The Detroit Red Wings enter the 2017-18 season with more questions than answers after missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century. And thanks to tight cap space, the team that will be taking the ice at Little Caesars Arena is largely unchanged from last year’s team.
Of course, the goal is to return to the playoffs, but whether or not they have the personnel to be able to achieve the suddenly difficult task seems to have been answered already by most hockey experts – probably not.
“There are a lot of things that happened last year that were bad,” said Henrik Zetterberg. “There are a lot of guys in here that believe they can be way better than last year. I believe in the group in here. I believe guys will bounce back, our power play will be better. There are good young players ready to play bigger roles, and a lot of guys who I believe will have better years.”
The Red Wings captain was one of few skaters on the team who enjoyed a solid offensive output with 68 points. Leading the team with 25 goals was Tomas Tatar, the only player to break the 20-goal plateau. He was rewarded this offseason with a four-year, $21.2 million deal.
Underachievement was the theme of the season, as forwards such as Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, and Dylan Larkin failed to live up to expectations. As a whole, the team scored a mere 2.41 goals per game – only four other NHL squads scored less on average.
Most notably, forward Riley Sheahan went the entire year without scoring a goal until he tallied twice in Detroit’s regular season finale – well after they’d already been eliminated from playoff contention.
New to the fold is forward David Booth, a veteran of 502 NHL games who most recently played in the KHL. He’s expected to provide some stability to Detroit’s fourth line, though won’t be depended upon for any significant offensive punch. Meanwhile, the team is still playing the waiting game with restricted free-agent forward Andreas Athanasiou, who is still holding out for a higher contract offer from the team. Young forward Martin Frk will also be joining the big club after spending time in the minors. Right-handed and with a powerful shot, he could be a dark-horse candidate for a surprising rookie.
Despite periods of struggle, young forward Anthony Mantha made tremendous strides, and is expected to take the next step this year in his development. At 6’5 and 225 lbs, Mantha is one of the largest bodies on the team, and he’ll be counted on to use his size to generate more chances.
If Detroit has any intention of competing for a playoff spot, they’ll need far more from their offensive corps, and need bounce-back years from just about everyone.
On the defensive side of the puck, the most notable change is the arrival of Trevor Daley. He’s lifted the Stanley Cup the past two years as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and is expected to take some of the burden away from the aging Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser, who struggled.
Along with Nick Jensen, Jonathan Ericsson, and Xavier Ouellet, Detroit’s blueline isn’t expected to be among the most attractive in the league, but does get some needed stability from Daley.
As far as goaltending goes, the Red Wings are continuing to stick with the Jimmy Howard/Peter Mrazek tandem. Before an injury caused him to miss nearly three months of action, Howard was enjoying a bounce-back year, posting a 2.10 GAA and .927 save percentage. However, Mrazek struggled after entering the season as Detroit’s starter. A 3.04 goals against average wasn’t what he nor the team had in mind, and he was left unprotected in the 2017 NHL expansion draft in June.
Whomever has the hot hand will get the bulk of the starts in net, and both goaltenders need to push the other. More notably, Mrazek will need to put last year out of his mind as he enters his contract year. Should he step up and prove himself, Detroit will have a fighting chance most nights.
One key element Detroit will need to improve is their special teams play. The team power play was abysmal for much of the year, struggling to the point of going three months without a road power play goal. Despite this, no changes were made to the team’s coaching personnel.
Bottom line? Detroit faces an uphill battle this season to even be in the discussion of the postseason. That’s certainly not something we as fans in Hockeytown are used to, but it’s the new reality for the Red Wings. Don’t expect them to finish any higher than 5th in the Atlantic Division.