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Off-Season Game Plan: Detroit Red Wings

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Scott Cullen
5/29/2014 10:11:06 AM
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The Detroit Red Wings were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Boston Bruins, but they have also made the postseason every year since 1990.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Wings team that has been rejuvenated with youth, but has a small window of time to capitalize on the talent of team leaders Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

The Wings have a bit of an interesting mix, with aging vets combined with young players who were thrust into bigger roles when those older players got hurt last year.

While the Wings can be, at times, too patient with their prospects, those that were called upon last year -- including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco, among others -- were ready to play and contribute and that does provide reason for optimism going forward.

"I think there's this perception that July 1 free agents, there's this hockey store, there's this fantasy hockey league that I'm running, playing in, and that we can go get superstars," GM Ken Holland told Detroit's CBS Affiliate. "Those days are over. That was a bit of the league prior to 2005. Those days are over. This is a league now where you've got to draft, you've got to develop, we've got to make people better." 

It's one thing to be optimistic about what those young players might be able to contribute; it's another to realize that there may not be that much longer that the Wings can count on premier production from Datsyuk and Zetterberg, so there's some reason for urgency in order to take advantage over the next couple seasons.

The benefit of having so many young, and cheap, players is that the Wings have the financial flexibility to make some big moves this summer if they so choose. They have the cap room to go after the big fish in free agency, however shallow that pool might be, but also have cap room and prospects to be players on the trade market.

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) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.

GM/COACH
Ken Holland/Mike Babcock

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Henrik Zetterberg 81.62 45 16 32 48 53.3% $6.083M
Gustav Nyquist 77.29 57 28 20 48 54.5% $950K
Pavel Datsyuk 77.12 45 17 20 37 55.7% $7.5M
Johan Franzen 72.53 54 16 25 41 51.2% $3.955M
Darren Helm 68.14 42 12 8 20 52.8% $2.125M
Justin Abdelkader 64.83 70 10 18 28 50.7% $1.8M
Joakim Andersson 60.79 65 8 9 17 49.9% $733K
Drew Miller 60.50 82 7 8 15 48.8% $1.35M
Luke Glendening 56.22 56 1 6 7 46.2% $628K
Stephen Weiss 55.37 26 2 2 4 41.6% $4.9M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Daniel Alfredsson 70.96 68 18 31 49 51.3% UFA $5.5M
Tomas Tatar 68.36 73 19 20 39 56.3% RFA $840K
David Legwand 67.39 83 14 37 51 49.5% UFA $4.5M
Riley Sheahan 66.47 42 9 15 24 56.4% RFA $900K
Todd Bertuzzi 60.56 59 9 7 16 49.5% UFA $2.075M
Dan Cleary 57.33 52 4 4 8 47.3% UFA $1.75M
Mikael Samuelsson 56.48 26 1 2 3 50.8% UFA $1.8M

It's a shame that back problems sidelined Henrik Zetterberg for a good portion of the season, because he was productive as ever, playing a career-high 20:33 per game, with his 1.07 points per game his best since 2007-2008. Since 2005-2006, Zetterberg is one of nine players to play at least 500 games and average better than a point per game. He's also one of the all-timers in puck possession metrics and remains effective in that regard even though he consistently faces the highest-quality opposition.

It's one thing for the Wings to be missing Zetterberg for a significant amount of time, but to also lose Pavel Datsyuk for 37 games, thanks to a degenerative knee. While Zetterberg scored more last season, Datsyuk actually comes in ahead of Zetterberg on a couple of the above lists (points per game, Corsi%). It's worth noting that the Wings took it easier on Datsyuk last season, with more offensive zone starts and easier quality of competition than he faced previously. These could be the kind of allowances you make for a supremely-skilled 35-year-old who is grinding through injury, but Datsyuk also averaged 20:16 of ice time per game, his highest since 2009-2010, so it's not like he was relegated to a lesser role.

Absurdly demoted to the AHL at the start of last season, because the Red Wings had bottled up their roster with too many veterans under contract, Gustav Nyquist ripped through the AHL for 21 points in 15 games before getting recalled and he was one of the league's hottest goal-scorers, going on a stretch from January 20 through April 2 during which he scored 23 goals in 28 games. There is no reason to believe that Nyquist will continue to be an 18% shooter, so get ready for regression, but don't dismiss him altogether. He's got great jets, is a top-shelf possession player and has the offensive track record (including 143 points in 137 AHL games) so that Nyquist has to enter next season with high expectations.

Concussions cost Johan Franzen many of the 28 games that he missed last year and while there are some indications that the 34-year-old's play is slipping, Franzen has put up better than 0.70 points per game for six straight seasons, including 0.76 last season. His best years are behind him, but Mule can still be a useful complement to Datsyuk, a spot that has been a good place for him for many years.

