Sunday, September 10, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Detroit Red Wings

GM: Ken Holland (since 1997). 7.5/10
Coach: Jeff Blashill (since 2015). 5/10

2016-17 record: 33-36-13, 79 points, 25th overall, missing the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

Departures: Tomas Nosek (LW), and trade deadline bait Steve Ott (RW), Thomas Vanek (RW), and Brendan Smith (D).

Arrivals: Trevor Daley (D), Luke Witkowski (D), and possibly PTO recipients P.-A. Parenteau (RW) and David Booth (RW), who should normally be good for 20 points apiece.

Top forwards: Henrik Zetterberg (it wouldn't be fair to ask the 36-year-old captain for more than 60-65 points even though he did do just that in two of the last three seasons), Anthony Mantha (40-55 points, though he will one day be a perennial 30-goal man in the vein of Keith Tkachuk), Gustav Nyquist (45-55 points), Dylan Larkin (40-45 points), Tomas Tatar (45-60 points), Frans Nielsen (40-50 points), Andreas Athanasiou (20 goals and 40 points).

Must-improve forward: Nyquist has now had two seasons below his near-30-goal usual production. If he doesn't get there this season, it will be fair to say he's slowed down. Larkin must also get over his sophomore slump and regain his All-American form.

Top defensemen: Mike Green (35-40 points), Danny DeKeyser (15-20 points), Daley (15-25 points), Xavier Ouellet (20 points).

Goalies: Jimmy Howard (83/100), Petr Mrazek (76/100).

Top rookies: Evgeny Svechnikov (21 years old, LW, 2015 first-round draft pick), Tyler Bertuzzi (22, LW, had an impact at the AHL level last year), Axel Homstrom (21, LW), Michael Rasmussen (18, C, 2017 first-round draft pick), Dennis Cholowski (19, D, 2016 first-round draft pick).

Yes, the Red Wings are old, their players are often injured and signed for too long, which has hampered them on the free agency circuit for the last two summers and will likely do so next year as well. And it's made Anthanasiou unhappy this summer, although the situation will likely improve when Niklas Kronwall gets put on LTIR when the season starts.

But many Wings fans are overly critical of GM Holland's work, particularly in contrast with that of his former assistants Jim Nill (now GM of the Dallas Stars) and Steve Yzerman (now GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning). The truth is that two years from now, all the bad contracts will be off the books and the exciting young players (Mantha, Ouellet, Bertuzzi, Svechnikov, Rasmussen, Cholowski and Larkin) will all be entering their prime. And I'd go so far as to say all the extensions he gave to in-house players were warranted and in line with the organization's wish to reward players for past achievements and ensuring they remain with the team even into retirement.

This, however, does not excuse the Nielsen overpayment on too long a term. That was a panic move.

Until the kids are ready to take over, however - and likely until the Wings hire a better coach - they will be losing games more often than they win them at their brand-new, state-of-the-art arena.

Prediction: 8th in the Atlantic Division, 28th overall.

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