We are just two days away from the Montreal Canadiens first preseason action of the season, and training camp is well underway. That being said, we continue to count down the predicted finish of the Atlantic Division. All that remains to be unveiled is the top two, but before we take a look at the second place team, we will recap the bottom six thus far.
Now to take a look at the Detroit Red Wings, who will finish second overall in the Atlantic Division this season.
The Red Wings join the Eastern Conference for the upcoming season, which will drastically cut back on their travel schedule, and help them during the long 82 game season.
Detroit took some time early last season to adjust to life without Nicklas Lidstrom, but came on strong down the stretch and squeaked into the postseason as the 7th seed. They then went on to upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and had the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes with a three games to one series lead, before the Hawks battled back to take the series in overtime of game seven.
The Wings were led offensively once again by the dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The pair finished among the top fifteen scorers in the NHL last season. Johan Franzen also scored at nearly a 30 goal per year pace, with 14 goals in 41 games during the shortened season.
Detroit lost plenty of scoring when they waved goodbye to Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula via free agency, but they more than made up for it by bringing in proven veterans Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. Weiss had a down season last year due to injury, but is healthy now and ready to bounce back to his usual 20 goal and 50 point pace.
An added bonus of bringing in Weiss to handle second line center duties, is this will allow Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock to keep his two best offensive players, Zetterberg and Datsyuk together. No matter who lines up alongside the elite duo of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, they will form one of the best lines in hockey.
The Wings also have plenty of young offensive players that are slowly making a name for themselves in the NHL, and were the backbone of an AHL title in June. Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson have all proven themselves very capable at the AHL level, and Nyquist and Andersson got their first taste of NHL playoff action last season. The young trio will be in a constant battle with veterans Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo and Drew Miller for bottom six ice time.
The Wings took a big hit on their blue line when Nicklas Lidstrom retired a year ago, but they really came together as a group throughout the season. Niklas Kronwall elevated his game to the point where, by the end of the season, he was playing as good as any defender in the league. His 29 points were good for sixth most among all NHL defenders, and his penchant for throwing big hits made him feared on both sides of the puck.
Beyond Kronwall, it is not a group of big names, but Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser and Jakub Kindl can all play at a high level, and form an excellent core of defenders.
In net, Jimmy Howard slowly made his way through the Red Wings system after being drafted in 2003, but has become one of the NHL’s top goaltenders over the past two seasons. His goals against average, save percentage and win totals, were all good enough to finish in the top ten among NHL stoppers in 2013.
Behind Howard, the Wings have Jonas Gustavsson, who may be replaced by 21 year old Petr Mrazek, who led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup last season. It is likely that Mrazek will be given plenty of starts with Grand Rapids once again, and “the monster” will be Howards backup.
The current depth chart is a bit fuzzy up front for the Wings, but shakes out something like this right now:
Zetterberg – Datsyuk – Nyquist
Franzen – Weiss – Alfredsson
Cleary – Andersson – Tatar
Abdelkader – Helm – Bertuzzi
Ericsson – Kronwall
Smith – Quincey
Kindl – DeKeyser
Detroit has a veteran laden top six group of forwards, that have proven they can still get the job done, even under the travel heavy Western schedule. They have plenty of young forwards that are banging on the door looking for ice time, after leading the farm team to an AHL title months ago. They also have a great veteran presence in the bottom six to guide the youngsters along in Cleary, Helm and Bertuzzi.
The Red Wings also have a very underrated group of defenders whose names do not jump out at you, but they can certainly get the job done as a collective group.
In net, Howard continues to improve and really emerged as a great goalie over the past two seasons.
Combining all of these factors, the Detroit Red Wings have covered all the bases with great players at every position, and will not only continue their 22 year postseason run, they will challenge for the Atlantic Division title, and finish second in the new circuit.