More good news for Red Wings fans! On Wednesday night, they wrapped up their four game sweep of the 6th seeded Phoenix Coyotes, a series they completed without the services of their leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg. Today, word came down that Zetterberg will miss no more time with his left knee injury. While it still remains to be seen who the Wings will play in Round 2, and when that round will start, the Wings can take comfort in knowing that they'll have #40 back on the ice.
The question now becomes, if Zetterberg does in fact return, who does Mike Babcock take out of his lineup? The obvious first scratch is Mike Modano, as he was out of the lineup for the first three games until Johan Franzen's left ankle injury forced him in. All signs point towards Franzen being able to go in Game 1, so the Wings would be forced to make two healthy scratches on forward for the first time in the playoffs.
So who could it be? I'll offer a couple guys who could find themselves relegated to press box duty in a week, and open up the floor to debate from there.
Kris Draper, Round 1 stats: 0P, +3, 8 Hits, 4 Blocked Shots
Draper's value to this team goes beyond what will ever be recorded by statistics. He may not have contributed any points in the first round, but his line (consisting of himself, Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves), was fantastic in chipping 3 goals, 2 assists and a collective +7. Draper's presence on the fourth line gives the team a second center on the ice, which for a team that gets waved out of the face-off circle as often as Detroit does, is vital. In the playoffs, that importance is magnified. He also has a never-ending motor; when Draper is on the ice, you know he is not going to cheat you on effort. Of the potential scratches, Draper offers the least offensive upside. He did not play this year until December 4th after a training camp groin injury and subsequent surgery. He missed 23 games to injury and 12 as a healthy scratch this season.
Patrick Eaves Round 1 stats: 2G, 0A, +2, 8 Hits
Eaves was the first Red Wings skater to play his way out of the healthy scratch rotation this season. What started as a rotation of he and Drew Miller grew at times to include both Draper and Jiri Hudler, but Eaves quickly made himself so valuable that he couldn't be taken out of the lineup. He offers the most offense of any of the grinding-type players who could be scratched, registering 13 goals in 63 games played. He only missed 5 games as a healthy scratch, but missed another 14 due to injury, so his durability is a concern. Eaves' injuries tend to come from his reckless style of play rather than a recurring issue or a flukey type of play. He normally gets dinged up by blocking shots, or giving and receiving hits. His offensive production had slowed to nearly a standstill in the last third of the season, going goalless from January 22nd until potting two in Game 4 against Phoenix, a span of 27 games played.
Jiri Hudler, Round 1 stats: 1G, 2A, +2, 0 PIM
Hudler is the only player you wouldn't classify as a grinder who is in danger of being a scratch. He chipped in some good secondary offense in the first round, with 3 points in the 4 games played. His season was largely a disappointment, with perhaps expectations being too high for him coming back from a season spent in the Russian KHL. He started off very slowly, and ended the year with only 10 goals and 37 points. His most successful stretch was when injuries forced him onto the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary for a stretch. Scratching him may be the move that hurts the Wings the least going forward, as all the other players are valued contributors on the penalty kill, while Hudler plays mainly 5 on 5 and on the secondary power play unit. With Zetterberg coming back in and pushing someone off the PP, Hudler might be the one to go. He was a healthy scratch 6 times this year, and also missed three games to injury following a huge hit by Washington's DJ King. One positive for Hudler in the playoffs is that he did not take a single penalty, and for someone who is undersized with a propensity for taking obstruction penalties, that is a good sign.
Drew Miller, Round 1 stats: 1G, 1A, +2, 8 Hits
In my mind, Eaves and Miller are virtually interchangeable. Eaves might be the fleeter of foot, but I think Miller is the more hockey savvy of the two. Miller might have a slight edge defensively, but Eaves is the superior player offensively. But in virtually every aspect, they will give you nearly identical contributions. Your decision on whether or not to sit one or the other could easily come down to a matter of preference. From the moment we acquired Miller off waivers from Tampa Bay, the one thing that stood out to me is that he is very good at everything, without excelling at anything. He is just a good, solid hockey player. He is versatile enough to play on the scoring lines, as he has with Zetterberg and Franzen out, and strong enough defensively to be an important contributor on the PK and in fourth line duty. He was a healthy scratch a forward-high 15 times this season, but did not miss a single game to injury. He's a plug-and-play kind of guy, who you just throw into the lineup and don't have to worry about.
Those are the four guys who I think are most likely to find themselves in the press box when Round 2 opens up. Do you think I left someone out who should be in the discussion? Or if not, which of these four will be the odd man out? Let's hear it Red Wings fans!