Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 28, the Detroit Red Wings.
The last two seasons aside, the Detroit Red Wings have enjoyed a lot of success this century with two Stanley Cup wins and another Finals appearance. They finished first in their division each season for nearly a decade from 2000-2009 and only fell outside the top three once up to the 2016-17 season. There is a heavy price to pay for that kind of success as rich contracts must be passed around to keep a strong core together.
General Manager Ken Holland did a masterful job of prolonging the team’s run, but his loyalty eventually landed him on challenging times after handing out several rich contracts with lengthy term to players already in their 30s and past their prime. A recipe for disaster.
Now, Holland has been left with trying to pull off a magic act the past two seasons just to get the team down to the maximum salary cap level. The Red Wings navigated the cap limit last season with help from 38-year old Johan Franzen’s $3.95 million cap hit being moved to Long-Term Injured Reserve. Franzen has two years remaining on his contract so Holland will again benefit from this once the season begins. This move alone will get the Wings (barely) under the cap limit but it seems more relief is on the way as another name will soon be added to their LTiR.
Henrik Zetterberg has been one of the most durable players in the league over his 15-year career, but the long-time Red Wings captain may finally be forced to hang up his skates. Despite not missing a single game over the past three years, Zetterberg has dealt with back issues stemming back to the 2014 Olympics. He had surgery to help the problem at that time but felt pain again this February where it reached the point he was unable to practice between game days for the rest of the season.
Over the course of the summer, whispers of Zetterberg’s inability to train at his normal level and whether he would be able to continue his career at all loomed ahead of training camp, but that question became clearer earlier this week when Zetterberg told a Stockholm media outlet he is ruled out for camp and won’t be ready for the start of the season. Zetterberg, who turns 38 less than a week into the new season, does not want to rule out playing at some point this year but head coach Jeff Blashill said if Zetterberg does not pass his physical at the beginning of camp, he does not expect him to play at all this season.
The immediate impact on the Red Wings roster will be felt as their depth down the middle is in a transition phase, much like the rest of the lineup, and Blashill will have his hands full finding the right combination.
Record: 30-39-13 (73 points), 5th in Atlantic Division, 27th Overall
Playoffs: Missed by 24 points
After 39 seasons, the Red Wings closed the doors on the old Joe Louis Arena and began a new history in Little Caesars Arena last year. As beautiful as the new home is, the product on the ice was anything but. Detroit had the unfortunate combination of struggling to put the puck into their opponent’s net while keeping it out of their own. The offense scored just 217 goals (2.65 per game), 4th worst in the league with only Dylan Larkin topping the 60-point mark. Larkin’s season was one of the rare bright spots as he rebounded in a big way from 2016-17’s worrying 32-point season to a career high 63 points and nearly four minutes more ice-time per game to show he can be relied upon as a top-six center.
Anthony Mantha was also a positive point from last year as he took another step in his development with 48 points and led the team with 24 goals, maintaining his 0.6 points per game pace from the year prior but playing in 20 more games.
There were no such encouraging stories on the defensive side as one of the oldest cores in the NHL struggled in all areas and allowed 255 goals (3.11 per game), 11th worst in the league. With an average age of nearly 32 years old, the defense was arguably the slowest in the league. Mike Green continued to lead the blueline in scoring for the third consecutive season since joining Detroit, despite declining point totals and a clear step lost. Green was expected to be moved at the trade deadline before his contract expired end of the season, but a neck injury at the current time prevented Holland from being able to make a deal.
The Wings GM was able to have success on the trade market with other players though, as Holland found a home for depth player Scott Wilson in December with Buffalo for a fifth-round pick. Holland also turned a large profit when he traded Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick AND a 2021 third-round pick.
In goal, Jimmy Howard put up underwhelming numbers as a starter but managed to play most of the season injury-free, a huge relief after consecutive injury-plagued seasons. Petr Mrazek was also just average in the backup role before being traded to Philadelphia at the deadline for a pair of low draft picks. Third-stringer Jared Coreau struggled in seven starts, failing to pick up a win and giving up nearly four goals per game.
After 25 consecutive seasons of playing in the postseason from 1990 to 2016, the Red Wings missed the playoffs for the second straight year in 2018. Ownership has been hesitant to engage with a proper full rebuild but with salary cap issues and the oldest average team in the league, a youth movement is desperately needed in Motown.
