I know what you’re thinking. The Wings just had their worst season in 26 years. How in the hell am I going to find FIVE reasons for optimism this year? The team is still bogged down with terrible contracts, they made no improvements to their defense, and are comprised of more bottom-6 players than top-6 players. To add icing to this shit cake, Henrik Zetterberg, our fearless leader and only consistently great player, may be taking an early retirement due to back issues that likely arose from carrying the whole team on his shoulders for the last two years!
Well my friends, as an eternal optimist I am here to tell you that despite all of that, there are still things to be excited about for this Red Wings team. Here are five of them.
5. The Power Play
Last year, the Red Wings power play hit rock bottom. In my 2017-18 season review, I explained how the team started hot, but went on to post a 14.5% power play percentage from December 2017 to April 2018.
It’s hard to imagine how it could have gotten worse. To address this issue, the team amicably parted ways with assistant coach John Torchetti and brought in Stanley Cup winning coach Dan Bylsma to run the powerplay.
Bylsma’s last coaching gig didn’t go so well. He coached some bad seasons in Buffalo, but the team’s power play conversion was over 20%. In Detroit, Bylsma will have two big bodies for the front of the net in Anthony Mantha and Michael Rasmussen, he’ll have two smart playmakers in Dylan Larkin and Thomas Vanek, he’ll have a capable right-handed defenseman to quarterback in Mike Green, and he’ll have a fiery shot in Martin Frk (maybe he could even teach him to hit the net).
Changes are coming to the power play in Detroit and they are for the better. This is one department I am particularly excited to see come to life.
4. Upcoming Trades
Another department that will be busy creating change is the head office. Ken Holland made a couple moves at the deadline last year in trading Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar, but he also made a couple of veteran free agent signings in Green and Vanek. The roster is crowded right now and Holland has said publicly that the theme going forward is youth and he’d like to see 2-5 young players in the line-up next season.
At this point, I doubt it will happen by the time opening night rolls around, but Holland always works on these things through the start of the season. Last year, he moved Riley Sheahan and Ryan Sproul in late October.
There are lots of potential candidates that could be moved. Last year, it was rumoured that Luke Glendening was in play and that teams had called about Darren Helm. It’s not just bottom-6 players, though. Andreas Athanasiou is part of a crowded forward corps and could nab a hell of a return. Then, of course, there is going to be Detroit’s golden Goose egg at the trade deadline.
Gustav Nyquist is on an expiring contract that will leave him as an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The talented winger has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer if played with the right linemates. He would be a great depth acquisition for a team arming up for a deep playoff run and he’d bring in a solid return.
3. The Prospect Pool
There are trades on Detroit’s horizon, but don’t expect them to bring in ready-to-go players. This team is still in rebuilding mode and should be more interested in collecting assets right now. They’ve been slowly doing this over the last two years and have built themselves a pretty good prospect pool.
There’s, of course, Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, but of the other NHL-ready or very near NHL-ready are Filip Hronek, the tall Czech defenseman with a big shot; Dennis Cholowski, the smooth skating 20th overall draft pick in 2017; Joe Hicketts, the little fiery player with a big heart; and Evgeny Svechnikov, the quick Russian player who gets a little too much into his own head.
These players have excelled at the junior and AHL levels of hockey and have yet to be properly tested in the NHL (with the exception of Svechnikov, whose NHL appearances have been quiet ones). We could see these six players don the winged wheel at some point this year as injuries or trades happen. Don’t expect them to make an immediate impact on the game, but it’s still exciting to see some fresh, young faces on the ice who will be making a difference a few years down the road.
2. Dylan Larkin
Speaking of fresh, young faces, how about that Dylan Larkin, eh? Anyone think he’ll be given the ‘C’ if Zetterberg doesn’t come back?
I know Larkin hasn’t even signed a contract yet, but all signs point to the parties being close on a 5-6 deal. Larkin has no intention of breaking the team’s back financially and will likely take a team-friendly salary.
Contract aside, Larkin was a huge piece of the Red Wings offense and defense last year. He put up a massive 63 points after a soft sophomore outing, leading the team in that department. In fact, Larkin underperformed last year, recording a below average 6.9 shooting percentage! Once that averages out, Larkin could regularly put up 20-25 goals in addition to his 50 assists.
In addition to his point-getting, Larkin has started his transition into being a true number one centre. I’m not delusional, I know Larkin is not an elite-level player like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, but he’s in the tier below and will be able to handle the reigns of this team once Zetterberg steps down. The way he plays on the ice and the way he acts off of it are exactly what the Red Wings and, let’s be honest, the fans want in a player.
1. Filip Zadina
The last thing we all want in a player is someone who can score A LOT of goals. The team has that in Filip Zadina, who somehow fell to them at number six overall in the draft. Zadina is the single most reason for fans to be excited about this team since the late-2000s. He’s fast, but smooth. Strong, but smart. He has the potential to be an elite goalscorer in the NHL.
This year, Zadina is eligible to play in the AHL, but he’s ready for the big league. I don’t believe the team has any delusions about this. Imagine him on Larkin’s wing, being fed pucks from deep below the goal line.
I know that he hasn’t played a single game in the NHL yet, but Zadina is a legitimate reason to be excited and optimistic for this upcoming season. He is going to change this team for years to come and be part of their rebirth into a Stanley Cup contender once again.
Did I miss any reasons to be optimistic for this upcoming season? Leave them in the comments below!