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The Hockey News' 2018-19 Season Preview: Detroit Red Wings

The torch has been passed in Detroit as the Red Wings begin the post-Zetterberg era. How will one of the most successful organizations of the modern era manage in their first season without a franchise great?

The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.

Stanley Cup odds: 90-1

Key Additions: Thomas Vanek, LW; Jonathan Bernier, G; Harri Sateri, G

Key Departures: Xavier Ouellet, D; David Booth, LW; Ben Street, C

DET-1

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
For optimistic fans in Detroit, there are two acceptable scenarios when it comes to the Red Wings in 2018-19. The first would be that this lineup surprises the hockey world and squeaks into the post-season. This would give Detroit’s young players a taste of the pressure of a playoff race and the experience of competing when the stakes and levels of play are both dramatically raised. The other way to go would be for the Wings to embrace the fact they’re not even close to being a playoff team and finish low enough in the standings to give themselves another high draft selection with which they can select an elite talent.

The latter is the more likely scenario, particularly as Henrik Zetterberg is unfit to play and will be placed on long-term injured reserve for the final three years of his contract. That isn't the worst thing in the world from the Wings’ perspective, since it forces them to turn the page rather than trying to be a contender just to appease one of their all-time great players. The Wings could have each of their past four first-round draft picks in the lineup this season, and the learning curve will be steep.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
The most disastrous thing for this team would be that the veteran players overachieve to the point where the Wings aren’t good enough to make the post-season and aren’t bad enough to get another top-10 draft pick. It’s more important than ever that Detroit stays the course with this rebuild. The last thing they need is to be flirting with a playoff spot at the trade deadline. That might prompt GM Ken Holland to make moves that would compromise the future and perhaps give the Wings the illusion they’re better than they actually are. And there’s a chance that could happen, given that Holland went out and signed Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier as free agents and re-signed defenseman Mike Green. That’s a lot of NHL experience.

There is absolutely no way a group of players or coaches will ever embrace the concept of tanking because they are simply too proud and have too much personally invested in the effort. If you’re going to tank, it has to be orchestrated by management, and there’s concern Holland, who has gone on the record saying he would never tank, has made his lineup not near good nor bad enough to get out of no-man’s land.

BURNING QUESTION
How will the Red Wings fare as they begin the post-Zetterberg era?
Zetterberg was one of the last vestiges of Detroit’s modern success, a leader who helped guide the Red Wings to the 2008 Stanley Cup with an outstanding playoff performance. Back injuries have caught up to Zetterberg, though, and he’s made the difficult decision to call it a career despite three years remaining on his contract. The torch has now been effectively passed to Dylan Larkin, who will be expected to lead the attack and become the new cornerstone in Detroit.

Thankfully, Larkin appears ready for the task. He had a career year in 2017-18, posting 63 points in 82 games. And if his goal-scoring touch can ever catch up to his blazing speed, Larkin could be a consistent 25-goal, 70-point player. Larkin is going to have help in the form of Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Gustav Nyquist. Filip Zadina, taken with the sixth pick in the draft, is also projected to go straight to the big club. He has all the makings of a future 30-goal scorer, and Hockeytown should be excited about what he can bring to the lineup this coming campaign.

THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 7th in the Atlantic Division. With Zetterberg, the Red Wings had a tough time getting out of the division basement. Without him, their chances of climbing the standings haven’t improved one bit. Detroit is in a period of transition, a rebuild, and chances are they’re headed for a bottom-five finish.

Want more Season Previews? The Hockey News has you covered. Click here.

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