At the NHL draft in June, Holland dropped a bomb on the fan base when he stated in an interview he wanted everybody to understand they were going younger. It was the magic phrase fans have been waiting to hear but seeing is always believing. At the draft itself, Detroit arguably came out the biggest winners overall, selecting star prospect Filip Zadina with the number six overall pick after it was believed he would be selected in the top five. The Wings went on to select three more high-end prospects in the first two rounds, including center Joe Veleno and right wing Jonatan Berggren who also dropped further than expected. The draft has been a considerable success the past two seasons now for Detroit and the pipeline is well stocked with some of the best up-and-coming talent in any NHL system.
The new commitment to youth was off to a good start but Holland stressed how they needed to make sure a competitive team was still put on the ice, so a couple of surprising signings were made once the July 1 free agent period opened. Green was re-signed to a 2-year deal worth a hefty $5.375 million per year and veteran Thomas Vanek was brought back on a 1-year, $3 million deal. Expensive signings for a team up against the limits of the salary cap but once again, Holland showed loyalty to his veterans.
With the vacancy in goal behind Howard, Jonathan Bernier was signed to a 3-year, $3 million per year deal. Howard enters the final year of his contract and could be a trade candidate later this season, so the Wings were smart in finding a quality backup capable of stepping into the starter’s role, if needed.
Outside of those three signings, the Wings had a quiet summer which was to be expected. Only oft-injured forward David Booth and defenseman Xavier Ouellet were let go in free agency, two players with no impact on the roster. Overall, a nice summer for Holland and the Red Wings with the promise of a brighter future ahead.
Stanley Cup: +20000 (Bovada, 5Dimes)
Eastern Conference: +10000 (5Dimes)
Atlantic Division: +7500 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 75.5 (-110) (Bookmaker), 75.5 (-115) (Bovada, MyBookie)
Make Playoffs: YES +525, NO -800 (Sportsbook.ag)
Current Odds as of August 31, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Predicting depth charts is often called a fool’s errand and can be as difficult as predicting where a team will finish in the standings. Nonetheless, I decided to undertake this impossible task and am confident (as one can be doing this task, anyway) with the below information heading into training camp. All attempts will be made to update these charts once camp is underway and head coaches change their mind a thousand times.
*Individual Player Ratings involve the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here.
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: T-26
Dylan Larkin wants to be the guy in Detroit and so do the Red Wings after signing the 22-year old to a 5-year, $30.5 million contract extension in August. Larkin seems like he might be ready to be the guy, too, silencing critics who were down on him after a poor sophomore season with career highs in points, shots and ice-time. His 16 goals were lower than the 23 and 17 he scored in his first two seasons but was a bit unlucky with his shooting, scoring on just 6.9% of his shots.
Larkin proved he can be a solid second line center but how will he respond moving up to the top line and going against the opponent’s best defenders night after night. It feels like Larkin has been in the league forever, but reality is he is shockingly still only 21 years old and has his best years ahead of him. His breakout last season should only continue as he blossoms into a true number one center.
That is good news for Detroit seeing how their depth down the middle is about to take a hit with the expected loss of Henrik Zetterberg. Larkin will start the season on the top line and it is likely a spot he will not relinquish, even if Zetterberg’s back allows him to suit up later in the season. After that, the middle-six is going to be, uh, interesting?
Veteran Frans Nielsen has seen his offensive totals rapidly decline the past two seasons since coming over from the New York Islanders but will be asked to reignite his scoring touch, at least to begin the season. Nielsen is a solid third line defensive center who can hold his own but will be asked to move up out of position and hold down a scoring role on the second line until someone else comes along who Blashill can trust in the role.
That someone could be young Andreas Anthanasiou who Blashill has said will move over from his wing position and start the season as the team’s number three center. Athanasiou is a natural centerman so it is not like Blashill is throwing a dart here. The 24-year old is a speed demon with a natural knack for scoring highlight-reel goals but there is concern over his defensive liabilities. Ideally, Athanasiou will show his defensive game has improved enough to warrant Blashill moving him up to the two slot and allow Nielsen to slide back to his better suited third line role. In fact, I would not be surprised if this were to happen before the team breaks camp for opening night.
And then you have Luke Glendening locking down the fourth spot. Glendening is a face-off machine, winning a team-high 58% last season and was the only Red Wing center over 50% in the circle (gulp!), but that is about the only thing he does well. A checking center who year in and year out is heavily deployed in the defensive zone and gets destroyed in shot differentials. It does not help winning the draw when Detroit’s defense cannot get the puck out of the zone.
