Is it time to panic over preseason roster usage?

We heard the Wings coaching decisions’ critiqued throughout the season last year in regards to both where players were situated in the lineup and also the amount of play time they saw each game. The animosity was mainly directed at the lack of minutes for Andreas Athanasiou even after looking like the team’s best forward for stretches of time towards the end of the year. Another thorn for the fanbase was seeming how much time was given to the skater on the 4th line every night.

Luke Glendening was averaging 14:43 of ice time a night last year. That’s almost a full five minutes more than Athanasiou. Sure, AA needed to be eased into his role and he had some holes in his game that needed to be addressed before he was gifted those minutes. Fair enough. But Glendening at this point was averaging more ice time than Tomas Tatar. Tatar was actually coming off a 29 goal campaign just the season before. He was only playing 30 seconds less a game than Gustav Nyquist who had 55 goals over his previous two seasons. So, if 29 goals can’t earn you more ice time than the fourth line centre, what hope do we have someone like AA? 

With preseason well underway, Wings fans got giddy watching the Mantha-Larkin-Athanasiou line skate. They got some good looks at Tyler Bertuzzi’s progression, an idea of how the younger defencemen in the system are developing and what sorts of changes we might see on the special teams. This is all great stuff for excited fans.

The dangers of preseason hockey though may just be unfolding before our eyes. The Miller-Glendening-Ott line has combined for 11 points already over their last 4 periods. Logically, when you play a line with that much NHL experience against other far more inexperienced NHL hopefuls they should dominate the competition. The problem is when words like “chemistry” and “grit” start getting thrown around, things can get cloudy.

A preseason hot streak like this could mean the difference between a Mantha or, god forbid, even an Athanasiou starting the year in the press box or even in Grand Rapids. It could mean that all the talk of changes we heard all summer was just lip service. If playing this line even again eats into Tatar and Nyquist’s minutes it would be terrible. 

The Ott contract seemed fine in the summer because everyone thought, “great, this can be buried in the minors,” but now I think fans aren’t so sure anymore. 

Will Wings fans once again watch as Glendening plays 15 minutes a game against top competition as more skilled players are continually passed over in the lineup? 

I think everyone wants to think no, but this preseason could be a glimpse into how often this line may be utilized to start the season. The difference between lining up against PTO fill-ins for the World Cup players and young, quick, skilled fourth lines in the NHL could quite easily turn this hot line into a favourite for opposing teams to matchup against.