Detroit Red Wings: What Will the Team's Identity Be Heading into Next Season?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2012

Pavel Datsyuk is one of the most magical players in the NHL.
Pavel Datsyuk is one of the most magical players in the NHL.Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The 2011-12 season came to a crashing halt for the Detroit Red Wings when they lost their first-round playoff series to the Nashville Predators in five games.

Shortly after the season ended, the Red Wings got the news they dreaded hearing. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was calling it a career after 21 brilliant seasons, all of them with the Red Wings.

Bobby Orr was undoubtedly the most spectacular defenseman in NHL history and perhaps the best player in the game’s history.

However, Lidstrom was probably second to Orr in overall ability and perhaps the most consistent player at the position over a long career.

Then, as free agency got underway, the Red Wings wanted to make a big splash by signing stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The Red Wings have often been able to get exactly what they wanted, but not this time. Both Parise and Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild (source: New York Times).

With the shocking loss in the playoffs, the retirement of Lidstrom and the failure to secure Parise and Suter, the Red Wings are clearly on their way down, and it’s just a matter of time before their streak of 21 straight playoff appearances comes to an end, right? Wrong.

That playoff streak will surely come to an end at some point, but it won’t be this year. Just because the Red Wings have suffered a couple of heavy body blows does not mean this team has to be written off.

The Red Wings may have some work to do, but by the time the 2013 playoffs start, they will be a factor once again.

While the Red Wings no longer have Lidstrom to serve as their anchor, they still have Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Val Filppula and Niklas Kronwall. These players will serve as their core stars, and most teams in the Western Conference simply can’t match their skill level.

Datsyuk, 33, is still a marvel with the puck. His numbers last year were solid, as he had 19 goals and 48 assists, but he is capable of so much more. Datsyuk had back-to-back 97-point seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, and he is capable of playing at that level again. The Red Wings will need that from him.

Zetterberg, 31, was the team’s leading scorer last year with 69 points. Zetterberg is nearly as dynamic as Datsyuk and is capable of magical plays in nearly every game. Zetterberg scored 43 goals in 2007-08, and while he may not reach that level again, he is a potential 30-goal scorer.

Defensively, the loss of Lidstrom will hurt, but it’s hard not to think that Kronwall won’t have a respectable year. The 31-year-old Kronwall has scored 26 goals the last two seasons, and he is one of the best all-around defensemen in the Western Conference. He can play better on the defensive end than he did last season.

Jimmy Howard is a self-made goalie who comes close to playing at an All-Star level. Howard was 35-17-4 last year with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He may not be as good as Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers or Jonathan Quick of the Kings, but he is just below that level.

Mike Babcock is a master behind the bench. Give him a team of competitive players, and he will hold his own against any coach in the league.

Babcock is a master in the line matchup game and a solid strategist, and he excels at motivating his players. He is not going to be at a disadvantage against too many coaches in the league.

There’s plenty of pressure on Ken Holland to come up with a couple of winning moves, as evidenced by John Niyo's column in the Detroit News. Holland would like to add to his team’s defense, but he is not going to gut his team in order to make a trade for a player like Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes or Jay Bouwmeester of the Calgary Flames. Both of those players would help, but Holland will try to get them on his terms.

The Red Wings have added Mikael Samuelsson, Jonas Gustavsson and Jordin Tootoo while losing Jiri Hudler. That’s probably a small net gain at this point.

Holland has time to make moves either later this summer or prior to the trade deadline in the season. The Red Wings have taken a couple of body blows recently, but they are far from dead. Writing off this team now would be a big mistake.