Detroit is going to have to make do with what they have on the current roster this year, as the prospect pipeline does not have much to offer, at least until this summer’s 30th overall pick Joe Veleno develops down the road. Dominic Turgeon is likely the first guy up after getting a cup of coffee with the big club last season for five games. Turgeon is coming off surgery in April to alleviate a blood clot in his arm, like what Steven Stamkos went through in Tampa Bay. He should be ready for training camp but is expected to start in the AHL with Grand Rapids.
NHL RANK: 29
Detroit’s left wing has a grim projection but there are several interesting pieces here who could make this number a lot higher by season end. Tyler Bertuzzi had hoped for a larger role out of training camp last year before a wrist injury sidelined him to begin the season. Once healthy, Bertuzzi showed flashes of potential and recorded 24 points in 48 games but never really established himself in any one slot. There is a possibility he opens on the top line and would be an interesting fit with Larkin and Mantha. Left wing is going to be one of the more interesting battles to watch in camp as any of their four options could start in two or three places. Either way, the Wings need to get Bertuzzi more playing time this season to see what he really offers.
The second and third spot could be flipped either way, but I am slotting the veteran Thomas Vanek here to begin. Vanek enjoyed success his first go-around with the Wings in 2016-17 when he contributed 38 points in 48 games and quickly developed great chemistry alongside Nielsen, so Blashill will want to see if that still exists. The other winger on their line at the time was Athanasiou who Vanek had a very positive influence on, so Blashill will mix and match during preseason to see which combination he likes best.
Holland has said he expects two and maybe three prospects to secure a roster spot out of camp. In the forwards group, Michael Rasmussen and right-wing Filip Zadina are the two obvious choices to impress the most. Rasmussen was the Red Wings number nine overall pick in the 2017 draft and absolutely dominated the Western Hockey League before a wrist injury knocked him out of action in February. He could use some work on his skating but is already a beast at 6’6 with a lot of power and Blashill has already gushed over what he could bring with his net-front presence. Rasmussen could be the future second line center and Blashill said he will get a chance in the middle during camp although the higher expectation is he will break in on the left wing, a position where he is extremely comfortable and played a lot during his time in the WHL with Tri-City.
Justin Abdelkader gets the fourth spot and has always been a consistent secondary scorer. He is a gritty player and could slot higher, but he will fill whatever role the Wings need him in most and that is most likely as a fourth-liner this year.
The other prospect who will get a long look in camp is Evgeny Svechnikov who had a big rookie season in the AHL two years ago but struggled terribly last year and most scouts have taken a step back on him. He struggled in the playoffs with Grand Rapids and looked overmatched in 14 games with Detroit, making too many mistakes away from the puck and is going to need a huge camp if he hopes to make the roster this time around. The most likely scenario is he starts in Grand Rapids, shows last year was just a blip, and is one of the first call-ups in the wake of an injury.
And finally, the 33rd overall pick in this summer’s draft Jonatan Berggren is a future top-six forward for the Wings but will continue his development in Sweden this year. Berggren dazzled in multiple international tournaments last year and Wings fans are going to love watching him play when he finally arrives.
NHL RANK: 22
The Red Wings strength in their forwards group comes on the right side and is led by Anthony Mantha – at least until Zadina becomes a regular fixture in the lineup. Coming off a team-high 24 goals last year, Mantha has the size and skill to be Detroit’s premier goal scorer again this year and should slot next to Larkin on the top line. Blashill wants more consistency from him this year but thinks he should be able to top the 30-goal mark.
Gustav Nyquist is up next and was the only Red Wings player other than Mantha to score more than 20 goals last year (21) and has been a consistent 40-50 point player but has never developed into the 30+ goal scorer many projected when he was younger. The first half of his season will be key as he plays the final year of his contract, so the Wings will need to decide if they see him fitting into their long-term plans. With Mantha and Zadina being the future top-six wingers on this side, Nyquist would be a valuable trade chip at the deadline and would likely waive his no-trade clause for a spot with a contender.
The organization fell into some luck at the draft this summer when Filip Zadina fell all the way to the number six spot. The Wings would have selected a very good player regardless, but an elite talent like this was more than they could have ever hoped for.
Zadina scored 44 goals last year with Halifax in the offense-friendly QMJHL but is known as a pure sniper with a beauty of a wrist shot. Red Wings fans are going to quickly fall in love with him the first time he cuts through three guys and snaps one home. And the kid never takes a shift off, so he will fit right in on this always hard-working Red Wings team. Zadina will get the nine game audition along with Rasmussen before the Wings need to make a final decision but expect him to be a fixture in the Detroit lineup all season.
