In a year that was considered a season of adjustment after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, the Detroit Red Wings not only made the playoffs for the 22nd straight season, but they coughed up a three-games-to-one lead in their second-round series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Wings team that has a couple of elite talents leading the way. The trick now is finding the right mix of players to surround them and take advantage of the next few years before production inevitably declines.
General Manager Ken Holland has a clear view of what he would like to do when building a team, telling MLive.com, "The teams, in my opinion, that want quick fixes, you're not building a foundation. You've got to start at the draft table, and you can complement it with trades and free agency. If we don't have a strong foundation, free agents aren't going to want to come here."
"We're not that far away," Holland continued. "We're trying to get 5 percent better. We're not going to go 50 percent better. We've got to get a little deeper, a little more scoring, a little more experience for some players who haven't been there before."
So long as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are playing at a very high level, Holland is right, the Wings aren't that far away. Upgrades to the supporting cast could give Holland that desired five (maybe even 10!) percent improvement and Holland can look to the Red Wings' foundation for those upgrades, whether that means prospects taking the next step in their development, or being used as trade chips.
While trading prospects isn't typical of these Red Wings, there ought to be a sense of urgency here. There are only so many more great seasons left for Datsyuk and Zetterberg; it would be a shame not to provide the best possible supporting cast so that they have a chance to win it all again.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Ken Holland/Mike Babcock
Red Wings Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
There might -- might -- be better all-around players than 34-year-old Pavel Datsyuk, but it has been a long time since anyone was as captivating with the puck on his stick. Datsyuk's exceptional puckhandling skills allow him to make players in the world's best league look foolish. Since 2005-2006, Datsyuk ranks sixth with 613 points in 570 games, and is far-and-away the plus-minus leader at plus-207. Retired Red Wings D Nicklas Lidstrom (plus-171) and Canucks C Henrik Sedin (plus-162) are the closest to challenging one of the game's premier two-way players.
While Datsyuk has shown no real signs of slowing down, it's something to consider, especially since he just signed a contract extension that will keep him in Detroit for four more seasons. His 2.28 shots on goal per game in 2013 did represent his lowest since 2005-2006, but that's nitpicking for an amazing player.
Part of the Red Wings' success is attributable to how their best players, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, approach the game. They've both scored plenty (Zetterberg is 11th in scoring since 2005-2006), but both play with the defensive conscience of checking forwards. That diligence makes them valuable even when they aren't scoring, which isn't all that often.
One quibble with Zetterberg is that he's become a very low-percentage finisher. Among forwards with at least 600 shots over the last four seasons, only Michael Frolik and Tyler Kennedy scored on less than Zetterberg's 7.6% of his shots, which is a shame because Zetterberg ranks seventh in shots per game over that time, which seems like too many missed opportunities.
Johan Franzen has been very consistent over the last five seasons, a time during which he scored 115 goals in 292 games, which ranks 21st in goals per game (0.39). He's signed through 2020, which is a long time, especially considering Mule is already 33-years-old but, in the here and now, he's a big-bodied forward with soft hands who complements Datsyuk well.
Even in a shortened season, Justin Abdelkader scored a career-high 10 goals and all came in the final 25 games of the season. A hard-driving physical winger, Abdelkader took regular turns on Datsyuk's wing late in the year and into the playoffs and showed some offensive promise. At the same time, there's no need to get carried away with projecting offensive greatness for Abdelkader as he only had three assists in 48 games and his 0.27 points per game was the same as the year before.
Part of the reason that the Red Wings needed Abdelkader to play a more offensive role was that Todd Bertuzzi only played seven games due largely to back troubles. Even at 38-years-old, Bertuzzi can contribute in a secondary or depth role because of his combination of size and skill.
Returning to Detroit didn't work out very well for Mikael Samuelsson, who missed massive chunks of time with groin, finger and pectoral injuries. The 36-year-old has been a pretty reliable two-way player, going back to the start of his first stint with the Wings in 2005-2006, but it's not going to be easy to get back up to speed after missing most of a season in his mid-30s.
Coming off a season in which he scored at a career-low rate (0.18 ppg), despite playing a career-high 13:49 per game, and had the worst puck possession stats of his career, Drew Miller landed a three-year contract from the Red Wings. There's something to be said for familiarity and Miller had scored at least 10 goals for Detroit in three straight seasons prior to 2013, but it's quite a vote of confidence considering the number of forward prospects pushing for playing time in Detroit.
