I’ve pointed it out numerous times before. The Detroit Red Wings, for the first time in 25 years, missed the playoffs last season. After barely managing to scrape in the two season prior, it was only a matter of time before the illustrious streak came to an end.
Even in a season of incompetence and disarray, there were still bright spots and points to take away.
Henrik Zetterberg is still doing Henrik Zetterberg things. Leading the team in points by 20 and assists by 15, you have to wonder when he will begin declining. Gustav Nyquist, despite struggling in the goal scoring department, had a solid year, finishing second on the team with 48 points and 36 assists. Tomas Tatar again showed that he can be a 23+ goal scorer, leading the team with 25. Young guns Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou also impressed mightily, with both exceeding expectations. Even Dylan Larkin had a respectable enough year, and we all know how low I am on Larkin, but that’s neither here nor there.
With the signings of Luke Witkowski and Trevor Daley, the Wings’ blue line got more experienced and deeper. However, their defensive core will still likely be their glaring weakness. Goalie wise, it’s same old, same old for the Wings, as they, at least for the time being, are sticking with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. Both of whom are phenomenal goalies on their nights, and decent at best when it’s not. However, with another year under Nick Jensen’s belt, and Danny DeKeyser, hopefully, returning to the player we all know he can be, Howard and Mrazek won’t be left on an island too much.
The Wings, surprisingly enough, didn’t bring in any key signings for their forwards, unless you count Turner Elson, and I know I certainly don’t. The Wings seem content with who they’ve got, and when I close my eyes and tilt my head, I am too. Let’s face it, their offense was abysmal last season, with few bright spots. With another year under both Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha’s belts, it should calm the storm a little bit. BUT, then we run into the issue that Ken Holland has yet to sign Andreas Athanasiou to an extension. There are reports, however, that Athanasiou has turned down a contract offer of 2 years, with an AAV of $1.9MM because he believes he’s worth more. I love you AA, but you couldn’t be further from correct in that sense. Hopefully, the two sides agree to a deal, because AA will be a mainstay for years to come in the Wings’ organization.
Now, we also run into who gets that final roster spot? The two lead guys for that race are Tyler Bertuzzi and Evgeny Svechnikov. Bertuzzi got seven games in the NHL last season, whereas Svechnikov only saw action in two. Neither scored a single point, so, as a better indicator, you look at their AHL numbers, to hopefully get a general idea of what they might bring to the Wings this upcoming season. Bertuzzi played in just 48 games due to injury, scoring 12 goals and earning 25 assists. He did tear it up in the Calder Cup playoffs though, earning 19 points in 19 games. Svechnikov played in 74 games, scoring 20 goals and earning 31 assists. It may be in Detroit’s best interest to groom Svechnikov for one more year in the AHL, and have him come up for injuries, or for game time late in the season. All this meaning Bertuzzi gets that final roster spot, due more to experience and his proven ability to perform under pressure than anything else.
ALL of that amounts to some form of expectation for the Wings. Realistically, it’s reasonable to expect the Wings to finish anywhere from 18th to 22nd in goal scoring given that Anthony Mantha will have a full year and the NHL, and holding our breath that Nyquist returns to the goal scorer we know he can be. Defensively, the Wings won’t improve much, if at all, despite more experience and DeKeyser hopefully returning to form. Realistically, the finish anywhere from 20th to 24th. Last, but most certainly not least, where do they finish in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference in general? After a ROUGH 2016-17 season, the Wings will finish 5th or 6th in the Atlantic, and 12th or 13th in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs, yet again, comfortably.