Injuries have threatened to derail Darren Helm's career, but the speedy checking centre battled back to play a mostly regular role once he returned to action. He still missed time with a groin injury and a concussion, but Helm proved to be a valuable contributor, though a tad fortunate considering that his shooting percentage (14.5%) was double his previous career rate.

A hard-nosed winger with limited offensive upside, Justin Abdelkader did score a career-high 28 points last season, playing a career-high 15:17 per game. The issue with those scoring totals, however, is that Abdelkader spent most of his time playing with highly-skilled players (Zetterberg, Nyquist and datsyuk were among his most common linemates) so there is some offensive opportunity cost to playing him in that role too often.

Joakim Andersson has worked his way into a regular spot in the lineup, but was as unlucky as anyone in the Detroit lineup last season, coming in on the low end of both on-ice shooting and save percentages.

Despite minimal offensive production, Drew Miller has played all but four games over the past two seasons. He also plays more -- a career-high 14:08 last season -- than his possession numbers might typically warrant.

An undrafted free agent, Luke Glendening quickly earned the trust of the Red Wings' coaching staff though he's not very productive and gets thumped in possession terms.

It was easy enough to write off Stephen Weiss's 2012-2013 season due to the wrist surgery that he required, and he had several suitors as a free agent last summer, but his first season in Detroit was a disaster, and his production over the past two seasons is in the neighbourhood of fourth-line enforcers. Would the Red Wings be willing to stomach a buy out on a contract that has four years and $20.5-million remaining? If not, they're really hoping for a dramatic turnaround.

A first-round pick in 2010, Riley Sheahan was a useful contributor upon getting called up to Detroit. He won't be able to sustain the percentages that contributed to his goal and point production, but he was a solid possession performer too, and that will work in any circumstances.

Overshadowed by Nyquist, Tomas Tatar was the Red Wings' second-leading goal-scorer in his first full season. His usage tilted the ice in his favour, but Tatar delivered strong possession numbers too and, like Nyquist, has to be counted on as an offensive producer going forward.

There are more options to fill out Detroit's forward ranks. Prospect Tomas Jurco split last season between Detroit and Grand Rapids; Daniel Alfredsson is an unrestricted free agent and, with so many young players on the roster, the Wings have loads of cap room should they wish to trade for the likes of Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Ryan Kesler or sign free agents like Paul Stastny, Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla or Marian Gaborik.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Niklas Kronwall 73.14 79 8 41 49 51.9% $4.75M
Brendan Smith 63.93 71 5 14 19 53.9% $1.263M
Jakub Kindl 63.73 66 2 17 19 51.6% $2.4M
Jonathan Ericsson 62.74 48 1 10 11 51.7% $4.25M
Brian Lashoff 56.35 75 1 5 6 50.4% $725K

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Danny DeKeyser 65.44 65 4 19 23 49.0% RFA $1.35M
Kyle Quincey 60.59 82 4 9 13 49.7% UFA $3.775M

Niklas Kronwall has played big minutes for the Wings and has top-tier possession stats. A mobile puck-mover who delivers some of the most devastating hits in the league, Kronwall is the clear-cut number one on a unit that, generally, lacks experience.

Brendan Smith has the skill to play a bigger role and saw more minutes late in the year and into the playoffs, but he has not displayed the same offensive production that he had in the AHL or at the University of Wisconsin. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for 25-year-old Smith, who has been a solid possession player, to seize playing time on the Detroit blueline

It's been a gradual process for Jakub Kindl to establish himself as a regular on the Detroit blueline and he's managed to put up decent possession numbers in the past couple seasons as Detroit shelters his usage, with relatively easy competition and more offensive zone starts.

Jonathan Ericsson has been thrust into a prominent role, playing more than 21 minutes per game over the past two seasons. Ericsson's flawed, but manages to put up decent possession numbers while facing high-quality opposition.

An inexpensive depth defenceman who worked his way up as an undrafted free agent, Brian Lashoff continues to improve and while he's not pushing for top-four minutes, there is room for Lashoff to hold the sixth spot on the Wings' blueline.

Though he played more than 21 minutes per game as a rookie, and faced quality opposition, Danny DeKeyser was on the ice for more shot attempts against than for during 5-on-5 play. He's a fluid skater and can move the puck, but DeKeyser needs to continue to improve if he's going to hold down a spot in the Wings' top four.

The Wings will have the cap room to spend if they decide that a defensive upgrade is prudent. Free agents like Andrei Markov or Dan Boyle might provide value, in that they won't necessarily require a long term, but would be able to contribute while Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still capable of keeping the Wings in playoff contention.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Jimmy Howard 71.09 51 21 19 11 2.66 .910 $5.292M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Jonas Gustavsson 63.72 27 16 5 4 2.63 .907 UFA $1.5M

Jimmy Howard's .910 save percentage last season was the second-lowest of his career but, over the past five seasons, he ranks above average, with a .917 save percentage. The Wings have cast their lost with Howard, for the time being, it seems, as he's signed for five more seasons. Any changes in goal would require finding a landing spot for Howard.

