Very soon, the Red Wings will have to deal with a problem they’ve barely had to think about for two full seasons. When Brad Stuart, Valtteri Filppula and Mike Modano all return sometime this month (hopefully) the Red Wings will have…*gasp* too many healthy players!
Starting last season, the Wings never really played a game with a fully healthy lineup. Darren Helm injured his shoulder in training camp in 2009, and the slew of injuries that followed that didn’t ever really stop. Franzen, Williams, Filppula, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Paul MacLean’s moustache and the beer guy from section 217B all went down with one injury or another. By the time nearly everyone was back in the lineup, Kirk Maltby left for his career-ending shoulder surgery.
This season, we were missing Kris Draper until December after a pulled groin kept him out of the lineup initially, and then hernia surgery followed. By the time he was back in the rotation, we’d lost Mike Modano. We then lost Datsyuk, Cleary, Stuart and Holmstrom long-term, and players like Filppula and Eaves also missed some time. Oh yeah, and at one point we were down to 4th stringer Thomas McCollum backing up 3rd string Joey MacDonald, and for one game 5th string Jordan Pearce backed up Jimmy. Fun times, December, January and February have been.
But with Stuart expecting to be back on Thursday, Modano shooting for the 24th vs. Dallas, and Filppula expected back in that same time frame, the Wings will have the interesting problem of having too many healthy players for the amount of roster spots available.
So what to do with our 14 forwards and 7 defensemen?
The easiest decision comes along the blue line. Brad Stuart subs right back in as Nicklas Lidstrom’s right hand man. Jakub Kindl goes back to playing NHL11 in the press box, and working on his cross-crease one timer, or whatever it is they do up there. The only guy he could possibly have taken a job from was Ericsson, and he has been leaps and bounds better than he was last year, and really cemented a position on this team. For as much as Kindl has improved from early in the season, he is still the #7 guy in Detroit.
Not so fast though. If Stuart does indeed return on Thursday as planned, Kindl may still get to see the ice. How, you ask?
Well, Ruslan Salei and his wife are expecting their third child literally any minute now. I’ll be sure to let you know when he calls me with the news. In any event, the team has let him go home to California to be with his family. I’d imagine if Stuart is cleared by doctors on Tuesday, as he expects to be, then the Wings will let Salei stick around in Cali for a few more days. They play in Tampa Bay on the 17th, Florida the 18th and Minnesota the 20th before returning home for a game against San Jo on the 22nd. Detroit could let Salei stay in California for a week, then have him return to the lineup on the 21st in time to play the Sharks.
At that point, the pairings would be likely be set and remain the same unless someone needs a one-day breather (likely Rafalski and his wonky back). Lidstrom-Stuart, Ericsson-Rafalski, Kronwall-Salei.
The forward rotation is much, much trickier. I have a feeling that it might come down to situational play determining who sits and who plays. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second.
First, it is worth mentioning that there are a handful of players that are completely, 100% safe from being scratched. Those are Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Cleary, Bertuzzi, Filppula, Holmstrom, Helm, Eaves and Abdelkader. Jiri Hudler, if he keeps playing the way he is, could find himself in that group as well, but for now, we’ll include him among the others.
The list of players who will make up the final two forward spots are Hudler, Drew Miller, Kris Draper and Mike Modano. This is where we get into the situational part I referred to earlier.
What I mean by that is when we play on the road, and have last change and a tougher face-off assignment (road team has to put their stick down first in the face-off dot), Babcock may elect to go with a center-heavy lineup, and play Modano and Draper over Miller and Hudler. That way, we could have two guys who can take a face-off on the ice almost all of the time, so we’d be less likely to get caught in a bad spot in that sense.
Also, when playing a big, physical team, you may not want a guy like Hudler in the lineup over a Draper or a Miller, because he does have a tendency to shy away from physical play. That being said, I am really hoping he keeps up his current play and makes it a three man race for the final spot.
I think what will happen for the remainder of the regular season is that Modano, Miller and Draper will all rotate in and out of the lineup on a game to game basis (unless an injury situation requires more than one of them to play).
Then, in the playoffs, I have to think that Modano will be getting more games than Miller and Draper. They didn’t bring him here to sit on the bench.
That would give you a playoff game day line up of…
I also don’t see the Red Wings moving any of their forwards (or D for that matter) in order to solve the problem of having capable players sitting in the press box. They really like the roster they’ve assembled, and they feel like they have enough depth where if one player goes down, they have plenty of willing and able guys who will be ready to get the job done, without much drop off in production. We’ve seen that all the pieces can fit and be productive, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.
Detroit Red Wings for the Cup. Believe.