bounces back a little. I will admit, I don’t think there’s much evidence a lot of players bounce back from a bad season at 33 years old. But we’ll see.

Green’s been a consistent point producer for the Wings and hasn’t hit the wall just yet, so of all the defensemen for Ericsson to skate with, perhaps Green is the best option. Or maybe the best option is to not play Jonathan Ericsson in your top-four in 2017. I think that’s it, actually.

The Third Pairing - “Six Players, Two Spots”

To kick things off, Jeff Blashill’s gone ahead and given the nod to Xavier Ouellet and Nick Jensen on the team’s third pairing. Depending on how long a leash each of these players has, there’s a decent chance we’ll see them swapped out in favor of Luke Witkowski, Niklas Kronwall and possibly Ryan Sproul and/or Robbie Russo at various points in the year. For now, Jensen and Ouellet are the team’s fifth and sixth guys but how long they keep those jobs is up in the air.

Jensen provided the Wings with a quick first step and decent transition game last season, something we lacked entirely outside of himself and Green. And while Ouellet wasn’t that impressive in the 66 games he found himself in, he was better than Sproul or Russo (both of whom will start the year in Grand Rapids) from what I saw and can certainly hold down the sixth spot on defense.

Being honest though, I don’t know for how much longer the team is going to cling to this group of defensemen. None have really impressed other than Jensen. And there’s a talented crop of defensemen knocking on the door behind them. Between Hicketts (who had a stellar preseason and should absolutely be on this roster), Hronek and Saarijärvi, you’ve got higher ceilings than any of the previous group possess right now.

I could honestly watch this clip of Hicketts leveling two Leafs over and over again.

Thanks to user Torontomapleleafs951 for the video.

The previous group is by no means finished with their development, but Ouellet’s the youngest and he turned 24 over the summer. Jensen is 27. At some point you’ve either got to earn your spot outright or get passed over in favor of someone else. This is the year where we’ll see whether or not Jensen and Ouellet can nab a spot. They’re not the ones keeping Hicketts off this team, but they will be the ones he’s going to replace should he get a shot this year.

Ultimately, it’s clear the defense is going to hamper the team from going very far this season. The forward corps is actually not half bad, and both goalies the Wings have it in them to keep the Wings in tight games. But the defenders are going to be the team’s biggest limitation. At least we can all take solace in the fact that help is on the way and in the meantime we can enjoy watching Joe Hicketts crush unsuspecting opponents in the AHL.