Patrick Eaves scored 25 goals, total, in his first two seasons with the Red Wings, but has two goals in 44 games over the last two seasons and is in a battle just to keep a spot in the lineup.
A significant free agent addition for the Red Wings last summer, Jordin Tootoo is an odd fit in Detroit, as puck possession has never been a strength and he ended up playing 9:05 per game, his lowest since 2006-2007 and more than four minutes less than the previous season with Nashville. Tootoo had eight of the Red Wings' total 14 fights on the season, so he adds that physical dimension, but that's a limited role considering Detroit's investment.
Cory Emmerton played 10:49 per game while dressing for every game last season, and he's an inexpensive option on the fourth line, but he needs better possession numbers if he's going to secure a regular role.
A back injury kept Darren Helm out of all but one game last season and the speedy checking centre was sorely missed. Certainly the hope is that he'll be re recoverd and ready to play next season but, if not, that would leave a significant hole in the Detroit lineup.
With 122 points in 122 AHL games over two-plus seasons, Gustav Nyquist also has 13 points in 40 games with the Red Wings in his first two pro campaigns. That's modest production in minimal ice time, but Nyquist is skilled enough to warrant a look in a scoring role.
A responsible forward with good size, Joakim Andersson earned a regular turn with the Red Wings and even though his scoring numbers weren't special, he had strong possession stats and earned more playing time as the season progressed.
After scoring 16 points in his first 19 NHL games, Damien Brunner managed only 10 in the next 25 games, so it looked like his season was ending on a low, but then led the Wings with five goals in 14 playoff games. Like Wings veterans Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary, Brunner is an unrestricted free agent, and surely the Wings are interested in retaining him, but it could get interesting if other teams come calling.
If the Wings re-sign Brunner and add prospects like Nyquist and Tomas Tatar to the mix, and have a healthy Helm, then they don't have any glaring needs up front, though they could certainly upgrade on the spots that would be held by older wingers Bertuzzi and Samuelsson, though some financial creativity may be required if the Wings are going to go after any big-ticket free agent forwards.
Free Agent Defence
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
Red Wings Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
Charged with more responsibility as Detroit's number one defenceman in the wake of Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement, Niklas Kronwall played a career-high 24:22 per game and 29 points in 48 games respresented the second-best scoring rate (0.60 ppg) of his career. He struggled offensively in the playoffs, with two points in 14 games, but even if the 32-year-old doesn't have elite offensive ability, he's a devastating hitter who can play hard minutes.
Kronwall's partner, Jonathan Ericsson likewise saw a major increase in responsibility, playing a career-high 21:19 per game. He makes his share of mistakes, which can be a problem given the matchups he faces, but the 29-year-old has good size and moves well.
Veteran Kyle Quincey has certainly had more productive seasons than the three points in 36 games he put up in 2013, and the 19:13 per game that he played was his lowest since his first time around the Motor City, but he had strong possession numbers in that reduced role.
It's not like Carlo Colaiacovo to miss time with injuries. Er, okay it's exactly like Colaiacovo to miss time with injuries (he's missed at least 15 games in every year of his career except one) and he only played six games during the regular season. He's generally fared well by puck possession metrics thruoghout hsi career, so it's reasonable to hope that he'll be able to play a bigger role next season.
Undrafted, Brian Lashoff worked his way up and into regular duty on the Detroit blueline in the middle portion of the season, only to be put back in the press box late in the year. He has a new contract that suits an extra defenceman and he'll have to improve shot differentials if he's going to be anything more than that.
Drafted 19th overall in 2005, Jakub Kindl took a long time before he had earned the trust of the coaching staff in Detroit, but last season was a breakthrough for him, playing a career-high 18:33 per game (nearly 20 minutes per game in April). Like Ericsson, Kindl has good size and speed, but more offensive upside.
Considering his track record, which included 86 points in 152 AHL games, Brendan Smith was supposed to provide more offence for the Wings last season, but that started to come around later in the season and into the playoffs as he has 12 points in his last 29 games, including the postseason. Given the Wings' lack of offensive defencemen, they could use that production to carry over and even improve next season.
The Red Wings have enough bodies on the blueline, though they could really use another quality puck mover on the back end. Failing that, at least adding a right-handed shot might be worthwhile.
