THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Second in Atlantic Division.
2013: 24-16-8. Seventh in West.
KEY DEPARTURES: Valtteri Filppula, Jan Mursak, Damien Brunner.
KEY ADDITIONS: Stephen Weiss, Daniel Alfredsson.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Pavel Datsyuk (71), Henrik Zetterberg (70), Johan Franzen (56).
PROS: With due respect to Sens cornerstone Daniel Alfredsson, the biggest transaction the Red Wings made this summer was the move that sent them out of the Central Division and mostly Western Conference games and into the new Atlantic Division and the Eastern time zone. The easier travel schedule – and more importantly, the Eastern conference teams that are believed by most to be weaker than those in the West – should be a boon to Detroit’s fortunes. That said, the free-agent signing of Alfredsson, a gamer hungering for his first Stanley Cup at age 40, also is going to improve the Red Wings’ odds of making the playoffs for the 23rd straight season. So too will the acquisition of former Panthers star center Stephen Weiss; injuries limited the 30-year-old to only 17 games last season, but Weiss is creative and, like Alfredsson, should flourish in a smaller role with the Wings. And the late-season signing of NCAA star blueliner Danny DeKeyser is looking to be a big plus for a Detroit defense that needs new blood; in 11 regular season games, the 23-year-old was playing like he’d been in the league for years.
CONS: The Wings no longer are the class of the Western Conference, squeaking into the playoffs last year by only two points in the standings. They don’t create a ton of offense (they tied for 19th in the NHL last season) and their special teams are merely average. They’re also one of the older teams in the league – indeed, their key stars at every position other than goalie are at least 30 years old, if not well into their mid-thirties. Because of that factor – and given how short an off-season all NHLers have had thanks to the lockout season’s wonky schedule – Detroit could easily find themselves bitten by the injury bug in places they won’t easily recover from.
X-FACTOR: Still recovering from the retirement of all-time great Nicklas Lidstrom, the development of Detroit’s young defense corps will be a key to watch this season. The back end started to solidify by playoff time with the ascension of Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith, so the promise is there. But these guys are still in their youth as NHL players and will have hiccups from time to time. Jonathan Ericsson still needs to bring more to the table. Niklas Kronwall has stepped up as a capable leader of the blueline – but how strong will the depth be over 82 games?
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: At least one of Detroit’s young forwards (Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson) brings way more to the table than anyone guesses – because that’s what Red Wings do.
ATLANTIC NO. 2: DETROIT RED WINGS