Red Wings 2015-16 Season Preview: Three Questions
The big SB Nation NHL preview asked three questions about the Red Wings. Here are the answers.
1. Does the Red Wings’ success depend more on the veterans or the youth?
This question is already the most difficult to answer because evaluating the potential contributions of individual players or groups of players — veterans and youth, in this instance — leads to millions of different combinations. But I choose to answer the question this way: The success of the Detroit Red Wings this season depends more on the growth of the youth.
The veterans aren't so much a question in and of themselves; the only question is how many games they'll end up playing. We're already seeing this play out in the form of Pavel Datsyuk missing the start of the season to injury. Despite playing in many more games than the previous season, how many games does Henrik Zetterberg stay healthy for? What happens to the health of Johan Franzen? Does Mike Green's groin become a constant flare up? How does Darren Helm respond after the training camp incident with Jerome Verrier?
The only question with the veterans is if they'll play, but when they play, they're locks to be big contributors. So that leaves the question of how much the youth contribute.
The Red Wings need the youth to grow to make it further than they have in recent seasons. For one reason, the vets are already more likely to be injured given their respective histories. So players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist will be more likely to play every game than Datsyuk or Zetterberg.
Second is that in order to to make it further than they have, the increased production is going to have to come from somewhere. Whether it comes from Teemu Pulkkinen or Tomas Jurco or Riley Sheahan or any of the wunderkids in Dylan Larkin or Anthony Mantha or Andreas Athanasiou, the Red Wings will need the youth to step up their contributions to take the team further along and make up for when the vets inevitably get hurt.
2. How different does the blue line look from opening night to the playoffs?
The simple answer is that the blue line shouldn't look that much different from opening night to the playoffs, without taking injuries into account. One of the biggest problems with the Detroit defense recently is that general manager Ken Holland hasn't positioned the team to make any sort of meaningful transition away from Nicklas Lidstrom to a younger core that will lead the way in the future. There's no replacing Lidstrom, but surely the Red Wings will have someone to anchor the blue line after Niklas Kronwall, right?
Right now, four defensemen will occupy roster spots with certainty: Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, and Mike Green. Ericsson, for all his flaws, isn't going anywhere because of his contract. DeKeyser is probably the best defenseman the Red Wings have after Kronwall, though Green could challenge for that title. And Green is the free agent signing every Red Wings fan is hoping pans out well.
There's little reason to think these four won't be on the roster come playoff time, so that leaves only the third pair to tinker with. It's possible head coach Jeff Blashill sees the decline Ericsson has undergone over the last few seasons and demotes him to the third pair while Kronwall gets a new partner. But assuming Kronwall-Ericsson remains as a pairing, the third pair can be populated with any of Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey, Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, Robbie Russo, or a trade deadline acquisition — and I may still have forgotten a name or two.
So to stick to just answering the question, the Red Wings blue line won't look significantly different from opening night to the playoffs, but it should be open season for the fifth, sixth, and seventh defenseman spots.
3. What can we expect from having Jeff Blashill at the helm?
The biggest change that's been talked about this offseason is that the defense would get involved in the offense more. That statement applies to all three zones, whether it's the defensemen getting the puck to the forwards and out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible, or defensemen skating the puck through the neutral zone when it's the best option for a given situation, or defensemen jumping into the rush or stepping up from their point positions when offensive opportunities present themselves. As a result, the Red Wings should be able to facilitate more of a transition game than they did through most of last season.
Both Mike Babcock and Blashill employ a lot of pace to their practices. But while Babcock employed pace more as a means of conditioning — practice fast, play fast — Blashill employs pace into the technical details of how they should play. Babcock's priorities, especially last season, lay in minimizing opponent's attempts at the Detroit net. Blashill so far is prioritizing puck movement, puck skills, and hockey IQ so that "pace" becomes a means of driving the puck to the opponent's net as soon as possible. Blashill isn't intentionally giving up more scoring opportunities against, but it's the natural consequence of striving to take more opportunities at the opponent's net.
Finally, the starkest difference between the two will be seen in how Blashill handles the players as individuals. Babcock fostered a very professional and business-like attitude around the locker room, so it created for some awkward moments when HBO's 24/7 cameras tried to get some interesting footage. Blashill has a built-in advantage of having coached so many of Detroit's players when they were in Grand Rapids. Even still, his natural tendency is to develop more of a personal relationship with each individual player. In that respect, he's regarded more as a "player's coach," but he still very much has the respect of the players.