In four years as the Red Wings' starting goalie, Jimmy Howard has a .918 save percentage, which ranks seventh among those with at least 150 games played in that span. He also has a .918 save percentage in 42 playoff games so he has an established level of above average play.
The Wings had to lean heavily on Howard because backup Jonas Gustavsson didn't do much to inspire confidence in his first season wearing the Winged Wheel. He's paid well for a backup, but Gustavsson has an .899 save percentage in 114 career games, so it's getting a little late in the game for the 28-year-old to establish that he's even capable of being a solid second stringer.
||13-29-42, -2, 53 GP
||Grand Rapids (AHL)
||23-26-49, +8, 61 GP
||Grand Rapids (AHL)
||23-16-2, 2.33 GAA, .916 SV%
||Grand Rapids (AHL)
||16-20-36, +5, 72 GP
||10-31-41, +14, 50 GP
||35-49-84, +31, 56 GP
||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
||20-46-66, even, 50 GP
||2-24-26, +5, 52 GP
||Western Michigan (CCHA)
||2-13-15, -1, 35 GP
||Grand Rapids (AHL)
||14-14-28, +6, 74 GP
A second-round pick in 2010, 21-year-old Calle Jarnkrok has been starring in Sweden, scoring 81 points in 103 games over the past two seasons, and got into nine games with Grand Rapids late in the year, scoring three points. The Wings calling card is that they don't rush prospects, so Jarnkrok could be due to some time in the AHL, but he'll have a chance to be an impact player when he gets to the NHL.
22-year-old Tomas Tatar has toiled for four seasons in the American Hockey League, and was a huge part of Grand Rapids' run to a Calder Cup title this spring, scoring 16 goals in 24 playoff games. He put up seven points in 18 games with the Red Wings, in the longest look he's received at the NHL level, and he really ought to have a role in the NHL.
A fifth-round pick in 2010, Petr Mrazek has a .916 save percentage in 66 AHL games through his first two pro seasons and appears on track for an NHL career. In all likelihood, he could be better than Gustavsson now, but it's possible that Mrazek will get another year to develop before moving up the ladder.
Riley Sheahan is a solid two-way forward with good size who is probably not far from being NHL ready. An embarrassing DUI arrest gained him notoriety that he surely didn't want and obscured what was otherwise a good start to his pro career.
A quality two-way defenceman with an improving offensive game, Xavier Ouellet was a second-round pick in 2011 and finished his fourth junior season with 16 points in 15 playoff games. He should be ready to begin his apprenticeship in Grand Rapids.
Drafted in the second round last summer, Martin Frk is a shooter with great offensive instincts who had a tremendous season for the Memorial Cup champions. We'll have to see how his scoring fares when he's not on a junior hockey powerhouse.
A raw talent, 6-foot-4 defenceman Ryan Sproul has a bomb from the point, scoring 43 goals over his last two seasons in the OHL. He'll need time to round out the edges, but his talent gives him intriguing potential.
Skinny blueliner Mattias Backman had a breakthrough season in the Swedish Elite League and the 20-year-old has poise with the puck. If he can get strong enough to deal with the North American game, the fifth-round pick could pay off nicely.
In great demand as a free agent following his junior season at Western Michigan, Michigan native Danny DeKeyser chose the Red Wings and got into 11 games at the end of the season, plus two more in the playoffs, with Detroit before suffering a broken finger. He's big, mobile and makes a good first pass, but doesn't offer a lot of offence.
A second-round pick in 2011, Tomas Jurco is a spectacularly talented wildcard, who improved as his first pro season went along, scoring seven goals and 14 points in his last 22 games. If he puts it together, he could score at the next level.
It's not like Jurco doesn't have competition. The Red Wings have a long list of additional prospects including Landon Ferraro, and risk-reward fowards Andreas Athanasiou, Teemu Pulkkinen and Marek Tvrdon as well as defencemen Adam Almquist and Nick Jensen. If the Wings want to sacrifice some prospects for immediate help, they have the organizational depth to do so.
18th - Ryan Pulock, Rasmus Ristolainen, Anthony Mantha.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Red Wings have approximately $56.0M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 18 players.
Check out my possible Red Wings lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top six forwards, one top-pair defenceman.
What I said the Red Wings needed last year: Two top nine forwards, top-pair defenceman, backup goaltender.
They added: Damien Brunner, Jordin Tootoo, Mikael Samuelsson, Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff, Jonas Gustavsson.
Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo, prospects.
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 on Facebook.