The heir apparent for the Red Wings' number one goaltending job, Petr Mrazek has done nothing to diminish that expectation. He has a .919 save percentage in 74 AHL games and a .926 save percentage in 11 NHL games. That's enough to get first crack at the backup gig next season.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Anthony Mantha RW Val d'Or (QMJHL) 57-63-120, +34, 57 GP
Tomas Jurco RW Grand Rapids (AHL) 13-19-32, +10, 32 GP
Xavier Ouellet D Grand Rapids (AHL) 4-13-17, +3, 70 GP
Petr Mrazek G Grand Rapids (AHL) 2.10 GAA, .924 SV%, 32 GP
Mattias Backman D Linkopings (SHL) 6-15-21, +25, 54 GP
Ryan Sproul D Grand Rapids (AHL) 11-21-32, even, 72 GP
Teemu Pulkkinen RW Grand Rapids (AHL) 31-28-59, +18, 71 GP
Andreas Athanasiou LW Barrie (OHL) 49-46-95, +25, 66 GP
Mattias Janmark-Nylen C AIK (SHL) 18-12-30, -6, 45 GP
Adam Almqvist D Grand Rapis (AHL) 4-49-53, +9, 73 GP
Alexei Marchenko D Grand Rapids (AHL) 3-15-18, +11, 49 GP
Mitch Callahan RW Grand Rapids (AHL) 26-18-44, +23, 70 GP

The 20th pick in 2013 Anthony Mantha went off on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey Hockey League last season, finishing with 158 points (81 G, 77 A) in 81 (regular season plus playoff) games. He's big and can put the puck in the net. Since this is the Red Wings, Mantha is going to start in the AHL, but his rise could be quick.

A second-round pick in 2011, Tomas Jurco has good size and brilliant puck skills, breaking out in his second pro season, scoring a point-per-game in the AHL, then adding eight goals and 15 points, with excellent possession stats, in 36 NHL games. Barring a roster crunch, Jurco should be in the NHL next season.

Another second rounder from 2011, Xavier Ouellet has impressed with his heady play and earned a four-game audition with the Wings last season. He didn't look out of place and could challenge for a spot as soon as next season.

Drafted in the fifth round in 2010, Petr Mrazek has been consistently strong since then, with Ottawa in the OHL, the Czech Republic in the World Juniors and with Grand Rapids in the AHL. The 22-year-old could be ready for an NHL job; then the question will be how soon he's ready to push for the No. 1 spot.

Selected in the fifth round in 2011, Mattias Backman is a smooth, puck-moving defenceman who joined Grand Rapids following a strong year in Sweden. He could get stronger and will have to get used to the North American game, but the 21-year-old may not be far away from earning a look.

A talented player with a big shot from the point, Ryan Sproul was a second-round pick in 2011. He can refine his play without the puck, but the raw package is intriguing.

Picked in the fourth round in 2010, Teemu Pulkkinen had a very strong first year in North America, putting up 36 goals and 70 points in 81 (regular season plus playoff) AHL games and getting a three-game trial with the Wings. There are a lot of young forwards that have just cracked the Detroit roster, which makes Pulkkinen's quest more challenging.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Andreas Athanasiou is a gifted offensive player with size and skill, but will need time to work on his two-way play before he might contend for a spot in Detroit.

A late bloomer who was a third-round pick last summer, Mattias Janmark-Nylen has put up a couple of strong seasons in the Swedish Hockey League, and the 21-year-old will need to show he can do it in North America before expectations get raised too much.

Continuing the run of mid-to-late-round selections that have climbed the Wings' prospect ranks, 2009 seventh-rounder Adam Almqvist has tallied 84 points in 141 AHL games over the past two years. He's on the small side, but the ability of defenders to move the puck is increasingly valuable.

Another seventh-rounder, from 2011, Alexei Marchenko had a solid first year in North America, even getting a game with the Red Wings. He has good size and could develop into a stay-at-home defender.

Drafted in the sixth round in 2009, Mitch Callahan is an agitator coming off a productive AHL season. His ceiling isn't high, but he could earn a look on the fourth line.

Red Wings advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater

DRAFT
15th - Kevin Fiala, Alex Tuch, Sonny Milano.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Red Wings have approximately $48.7M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 16 players.

Check out my possible Red Wings lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: Two top nine forwards, two top four defencemen, backup goaltender.

What I said the Red Wings needed last year: Two top six forwards, one top-pair defenceman.

They added: Daniel Alfredsson, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Stephen Weiss.

TRADE MARKET
Johan Franzen, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Andersson, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith.

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.

Pavel Datsyuk (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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