The Red Wings enter the 2015-16 season with a new bench boss and the chance to extend their already remarkable streak of post-season appearances. The torch will continue to be passed from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to youngsters like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Mike Green’s impact on the blueline could also give Detroit a boost as they pursue yet another playoff berth.
2014-15 Record: 43-25-14 (100 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Atlantic Division
What To Expect: For the first time in a decade, the Wings have a new bench boss. Mike Babcock signed up to coach the Leafs for $50 million, giving Jeff Blashill the opportunity to make the jump from Grand Rapids to Detroit. The rookie coach adopts a veteran team with several youngsters he coached in the AHL, including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Petr Mrazek – all of whom Blashill led to a Calder Cup title in 2013. Shepherding the skilled group of young forwards are Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll be aided by UFA signing Brad Richards, fresh off a Stanley Cup in Chicago. He steps in as the second-line center.
Detroit’s ‘D’ lacked scoring punch, prompting GM Ken Holland to sign Mike Green. Holland’s UFA additions supplement the rising stars already in the mix. Even with a slight decline from the aging ‘Pav’ and ‘Z,’ the team’s depth and high-end skill will correspond with a rise in the standings. The league’s No. 10 offense will remain potent, but there’s concern about Zetterberg, who scored twice in his final 19 games, and Datsyuk, who had off-season ankle surgery and will miss the start of the season. Behind Kronwall’s 44 points and DeKeyser’s 31, few Wings D-men chipped in offensively. Green is an established power play producer whose 45 points would have led the blueline. Between the pipes, Mrazek usurped Jimmy Howard in the playoffs, so expect a spirited battle for the No. 1 gig. Jim Hiller, put in charge of the penalty kill last year, followed Babcock to Toronto. Tony Granato, the power play architect, stayed put. AHL sniper Teemu Pulkkinen scored 34 goals for Blashill’s Griffins last year, so perhaps he’ll now find his form playing for his former coach. The Wings hope a young D-man earns a spot in camp, between Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko. Babcock moves on but leaves behind a group that retains its identity. Detroit’s mix of skilled vets and a youth will make Blashill’s transition successful.
Best-Case Scenario: This is a transition season for the Wings, but that doesn’t mean the same thing for this organization as it means for others. Detroit is going to make the post-season and could still compete for the Stanley Cup, but the most likely scenario is they win one round or exit early. The young guns need a bit more seasoning before the real Cup run comes.
Worst-Case Scenario: Detroit fans won’t want to hear any of it, but they snuck into the post-season in 2014-15, so maybe this team could be primed to take a step backwards. It’s not likely, but the situation in goal and on their bottom defensive pairing isn’t shored up, which could mean another struggle to make the playoffs. The worst-case scenario is that the Wings don’t make it to their 25th straight post-season.
Who To Watch: The Wings have two players to watch: Mrazek and Howard. The goaltending competition in Detroit is going to be a heated one this season, with either netminder having the potential to take the starting role and run with it. Mrazek is the youngster who took the starting gig in the post-season away from the veteran Howard, but Blashill might choose to alternate netminders until he finds the hot hand to ride with. It’s a good problem for the Wings to have, but one that they’ll need to find a solution to. It’s worth wondering, too, if Howard could become expendable should Mrazek take the reins.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. Another year, another playoff berth for the Red Wings. It’s no guarantee, but the odds are on their side and they should remain one of the top teams in the East again this season. The Wings are loaded with depth up front and that’s the biggest reason they’re rated so high. Leading the way among the forwards is Pavel Datsyuk who seems to defy age, but has a hard time staying healthy. He’s the Wings best forward and his health is vital to their success. These projections assume everybody on the team plays all 82 games, but it’s already known that Datsyuk will miss some time after ankle surgery. Based on the rest of the lineup and who fills in, here’s how Detroit’s chances shake up depending on how long Datsyuk is out.
Obviously he’s not going to miss the whole season or anything more than half, but it does illustrate how important his presence is to the Red Wings. Datsyuk won’t be the top dog forever and that’s why it’s good to see the next wave of Red Wings rate well here. The rest of the group is talented enough that they should be able to fill in during Datsyuk’s absence. This could be a big season for Tomas Tatar who looks especially dangerous. On defense, Mike Green was an astute signing as he’s the Red Wings’ best on the back-end – even with his supposed defensive shortcomings. There’s no superstars, but it’s a capable group. And they’ll need to be just that in front of the two potential starters: an unproven Mrzaek and a declining Howard. Goaltending is the big x-factor for most teams, but it’ll be especially true for the Red Wings. As long as it doesn’t plummet, the Red Wings should be able to ride a deep forward corps back to the playoffs.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.