He will likely start on the third line although Blashill will experiment with different combinations during camp. One of those potential combos is opposite Rasmussen. The pair showed fantastic chemistry as linemates during June’s five-day development camp and should get a long look together which is why I have them slotted together on the third line. This is where things get interesting with the center spot. The rookie duo would be non-stop offense and a joy to watch with the speedy Athanasiou in the middle, but Blashill’s health might not last even a game with the misadventures the trio could have on the defensive end. The veteran and defensively responsible Nielsen would be a much stronger fit between the youngsters and will be an exciting dynamic to watch during camp.
At some point, I would like to see the middle-six lines shape out to be Rasmussen-Nielsen-Zadina and Vanek-Athanasiou-Nyquist, in more of a 2(a) and 2(b) role, and I think this combination would offer exciting potential. Either way, it is going to be an interesting decision process.
Darren Helm is another guy who could play center if needed but Blashill said he would prefer to keep Helm on the wing. A consistent 10-15 goal scorer, Helm is at the point of his career where he does not offer much more than a depth checking role but is one of those veterans Holland gave money and term to two summers ago. The Wings are still on the hook for another three years at a costly $3.85 million.
NHL RANK: 30
My average point share value for a defenseman works out to 4.4 which is about an average No. 3-4 defenseman. The average for a top 1-2 defender is 6.6 point shares. Detroit currently has just one defenseman higher than an average 3-4 blueliner with Mike Green and he comes in well below the average for a top-two defender. Yet, the Red Wings still do not project to own the league’s worst defense this year (which goes to show just how poor the situations in Montreal and Vancouver currently are).
The left side does not currently possess a true top pair defenseman, but Danny DeKeyser is the best of the bunch. DeKeyser suffered an ankle injury early in the season and missed over a month of action. He struggled upon his return, saying it was still a bother, but rebounded with a strong second half. You will not get much offensively from him, and certainly not what you would like from a top pair guy, but Detroit’s 5-on-5 shot differentials were slightly better when DeKeyser was on the ice compared to when he was not (only Kronwall and Jensen can say the same). This was not the case the previous two seasons for DeKeyser, so the Wings hope he remains on the plus side of those numbers.
Niklas Kronwall temporarily slots in on the second pair but the 37-year old is on borrowed time. Kronwall admitted over the summer this could be his last season in the NHL and with the Wings having multiple left side prospects who should be ready for a full-time role next year, he will do what he can to stay relevant in the lineup. Kronwall was a decent player last season and better than he had been the previous couple of years. He paired well with Jensen when they were utilized so it would not be surprising to see him end up on the third pair with him again.
The problem with that is there really is no one else capable of handling a top four spot. Jonathan Ericsson brings little offensively and is always on the wrong end of shot differentials and I am surprised he projects as high as 2.5 point shares. He could be one of those players where the model is just off.
There is a mountain of salary tied up in this underwhelming blueline, so it is going to be tough for any of the kids to earn a regular role, but Dennis Cholowski will get a long look and should be the name for fans to remember. Cholowski is an excellent defensive defenseman and could eventually turn into a top-four shutdown type player but he still needs to add size right now. The left side is weak so if he impresses during camp, I expect he could be given a few games of action to begin the season but, again, with the salary tied up in Kronwall and Ericsson, it is going to be tough for Blashill to move one of them to the press box. A late season call-up is more likely as Kronwall plays out his final few months and gets ready to hand over the reins.
NHL RANK: 24
The right side looks a bit better but is still anchored by a pair of aging veterans. Mike Green is coming off neck surgery in March which ended his season early but is expected to be ready for camp. His offense has slipped over the years and he is one of several Detroit defenders who struggled to get the puck out of the zone. Holland’s veteran loyalty was clear on this one when a rich two-year contract was signed over the summer, saying Green “wanted to be in Detroit, he likes it here, and likes his role on the team”. Green will likely lead the blueline in points again this season simply for the fact there are no other offensive defenseman in the lineup.
Trevor Daley had a rough season but was asked to handle the toughest minutes of the group, being forced into a shutdown role. He started over 58% of his zone starts in the defensive end, a career high by a significant margin. He could be asked to provide a similar role this year but will turn 35 in October and it is a big ask.
Hoping to relieve some pressure off Daley is Nick Jensen. The youngest regular member of the blueline (at 27!), Jensen is a late-bloomer who just completed his second NHL season. He quietly put up strong defensive numbers and was second only to Mantha for the best shot differentials on the team.
