How Will the Red Wings Fare in the East?

9/27/13 in NHL   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Sep 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg (40) and defenseman Adam Almqvist (right) congratulate center Pavel Datsyuk (13) after Datsyuk scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsDetroit’s last season in the Western Conference was an extremely strange one.  First off, the team had to acclimate themselves to life without Nicklas Lidstrom, and then after that, a chain of injuries left the team with an even smaller roster.  And the lockout-shortened season made it even tougher for the team to recover from the injuries.  After finishing 7th in the West and upsetting the 2-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round, the Red Wings lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in a great 7-game showdown that was probably the top series in last year’s NHL playoffs.
The team’s 7th place finish in the West was their lowest finish in over 20 years.  And after so many duels with the likes of Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, etc., the Wings will find themselves with a new set of rivals this coming season.
The Wings will be part of the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference this season, an eight-team division including Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Toronto.
The offseason was mostly positive for the Wings.  The biggest acquisition was center Stephen Weiss, who signed a 5-year, $24.5 million deal.  He’s likely going to take the place of the departed Valtteri Filppula on the second line, pairing with Johan Franzen and fellow new-addition Daniel Alfredsson, who spent his first 17 NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators (who figure to be one of the toughest competitors in the Atlantic this year).  That will allow for the first line to remain the way it was for most of last season with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Justin Abdelkader.
The Wings also resigned Daniel Cleary - which looked doubtful for a while - so the only key losses for the team are Filppula (Tampa Bay) and winger Damien Brunner (New Jersey).
How exactly the third and fourth offensive lines will form is still a bit of a question.  Cleary will be in the mix, as will Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson.  Then there’s veterans Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson, scrappy wingers Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves, former Predator Jordin Tootoo, and promising youngster Tomas Tatar who has had a great preseason so far.  There’s also speedy skater Darren Helm who is still recovering from a back injury that limited him to one game last year.  Although he recently began skating with the team again, he still hasn’t been cleared for full-contact practice.
Defense was the main problem for the Wings last year.  While Niklas Kronwall showed some key growth in filling in for Lidstrom, the production from the second and third liners was greatly lacking.  Young defensemen Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, and Danny DeKeyser will be under the microscope all year.  Kindl had a nice first full season (albeit lockout shortened) on the second line, while DeKeyser showed great skating abilities and a good amount of potential in the little time he was on the ice last year.  Former first rounder Brendan Smith made quite a few mistakes in the playoffs and while he’s still only 24, the team’s lack of depth means he’s going to have to limit the miscues sooner rather than later.
Luckily, making up for any defensive shortcomings is the always-reliable Jimmy Howard, who has become one of the game’s top goaltenders.
Boston and Pittsburgh - the last two teams standing from the East last year - are the preseason favorites to take the top seed in the conference, but with Pittsburgh’s goaltending questions and Boston’s suspect defense, there’s definitely an opportunity for other team’s to squeak into the top two spots.  Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal should all be stronger this season, while a coaching change for the Rangers could make things interesting too.
The NHL is known for its variety; the difficulty every team has in repeating their success on a yearly basis.  The Red Wings are the one anomaly of the past two decades, never missing the playoffs and rarely seeding lower than 4th in the West.  I think both Boston and Pittsburgh both have a fair share of struggles this year.  While they’ll both almost undoubtedly finish in the top 8 by the end of the year, I think a dark horse could rise up and take that top seed.  It could be one of the Canadian representatives (a skilled, young Ottawa team should really turn some heads this year) or it could very well be the Wings.
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