Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Detroit Red Wings…
The Detroit Red Wings never seem to be short on plotlines to keep an eye on, and this year is no different. Their 25-year playoff streak is still intact (barely) and they return one of the top young players in the league. Oh yeah, and some guy named Pavel Datsyuk just left for Russia.
No big deal.
Dylan Larkin was one of the NHL’s best rookies last year — in a season loaded with freshman talent. He really made a national name for himself during the All-Star festivities, then seemed to kind of hit a wall in the second half. Regardless, he finished the year with a team-leading 23 goals. And he did so as a 19-year old.
He’s 20 now and, quite frankly, Detroit can’t afford any sort of drop-off in production from him. So all he really needs to do is be perfect. The dreaded sophomore slump always seems to hit a couple good second-year players each season, but the Wings will be leaning heavily on Larkin for offense — particularly with Datsyuk playing hockey on the other side of the planet now.
Is the streak hindering the franchise’s ability to rebuild?
The last NHL postseason that didn’t include Detroit was held in 1990. That’s an insane streak, and all the credit in the world needs to go to the Wings for maintaining that standard of excellence for such a long time. They’ve won four Stanley Cups, appeared in two others and trotted countless Hall of Famers out onto the ice during that stretch.
It could be coming to an end soon, though.
Jeff Blashill’s squad essentially snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season this past April, and they could struggle to score with any consistency this year. A number of clubs behind them in the standings have improved, and they have questions in goal. This might get tough.
That said, it’s not exactly wise to pick against the Red Wings making it out of the regular season until it actually happens. You’d be zero-for-the-last-quarter-century, after all. But at what point is this run potentially hurting the club more than actually helping?
Ansar Khan of MLive.com joined the Natural Hat Trick podcast this week, noting that the streak is certainly a point of pride for the Wings. And it should be. But there’s a fine line to walk here.
Retooling for the future without sacrificing the present is one of the most difficult feats to pull off in sports, and they Red Wings have been doing it since before some of their current players were even born. But if things start to go sideways this season, it could be time to move some of the vets to contenders in exchange for new prospects, while simultaneously opening roster spots for other youngsters that are already in the system to get some ice time. And that might not be the easiest call to make.
NOTABLE SUMMER LOSS
Pavel Datsyuk (to the KHL)
This one really doesn’t need an explanation. He finishes his Red Wings career with a pair of rings to go along with 918 total points. And, like, 915 of those were of the highlight-reel variety.
Anthony Mantha (drafted: No. 20 overall in 2013)
Detroit needs goals, and Mantha tallied 107 over 124 games for Val-d’Or of the QMJHL from 2012 to 2014.
Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Mantha hasn’t carried that production over to pro hockey just yet, managing only 36 goals in 122 contests with Grand Rapids of the AHL. Still, he has the talent to make things happen. It’s just a matter of getting those skills to translate at the NHL level, then finding ice time for him with the big club.
Completing one half of that equation should help the other. And the Wings could really use Mantha at his best as soon as possible.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Henrik Zetterberg($6.08 million)
We’re getting to the point where Zetterberg — and Niklas Kronwall — are becoming the last remaining links to the Red Wings’ glory days of the early 2000’s. The gifted Swede is one of the very best all-around forwards of the last 15 years but, at age 35, can’t really be counted on for more than about 15 goals.
Still, he topped the club with 50 points in 2015-16 and his experience and leadership are great assets to pass on to the next wave of Red Wings.
2017 UFA TO KEEP AN EYE ON
The addition of Vanek was one of the more polarizing moves of the summer. On the one hand, he’s a former 40-goal scorer who is only slated to make $2.6 million this season. And, at age 32, he should still have some good hockey in front of him.
Of course, the counter argument is that Vanek really struggled to look like himself in Minnesota. And his presence could be blocking the development of a prospect that might need the ice time more in the grand scheme of Detroit’s overall development.
In other words, Vanek is basically the personification of that debate over whether or not it’s worth pulling out all the stops just to make the playoffs, then potentially exit in the opening round again.
Nyquist poured in 27 goals in 2014-15, and 28 the year before that — in only 57 games. Last season, however, he managed just 17. And while 17 isn’t necessarily a terrible total, the Wings simply have to have more from one of the main guys they’ll be leaning on for offense.