Detroit Red Wings 2015-16 preview
COACH: Jeff Blashill
2014-15 RECORD: 43-25-14, 100 points (third in Atlantic, lost to Lightning, 4-3, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.82 goals-for per game (10th); 2.57 goals-against per game (15th); 23.8 power place pct. (2nd); 80.9 penalty kill pct. (17th); PDO: 100.4 (13th); Corsi For pct.: 53.5 (3rd); Fenwick For pct.: 52.0 (11th); face-off pct. 51.5 (10th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Henrik Zetterberg — Pavel Datsyuk (injured) — Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar — Brad Richards — Gustav Nyquist
Darren Helm (injured) — Riley Sheahan — Johan Franzen
Drew Miller — Luke Glendening — Landon Ferraro
Niklas Kronwall — Jonathan Ericsson
Danny Dekeyser (injured) — Mike Green
Kyle Quincey — Brendan Smith
Outlook: The Red Wings’ playoff streak could reach a quarter-century this season, but they’ll have to do it without the guiding force that has never failed to lead an aging, injury prone core to the postseason: Mike Babcock. The league’s most highly regarded coach departed Hockeytown for Toronto during the off-season, leaving Detroit after 10 playoff appearances and a Stanley Cup title. Babcock’s replacement, At 41, Jeff Blashill—a Detroit native—was promoted from Detroit’s AHL Grand Rapids affiliate and is only a few years older than several of the Wings’ top players. On Oct. 9, he’ll coach his first NHL game, against none other than Babcock and the Maple Leafs.
In the long term, Blashill’s job is ultimately to continue shepherding Detroit into a new era by ensuring the continued development of established youngsters like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, as well as high-potential prospects like Dylan Larkin and Teemu Pulkkinen. But while a solid group of young players points to a promising future, Detroit’s success this season will depend on the health of its veterans, particularly Pavel Datsyuk, 37, and Henrik Zetterberg, who will turn 35 on Oct. 9. The duo combined for just 90 regular season games in 2013-14, and while both players were healthier last season, injuries remain a serious concern. Johan Franzen returns after playing just 33 games last season due to head injuries—he only played 41 games in 2012-13 and 54 in 2013-14—and it’s unlikely he’ll be able to stay healthy for a full season. Datsyuk (ankle) will likely start the season injured—as will Darren Helm (concussion, shoulder) and Danny DeKeyser (foot)—but when he returns he’ll be paired with Zetterberg on Detroit’s top line.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk led the Wings in points with 66 and 65, respectively, last season, but Tatar, Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader also made big strides offensively. The Wings’ second line is set to improve this season with the acquisition of veteran center Brad Richards, who signed a one-year deal after helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Richards replaces Stephen Weiss, who never really found his game in Detroit. Mike Green, signed from Washington, fills a longstanding need for an offensive blue-liner. No Wings defender reached the 10-goal mark last season.
Goaltending is another big question. Last year, Jimmy Howard’s inconsistency led to Petr Mrazek starting in the postseason. Mrazek showed flashes of brilliance against the Lightning, nearly leading Detroit to an opening round victory over the eventual Eastern Conference champions. Both Howard and Mrazek are vying to start on opening night, and each will likely see substantial time between the pipes this season. So far this preseason, neither goaltender has emerged as a clear favorite to claim the starting job.
Detroit’s postseason streak is one of the most impressive active runs in sports, and there’s no reason why the Red Wings shouldn’t extend it this season. Detroit improved from 2013-14 to 2014-15, despite poor goaltending, and the Wings are arguably better personnel-wise this season. But don’t underestimate the impact Babcock’s departure could have on the franchise. At times over the last few years, it felt like his genius was the only thing keeping this veteran club in contention. Blashill has achieved success at every level, from college to the AHL, but if the Wings experience the injury problems of 2013-14 or the goaltending issues of last season, he could face a steep uphill climb toward a 25th consecutive postseason appearance.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tomas Tatar
While the Red Wings’ potential for success depends to a large extent on their veterans, whether the team can seriously contend for the Cup hinges on its younger players. Tatar, 24, took another huge leap last season, tallying 56 points, an increase of 17 from 2013-14, his first season as a Red Wings regular. He led the team with 29 goals and was one of five Wings to play in every regular season game. Expecting him to improve by the same degree this season is unrealistic considering the jump he just took, but Tatar has a chance to truly assert himself as a star player.
PREDICTION: 98 points, third in Atlantic