The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Detroit Red Wings.
Stanley Cup odds: 70-1
Key additions: Trevor Daley, D
Key departures: Tomas Nosek, C
Will Mrazek reestablish himself as a capable No. 1 netminder?
The Red Wings have concerns on offense, where Dylan Larkin is looking to rebound, and on the blueline, where Detroit has yet to carve out a clear path forward, but the biggest worry is in goal. That’s because after a season in which goaltender Petr Mrazek was less than stellar, the Wings are left wondering if he has what it takes to be their goaltender of the future.
All the evidence we needed of that being the case came ahead of the expansion draft. Mrazek was left exposed for the Golden Knights’ taking, and even though Vegas passed on the netminder, a clear message was sent. Mrazek wasn’t good enough in 2016-17 and if he wants to be part of the future in Detroit, he better shape up. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to, though.
Yes, he had a .901 save percentage, the worst among any netminder to appear in at least half of his team’s games, but Mrazek’s potential didn’t disappear overnight. Of the 46 goaltenders to play at least 82 games between 2012-13 and 2015-16, Mrazek tied with the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby with a .920 SP, the eighth-best mark among qualifying goaltenders. Mrazek has shown the ability to be a top netminder before and Detroit desperately wants to see that out of him once again. If Mrazek steps up and proves himself, it could help the Red Wings take a step forward in their rebuild.
The 2016-17 campaign didn’t give the Red Wings much to hang their hats on. The offense was dreadful, the defense equally bad and, when the regular season closed, Detroit was outside the playoff picture for the first time since 1990. But a new year can bring some positives, and for that the Wings look to their next generation.
Larkin followed up his impressive 23-goal, 45-point rookie season with the dreaded sophomore slump, his goal total declining to 17 and point total dipping to 32. He’ll look to get back on track this season, but to do so, coach Jeff Blashill can’t be afraid of the 21-year-old making some mistakes along the way. Errors, either offensive or defensive, are the growing pains Larkin needs, and they stand to make him better down the line. Blashill will have to give that same leash to Andreas Athanasiou – should he sign – and Anthony Mantha as well, as they can be key cogs in a potentially resurgent offense. Pushing for the playoffs isn’t ideal for a franchise in need of restocking the cupboards with high draft choices, so what more can Detroit ask for than glimpses of a brighter future?
The Red Wings are faced with a conundrum unique to teams in need of a roster refresh. Detroit wants to see improvement from individuals, most notably the young forwards who can make up the team’s future core, but, as counterintuitive as it may seem, the Wings’ goal shouldn’t be challenging for a playoff spot this season. Prior to last June’s draft, it had been more than 25 years since Detroit had a top-10 pick, and though draft steals and late-round gems have helped the Wings remain competitive in the past, the prospect pool has dried up significantly. Detroit’s patient development model hasn’t produced enough talent to keep the team in the hunt, leading to the end of its quarter-century playoff streak and a bleak future for one of the sport’s most storied franchises.
No team is going to throw games, and that’s not what’s being suggested, but Detroit must realize this isn’t the time to try and spark another playoff streak. Fighting for the post-season and coming up just short only stands to put the Wings in the middle of the draft pack, missing out on potential cornerstone prospects that can carry the next generation.
THN’s PREDICTION: 8th in Atlantic. It’s more likely the Red Wings end up with a top-five pick than a playoff berth. For what it’s worth, bringing in Trevor Daley helps the blueline, but there are far too many holes both up front and on the back end to expect much in Detroit.