Save for the Swedish heritage, Johan Franzen has almost nothing in common with Nick Lidstrom.
Franzen drives to the net and throws his weight around from time to time, while Lidstrom beat his opponents with his elite mental game along the blue line.
After Lidstrom retired from hockey at the end of May, questions were raised as to who the Red Wings could get that would "replace" the Swede. After the Red Wings fanned on Ryan Suter (and arguably didn't do enough to pursue Shea Weber), no other defensemen have been seriously sought after by Red Wings GM Ken Holland.
As of right now, make no mistake: the Red Wings are talented enough with their forward depth to keep their playoff streak alive, but they have just six NHL defensemen and really no one after that who could step in and play if a starter goes down with an injury.
The bigger problem arises in that all six of their defenseman are ready to play full-time (some more ready than others), and it would be a slap in the face of someone like Jakub Kindl to sign another defenseman that would compete with the Czech for ice-time similar to the way Mike Commodore did last season.
If Red Wings GM Ken Holland is unable to bolster his blue line before the start of the season, it will be up to his forwards and goaltender(s) to pick up the slack.
Speaking of goaltenders, Jimmy Howard's regular season play really couldn't have been any better than it was last year. Sure, Howard had a miserable finish to the season (with a 3-6-3 record after coming back from a broken finger sustained in early February against Vancouver), but his numbers overall were very encouraging (35-17-4, .920 save percentage and a career low GAA of 2.13).
His playoff numbers weren't as impressive, but then again, he didn't get much offense from the rest of his team.
This (regular) season won't be defined by the successes and failures of Jimmy Howard. It will be defined by the play of Detroit's forward group, and more specifically the play of Johan Franzen, whose play has been spotty at best over the past few years.
When Franzen turns it on, he is a top-five power forward in the NHL, but those nights seem to have become more rare as Franzen's career has progressed.
At the start of this offseason, Ken Holland was quoted in an MLive.com story as saying that he "believe[s] in stability; you bring in people, you keep them.'' Ken Holland has done just that for the better part of a decade now with regulars like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall still on the team, but it is time for the rest of the top-six forwards group to pick up their play.
Franzen had 29 goals and 56 points in 77 regular season games, but just one goal in five playoff games.
As a top-line forward, more is expected of Franzen. He is signed through the 2019-20 season and should still be in the prime of his career. With the lack of (or inability to make) signings this offseason, more pressure will be put on Franzen to not disappear for a period or an entire game, but instead make every shift count.
Franzen plays better when he gets his physical game going, but he had just 60 hits last year compared to 143 the year before.
Known as "The Mule," Franzen must take the Red Wings on his back and carry them at least to get them going this year.
Every year, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg step up, while Valtteri Filppula played well last year with a career-high in points. But ultimately, it wasn't enough. Johan Franzen can and must play better this coming season to keep Detroit on top (or near the top) of the Western Conference.
The loss of players on the back end like Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, as well as Jiri Hudler from the forward group, could derail the Red Wings efforts to stay at or near the top of the conference. However, if Franzen plays like he is capable of night in and night out, the Red Wings will have no problem contending for a division crown once again.
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