Did Justin Abdelkader Just Give the Red Wings His Best Season?
You may read the title of this piece and think, "Why yes, uvgt2bkdnme, Justin Abdelkader did just have his best season for the Detroit Red Wings." After all, the former Michigan State Spartan sported career highs in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, power play goals, shots on goal, and shooting percentage for the 2014-15 Red Wings.
#8 / Forward / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 25, 1987
Back when J.J. recapped his season for our player grades, he gave him a well-deserved A for far-exceeding his production expectations, continuing to play his role on the forecheck well, and being the "surprise" he turned out to be on the Red Wings' transition game.
Can he do it again?
Keeping in mind that every individual NHL career is unique in the way it develops, it's still unavoidable that Abdelkader had a career season at age 27, a few years removed from the typical age that forward production peaks. In a small stroke of irony, he became a 20-goal, 40-point scorer in a year where the Art Ross winner didn't hit 90 points and only Alexander Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark. While it's possible, the probability of Abdelkader repeating — or even exceeding — this season's production isn't very high just based on the typical forward career scoring trajectory.
There's also the added monkey wrench of the Red Wings having a new head coach to consider. How will Jeff Blashill deploy Abdelkader? How will any system changes affect the players' offensive production? We've talked about the different way that Blashill uses his defensemen in the offensive zone, but will that affect the forwards — namely, one Justin Abdelkader — and their production at all? Most of these questions are still a bit premature to ask expecting any concrete answers, but it is a factor to consider in whether Abdelkader will come anywhere near his production from this season.
Entering this season, Abdelkader had a 6.6 percent shooting percentage, and that number includes his 10.4 percent mark from the shortened season where he scored 10 goals in 48 games for a 17-goal pace over a full season. While he set a career high for shots on goal with 154 and scored 23 goals on those opportunities. While I partially agree with J.J.'s assessment that, based on the games we watched and the opportunities Abdelkader missed on, his shooting percentage wasn't entirely a product of luck, he still shot more than two times his career shooting percentage. How can he expect to replicate that kind of production when it doesn't entirely correlate to the number of opportunities he and his teammates are generating?
If there's one saving grace for the potential for Abdelkader to produce as much as he did this season again, it's the power play. He's still the best net-front presence the Red Wings have for the man advantage, and he shouldn't lose that skill in one offseason. Abdelkader set a career high with eight power play goals this season, and depending on how successfully next year's power play point men can get pucks through to the net, Abdelkader's numbers might actually jump a bit on special teams.
These questions would be more pressing if Abdelkader were actually in a contract year and due for a raise this offseason. At that level of production, he would certainly have warranted a good raise from his current $1.8 million cap hit. But depending on how he performs next season, would you be comfortable giving him that raise if he matches his production from this season despite knowing the potential cliff Abdelkader's production might fall off? And if he doesn't match this season's numbers, does Ken Holland still offer him a reward in his next contract for his production from this past season in the hope that he can do it one more time?