It’s the final season at historic Joe Louis Arena as the Detroit Red Wings prepare for their 91st NHL campaign before moving to brand new Little Caesars Arena next year.
After a frustrating five-game opening round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s playoffs, the Red Wings enter this season looking to build off the successful rookie campaign of Dylan Larkin, and with Petr Mrazek as their solidified number one goaltender, they’ll look to make it 26 consecutive seasons qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The most significant change Detroit is facing is the departure of superstar Pavel Datsyuk, who elected to skip the final year of his contract with the Red Wings in order to return to his native Russia and finish his career there. To compensate for the loss, Detroit signed former New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal. A dependable two-way forward, Nielsen can be used in nearly every situation on the ice.
The Red Wings also signed forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. Vanek is a two-time 40 goal scorer out to prove he can still produce at a high level, and Ott brings an element of toughness to the team that the Red Wings have been lacking of late. Meanwhile, they re-signed goaltender Mrazek to a two-year bridge contract. After not being able to find a trading partner for Jimmy Howard, Detroit enters the year with two high-priced goaltenders on the roster. This could prove to be an asset should one falter or suffer an injury.
Detroit also elected to re-sign forwards Darren Helm and Drew Miller to five- and one-year contracts, respectively. Riley Sheahan was also re-signed to a two-year deal, while defenseman Kyle Quincey was let go and subsequently signed with the New Jersey Devils.
During the off-season, Detroit parted ways with assistant coach Tony Granato, who took the head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. Detroit also moved former assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler to the press box. New faces behind the bench include former long-time Boston Bruins assistant (and former Red Wings player) Doug Houda, and former Minnesota Wild head coach John Torchetti.
Detroit will need bounce-back seasons from forwards Tomas Tatar and Gus Nyquist, who emerged as offensive leaders for the team in past seasons but struggled last year to produce consistently. Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall starts the year on IR, meaning players like Brendan Smith will see their roles expanded. Meanwhile, captain Henrik Zetterberg returns after rehabbing a knee injury during the off-season and hopes to stay healthy all year.
The action gets underway Thursday night in Tampa Bay against the very team that has knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two seasons. The final home opener in Joe Louis Arena history is Monday, October 17 against Ottawa. You can view the entire schedule here. For a complete update of the roster and who made the final cut for Opening Night on Thursday, click here.