The 25 year playoff streak for the Detroit Red Wings finally came to an end last season and there is plenty of blame to go around many different levels of the organization. There has already been a lot of discussion on the mistakes of management with a poor cap situation and too many long term contracts limiting the team’s ability to promote younger players into the NHL roster while they try to turn it over to the next generation. The fact is that last season was a failure on all levels however, from the management making some poor signings to the coaching not being able to adjust their philosophy and failing to reward certain players *Cough AA Cough* with ice time earned. There is also some responsibility that should fall on players who did not perform up to previous standards and will need to improve their production.There will always be much to discuss for the franchise’s long-term goals but the fact is there is an upcoming season and the target has been made clear in the media that this will not be a tank-job, the goal still remains to make the playoffs and try to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
In order for an improvement in the 2017/18 season it is mostly going to come down to improvements by the players themselves as the roster remains relatively the same. There are several players who I believe will have the biggest impact on the teams chances at a post-season appearance:
Fresh off being named to Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, Abdelkader was coming into the 2016/17 season having played the best hockey of his career in the previous 2 seasons notching 44 and 42 points respectively. He had a long-term contract locked up and was looking to be an important fixture in the lineup for many years to come. Abdelkader’s numbers dropped pretty much across the board in all categories which included both his offensive numbers in goals and assists but also in his shit disturber numbers with PIM’s and hits. My opinion on Abby has always been that his most important feature is the ability to get opposing star players off their game by laying big hits, chirping and being an overall pain in the ass. When you combine those annoying features with his half decent ability to put the puck in the net and provide an effective net-front presence on the power-play, it creates a very hard player to keep your cool against and somebody who will usually provide the Red Wings with more power-plays then he gives up shorthanded opportunities.
I expect Abdelkader will likely be out of the top-6 to begin next season but with some young talent available to play with him on the 3rd line, ( I would like to see a 8-71-72 line if Larkin is going to play C) he is going to have plenty of chances to muck it up and also contribute offensively. If this team is going to have a chance at making the post season, they will need more out of their veteran power forward.
I really do hate to blame a 20-year-old for a poor sophomore season. The problem for Larkin was that he was so electrifying as a rookie that everyone was expecting him to take over the team and become our future captain. While these things may have been an overreaction to a solid debut season, they are still not at all impossible. In the upcoming season it will be critical for the franchise that Larkin can establish himself as a legitimate centerman who does not need to be protected by match-ups or faceoff zone starts. With age will also come strength and maturity for Larkin and pretty soon it will not be easy for opposing players to out muscle him at the net front or in board battles. We saw a lot of it near the end of last season that Dylan is not afraid of going into the tough places and competing, he just needs to build more strength to be able to stay effective while in those positions which will cause him to be much more than the speed threat that everyone already knows he is.
I still believe that Larkin has the highest ceiling of all the young players on the Red Wings and he seems to be someone who has the determination to not be denied reaching his max potential. I believe this will be the last and most important year that he has left to continue learning what needs to be done in the NHL to be a 1C and by the 2018/19 season he will be a legitimate star player in the league.
Alright… I know, he led the team in goals last year and was the story of the summer on the will he or won’t he sign a long term extension situation that we all wanted so badly to be settled. The fact is however, Tomas Tatar’s numbers through the first 5 months of the season were not impressive at all and by the time he figured out his scoring touch the season was already lost. In his first 61 games, Tatar had posted 14G-14A. He followed that up down the stretch when he got hot and potted 11G-7A in the final 21 GP. This season the Red Wings will need consistent production from Tatar throughout the year and if he plays the majority of it on a line with 21-40-14, which was how they finished last season, there is a good chance that he will be able to notch career highs and potentially hit the 30-Goal mark for the first time.
Tatar is still only 26 years old and if the Red Wings are able to re-stock the team before the end of his 4-year contact they will have a good chance to keep him for the next run as contenders. If the Red Wings are going to want him around as he plays into his 30’s then Tatar will need to prove now while he is in his prime that he can be a leader on this team offensively and provide effective production on a nightly basis instead of being the hot and cold player that he has been for most of his career. We should expect Tatar to come out of the gate “Hot and Ready” in the Lil’ Ceasers Arena debut season.
In what will likely be Mike Green’s last season as a member of the Red Wings, there will be a fairly major empty spot up for grabs for the future season’s to come. Who can possibly man the blue-line on the powerplay? Nik Kronwall was still responsible for the power-play for the majority of the games he played last year but obviously health is going to be a huge question mark whether he can even finish this upcoming season at all. The only real option after the Brendan Smith trade will be Trevor Daley and Danny Dekeyser each taking control of one of the power-play units and, if that is going to be something consistent going forward for Dekeyser, then it will be crucial for him to improve his offensive awareness and poor shot release time.
Obviously Dekeyser has more to work on than just his power-play quarterbacking skills as he really had a bit of a down year defensively, but as he continues to get older and experienced, his defensive zone coverage should naturally improve especially after his first season defending against the opposing teams top lines. This season should be a time where just the same as Tatar, Dekeyser will need to become a veteran presence on the ice and really show with his game that he wants to still be apart of this team once the rebuild has been completed because he will also be in his early 30’s at the end of his current contract.
Riley Sheahan will be hoping to improve on his 79 game goal drought before the offensive explosion he displayed in the final farewell to The Joe. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou should become more complete players after their first full seasons and should both increase their point totals as they become more comfortable in league. After being exposed for the Las Vegas Expansion Draft, Petr Mrazek will be looking to show that he is still the guy for the Red Wings to rely on as a future number one goalie especially after they took one of the top goalie prospects Keith Petruzzelli in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.