If the Detroit Red Wings ever get to play hockey this season, fans will once again have high expectations for the franchise.
Having been eliminated in the second round or earlier in the past three years, Detroit needs to find a way to get back to the Conference Finals and beyond once again.
After the retirement of Nick Lidstrom this offseason and the departure of Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks for family reasons, the Red Wings were a little bit short-handed on the blue line and looked to fill that spot on the top-defensive pairing with Ryan Suter this offseason.
But the Red Wings have other needs as well, here are the four main holes Detroit needs to fill in order to get themselves back in the Stanley Cup conversation.
The Red Wings are very talented on their back end, but a lot of that talent has yet to come to full development.
The Red Wings have just six NHL defenseman signed to contracts: Kyle Quincey, Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith.
Three of these defensemen (Kindl, Smith and Quincey) have never played a full season with the Red Wings.
This has to be a concern if you are GM Ken Holland or head coach Mike Babcock.
The question remains: will this defenseman be a top-end caliber defenseman (most likely acquired through a trade), or will the defenseman simply play the role that Mike Commodore played last season as seventh man in the rotation?
Either way, Detroit needs another NHL-caliber defenseman ASAP.
Now, while I'm not saying that having smaller, more proficient scoring forwards is a bad thing, Detroit simply got out-muscled and out-hustled through their last three playoff series losses (San Jose twice and Nashville last year).
Detroit needs to get bigger on the bottom two lines and possibly bring back a checking line.
Players like Darren Helm and Jordin Tootoo are good players to build around, but in just looking at teams that have won the Stanley Cup recently (Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins), one can clearly see that Detroit is giving up a ton of size and weight to those teams respectively.
In a longer playoff series, this can make the advantage as teams get beaten up over the course of the series.
In Detroit's last three playoff exits, watching San Jose and Nashville continue to lay the body on Red Wings' players made a difference by the later games in the series. When Detroit players knew they were going to get hit, they instinctively tried to make quick plays, some of which ended in turnovers.
A bigger team on the third and fourth lines combined with the re-emergence of a checking line would tremendously help Detroit come playoff season.
Teams going to the Stanley Cup Finals in the past few seasons (most specifically Vancouver, Los Angeles and Boston over the past two seasons) have had proven back-up goalies. Whether it is Cory Schneider in Vancouver, Jonathan Bernier in Los Angeles, or Tuukka Rask for Boston, three of the four teams in the Stanley Cup Finals over the last two years have had an excellent back-up goalie.
Detroit does not have the same luxury.
The Red Wings former back-up goaltender Ty Conklin played in just 15 games last season with a 5-6-1 record and an 88.4 save percentage to go along with a 3.28 GAA.
Detroit signed Jonas Gustavsson (aka "The Monster") to back up Jimmy Howard this season, but Gustavsson's stats from last season were far from flattering: 17-17-4, 90.2 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA in 42 games played.
Some fans may argue these numbers are worse because Gustavsson played in Toronto, so obviously his numbers wouldn't be as high as if he played in Detroit like he will be this coming season. But these fans need to realize that Gustavsson is still not proven in the sense of a back-up goaltender or a goaltender of any kind for that matter.
The Red Wings will need to hope that Gustavsson can re-find his game that never really materialized with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gustavsson's numbers will likely be better next season, but can he mature enough to play consistently when called upon to do so, especially if he had to play in the playoffs?
Gustavsson has zero playoff games played in his NHL career and this is a huge detractor from anyone who supported bringing him to Detroit.
Detroit has some of the best passers in the league.
Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Filppula and even Franzen seem to be able to thread the needle when passing, but none of them ever seem to really want to shoot when Detroit needs shots the most.
The Red Wings are often just content to pass the puck around on the power play, especially this past season.
Although their passing is usually impeccable, passing alone will not put the puck in the net.
If Detroit were to trade some of their assets at forward for a top-six forward who is a shoot-first forward, it could tremendously help them in terms of getting pucks in the net and not just around the net.
Seems simple enough, but Detroit is lacking that shoot-first player and to emphasize this, after Zetterberg's 267 shots last season, the next closest (Franzen's 211) ranked 60th in the league in shots.
Wayne Gretzky was very forward about his opinion on shooting: "You miss one hundred percent of the shots that you never take."
Seems the Red Wings could learn from this occasionally.
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