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Cullen: Wings getting older, still have top talents

Scott Cullen
9/11/2011 11:58:35 AM
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Another year older, the Detroit Red Wings are still not a team to be underestimated. At the very least, their core players remain among the premier players in the game.

On first glance, it would be easy to note that 33-year-old Pavel Datsyuk finished with his fewest points in a season (59) since 2002-2003, but that was really only because he missed 26 games, thanks largely to a broken hand and some late-season rest. Ultimately, it was the fifth time in the last six seasons that Datsyuk finished with better than a point-per-game and it was the sixth consecutive season in which he registered a double-digit plus rating. His low penalty minute numbers notwithstanding, Datsyuk is an elite option down the middle.

Datsyuk's running mate, Henrik Zetterberg has been at least a point-per-game performer in four of the last six campaigns, though he finished with a minus-1 rating last year, a departure from his norm after six straight seasons with a double-digit plus rating. Enhancing Zetterberg's value is the fact that he has left wing eligibility in some leagues and his production is particularly rare at a shallow wing spot.

Nicklas Lidstrom is now 41-year-old, but he's coming off a season in which he won his seventh Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman, so it's impossible to find a suitable comparable, trying to gather some idea when his production will drop off. Last year was the first time in his career that Lidstrom finished with a minus rating, so he generated 39 of his 62 points on the power play. Maybe that won't happen again and his overall scoring will dip, but Lidstrom is a safe pick, having scored at least 49 points in 14 of his last 15 seasons.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard slumped in his second season with the Wings. While he won 37 games, just as he did in his rookie campaign, his goals against average and save percentage weren't even close. There is some pressure on Howard to elevate his game, to perhaps become reason that Detroit wins. The potential for a 40-win season makes Howard valuable, but especially so if he could match the other numbers he had in 2009-2010.

While Johan Franzen's 28 goals and 55 points last year counted as his second-highest single-season totals in each category, his goals-per-game production over the last four seasons (.40) indicates that he's capable of more. A 31-year-old with only 395 career regular season games, Franzen is both a late bloomer and a bit of an injury risk, though last year's 76 games marked his highest total since his rookie season.

With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, there should be an expanded role for Niklas Kronwall on the Detroit blueline. In 2008-2009, Kronwall scored 22 power play points on his way to a career-high 51 points, so that could be a reasonable target this year, after he tallied 13 of his 37 points with the man advantage last year.

When it comes to the Red Wings' aging supporting cast, they are really only of value in deeper leagues. There's no longer great upside with Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi or Dan Cleary, but any one of them might hit for 20-25 goals and 45 points; a useful contribution, but it's unreasonable to expect more than that from players that are getting on in years and have missed time due to injuries.

If there is an upside play to make with the Red Wings, it may be Jiri Hudler, who was a disappointment last season, scoring 37 points (which included 14 points in an 11-game stretch in February) following a year in the KHL. Hudler had 57 points in 2008-2009 and a return to that level of production would make him much more appealing to fantasy owners.

Other Wings forward like Patrick Eaves, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are safe bets to play regular roles, but most likely in depth spots. If someone is going to emerge as a breakthrough performer, then, it might have to be a top prospect, like winger Tomas Tatar or defenceman Brendan Smith, both of whom have proven that they can put up points in the AHL.

As usual, the top end performer in Detroit will be among the top players at their positions, but the Red Wings might need a surge from the next generation if they are going to be serious contenders once again.

Depth Chart - Detroit Red Wings

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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