The top defensive prospect in the organization is 20-year old Filip Hronek who had a breakout season in the AHL and has top-four upside thanks to his offensive game. He is an excellent puck-mover with high IQ but still needs to add size to help his defensive side. Hronek should be a welcomed addition to the current aging train wreck of a group but I am not sure who he supplants on this side for regular playing time unless Jensen regresses from last year’s success. I have Hronek penciled in as the extra defender for the moment as he really is the readiest prospect to make the jump, but it would seem Cholowski might have an easier time cracking the left side. It is unlikely both earn a full-time spot, so this will be one of the best battles to watch in camp.
Detroit has done a poor job of drafting quality defensemen this decade but there’s hope on the way from the most recent group which also includes Joe Hicketts and Libor Sulak on the left side. Next year is more realistic for an impact being made so for now Wings fans will have to endure one more year of the oldest, slowest defense in the league.
NHL RANK: T-17
(Starter – 30th, Backup – 32nd)
Jimmy Howard enters the final year of his contract and will begin the season as the starter but should see about even playing time with newly signed Jonathan Bernier. Howard managed to get through last year without any major injuries but saw his numbers progressively decline throughout the season.
Bernier was an excellent signing this summer and has been an above average backup throughout his career, along with showing he can be successful in a starter’s role when needed.
The top goaltending prospect in the organization is just turned 20-year old Filip Larsson. After setting a USHL league record with a .941 save percentage last year, Larsson will move on to one of the best NCAA hockey programs at the University of Denver this fall. He is still at least a few years away but could be an elite level sleeper.
It is difficult to really find a single x-factor for Detroit this season. Dylan Larkin building on last year’s success and not regressing to his sophomore dud is the obvious choice but I have already discussed that above. The most important aspect of the season is likely going to be Ken Holland’s promise of getting younger.
If we take the Detroit roster for what it is right now, without accounting for any potential prospects, the average age is 29.1 (not including Zetterberg or the goaltenders). The Red Wings were the oldest average team in the NHL last season at 28.9 and somehow managed to get older this offseason.
Several prospects will get a long look in camp, including Zadina, Rasmussen, Svechnikov, Turgeon, Hronek, Cholowski, Hicketts and Sulak with multiple players also expected to get at least a few regular season games. Holland is going to have to make good on his promise of a full rebuild and youth movement and finally cast aside his loyalty to his older players, meaning some of these prospects need to be up with the team the full season.
A worst case scenario would be sending Rasmussen and Zadina back to Juniors after the nine-game limit and inserting Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski as full-time regulars. It might sound crazy to think that could happen, but it is exactly what the organization has been doing for years. For the first time in a long while, the Red Wings have a promising pipeline and it is time for Holland to change his ways and embrace the youth.
I have Detroit projected for 74.2 points, about one point less than the 75.5 number currently offered from offshore sportsbooks and about one point better than the 73 points they put up in last year’s regular season. Looking at Stanley Cup Futures, Detroit is listed anywhere from 27th-31st so my projected finish of 28th overall fits into the consensus of being a bottom five team no matter where you look.
Can the Red Wings be as good as last year?
The loss of Zetterberg is obviously a significant blow, but the Wings did not lose a single other player of significance this summer. Vanek has put up 0.65 points per game over the past three seasons which is just below Zetterberg’s 0.71 mark. Factor in the added value prospects Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen are expected to provide and the Red Wings could theoretically look better offensively this season.
The goaltending should also be slightly better with the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier, a small upgrade over what Petr Mrazek provided in the backup role and accounting for about 1.5 points extra in the standings, according to my projected point share values.
The defense is still the biggest liability and with an already aged top-four another year older, it is fair to project this group to be worse than last year. If a prospect like Filip Hronek gets regular minutes, it will be a help, but does not make much of a difference if he is replacing an already solid third pair player like Nick Jensen.
One thing often not accounted for in projections is the impact of a head coach and what they bring to the table. Honestly, it is extremely difficult to quantify such a thing and I do not know of any prediction models who adjust projected points based on head coaches. One thing I just wanted to mention though, is how great of a coach Jeff Blashill is and how he always has his teams ready to compete. Blashill has been a winner at every level of his career and even though the Wings roster is not currently able to compete for a playoff spot, Blashill always has this team ready and willing to compete, no matter the situation.
The betting odds for regular season points are too close to my projected total so I will not be firing on any Detroit Futures this season but there should be some value betting on this team to win some games early in the season. With all of these things in consideration, I think the Red Wings can absolutely be a bit better if a few things fall their way and even if they don’t, the 73-point floor they hit last year should be reachable again.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com