For the last 21 seasons, missing the playoffs has been something the Detroit Red Wings haven’t had to endure.
Now 23 years removed from their most recent snub from the postseason, the Red Wings have the task of fulfilling the high standards that Hockeytown fans demand.
But they will have to do it with a team that looks a whole lot different than it has in the last two decades.
They will have to beat out other playoff contending teams like Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Vancouver and others. And they’ll have to do it without the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler and Brad Stuart.
There is no Steve Yzerman on this new Red Wing team. You will not find Brendan Shanahan on the 2013 roster, nor will Sergei Federov win the Hart Trophy. Chris Osgood will not come out of retirement to make another game-saving stop to win the cup, and Kris Draper won’t lace up the skates to reunite the Grind Line.
This 2013 team will have to find a way to win without these NHL greats, and they’ll have to do it soon in this lockout-shortened season.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg will try to be the next great leader in Detroit, following the footsteps of Lidstrom and Yzerman; two of the best captains not only in Red Wings history, but in the history of hockey. I believe that Zetterberg has the determination to bring another Stanley Cup to Detroit, but does he have enough firepower beside him?
The talent of Detroit’s top six forwards is among the best in the league. With Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen, Detroit’s front six are formidable. With rookie Damien Brunner also making an impact on the Zetterberg line, the scoring and skating ability is there for Detroit’s top two lines.
Where the Wings lack is not at the front, but in the back.
The next two lines for Detroit have produced little to nothing, and not a single Red Wing outside the top six has a positive rating on the year. Injuries have played a role, that’s without a doubt, but injuries have played no factor in Justin Abdelkader’s -3 rating and zero points.
Jordin Tootoo has been the lone bright spot for Detroit’s bottom six, as his physical play and tenacity have sparked not only his line, but his entire team. Tootoo has
knocked people around, which I anticipated, but I didn’t anticipate him being such a good skater. He’s made an impact on this team in no time at all.
That’s more than can be said for anyone else in the bottom six.
And to make things worse for Detroit, their defense has been lackluster at best. Playing with a patchwork defense that has lost Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, and now Brendan Smith to injury this year, the Wings back line has looked very sketchy at times. Getting healthy will help, but if Niklas Kronwall continues to play foolish hockey and take penalties, Detroit will struggle to win. Kronwall plays far too aggressively, Kyle Quincey can barely skate, and many of the remaining defenders are inexperienced to say the least.
Detroit will need huge performances from young players Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl if they hope to make the playoffs.
Goaltending issues also plague the Wings. Jimmy Howard has proven himself to be a good goalie, but he can’t play all 48 games for Detroit. Thus far, Howard has started and finished every game, save the season-opening blowout in St. Louis in which Howard was pulled. Jonas Gustavsson was acquired in the offseason to ease the load on Howie’s shoulders, but he was injured while playing against the Blues. With no other experienced option, the Red Wings have had to turn to Howard in every game.
And the extensive playing time has shown in Howard’s play.
I’m not blaming Jimmy, but he’ll be the first to tell you that several pucks have gotten away from him in the last few games.
I’ll finally answer the question I asked in my headline.
The Red Wings have a great deal of talent, but while many Western Conference teams got better in the offseason (i.e. Minnesota), the Red Wings took a step backward.
Can Detroit make the playoffs? Sure they can. But to assume as much would be foolish, with parity in the NHL at an all-time high.
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Tuesday vs. Calgary: 7:30, FSD
Thursday @ St. Louis: 8:00, FSD
Saturday vs. Edmonton: 2:00, CBC, FSD
Sunday vs. Los Angeles: 12:30, NBC