Will this be the year the Detroit Red Wings miss the playoffs? We preview their 2014-15 season and project a fifth place finish in the Atlantic Division – a placement that would leave them out of the post-season for the first time in 23 years.
Acquisitions: Andy Miele, Kevin Porter
Departures: David Legwand, Cory Emmerton, Daniel Alfredsson
Top five fantasy players: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen.
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: When the Red Wings limped out of the Olympic break last season, coach Mike Babcock vowed his team would get things back on the rails in time to make the playoffs. And that’s exactly what the team did, qualifying for the 23rd consecutive time.
But what made their run so compelling was that it was the not usual war horses who were responsible for the surge. Those guys were so badly banged up that the Red Wings had to make their run for the playoffs with an American League team disguised as an NHL outfit, and they did it. That’s a testament to the depth in their system and Babcock’s coaching ability.
Detroit can’t possibly lose as many key players for as lengthy periods as it did last season. When they’re healthy, the Red Wings represent a good combination of veteran star power and NHL-ready young players who have been brought along at just the right pace.
Bust: Where some see a veteran-laden group, others see a bunch of broken-down players who have far too much mileage on them to continue to be effective. The Red Wings have changed their approach to training to avoid the many injuries that led to a franchise-record 421 man games lost.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard came off a spectacular campaign in 2012-13 and took an enormous step backward last season. How he fares this year will go a long way towards determining the team’s fate. When healthy, the Red Wings have a very good core of centers, but this team lacks the size and strength at forward that is so important in the possession game that has, until recently, been their hallmark.
The franchise that once boasted the league’s best defense corps has endured its share of growing pains in that area, too. That’s in no small part due to the fact an organization that was once a premier destination for free agents did not attract a single free agent of note over the summer.
Bottom Line: We keep waiting for the Red Wings to falter and miss the playoffs, and they’ll keep us all on the edge of our seats this season. Once the standard bearer for all NHL franchises, the Wings have won just one playoff round the past three seasons and the fan base is growing impatient with GM Ken Holland. That Holland signed a four-year contract extension indicates ownership will allow him to see the franchise through its current rough patch.
Prospect To Watch: Last year, the Red Wings enjoyed a breakout performance from Gustav Nyquist in 57 games – can 2013 first-rounder Anthony Mantha be this year’s success story? The 20th overall pick was the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year last season, scoring at a goal per game pace in the regular season and playoffs. Watch for him to make a move in training camp – and if he doesn’t make the team in October, he’ll be one of the first to get the call when injuries inevitably hit this team.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Fifth in Atlantic Division
Contributors: Ken Campbell, Rory Boylen