With an abbreviated 2012-13 season, the time may be now for the Detroit Red Wings to have a bit of a "youth movement."
With players such as Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith ready to take on larger roles, there are sure to be some changes to the nightly lineups that fans in Hockeytown are accustomed to.
Mike Babcock has never been shy about shuffling his lines around, so none of my proposed lines would likely stick.
I realize that my lines have a few veterans taking a back seat to some newcomers, but I can't help but feel like these moves would benefit the Red Wings in the long run. Without further delay, I present to you my opening-night lines for Detroit.
I can hear the boo-birds for this one already.
Moving Damien Brunner directly to the first line before he has even played an NHL game may seem hasty. It certainly would be a bold move for the Red Wings, where they slowly (32-hour chili slowly) advance their prospects from one role to the next.
Then again, Brunner isn't a normal Detroit youngster. The 26-year-old forward already has plenty of pro-level hockey under his belt, having risen to stardom in the Swiss League. His linemate through the lockout has been none other than Red Wings top-line mainstay Henrik Zetterberg.
The two have been lighting up the Swiss League since being united, and I can't imagine Mike Babcock would go without at least testing Brunner on a line with Z. In all honesty I think it'd be mildly on the foolish side not to give the duo a 10-game tryout to see if the success translates.
Johan Franzen will do his usually top-six Muelish thing, standing in front of the net, deflecting things and going on seven- or eight-game hot streaks.
Adding Brunner to the line also frees up some of Detroit's other forwards to play on lower lines, making them a tough team to match, line-for-line.
Breaking up the Eurotwins—sacrilege, I know.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are always golden when they line up together. Yet breaking them up gives Detroit a one-two punch up the middle that would be among the best in the NHL. They could still play together during the power play, so it isn't like Red Wings fans would be left out in the creative cold.
Putting Datsyuk between Filppula and Nyquist could bring both of the players to a new level as well, as he tends to make the players around him better. Filppula put up 68 points last season and shouldn't have an issue finding that range again.
Add the dynamite Gustav Nyquist to this line and there could be fireworks.
He set a Grand Rapids Griffins record for rookie scoring last season, and he's continued this pace in the AHL during the lockout. Nyquist has more than earned a shot with the Red Wings—no reason to not give him a look in the top six along with two established, equally-creative NHL players.
I can't help but be excited about the thought of watching Datsyuk, Filppula and Nyquist passing circles around the second lines of more than half the league. That line would give Detroit a dimension in their top-six that they arguably haven't had in years.
I've been saying for the last season or two that Darren Helm should get the chance to play top-six minutes, so I feel mildly guilty sticking him on the third line. However, the caliber of player he'd be lining up with in this figuration could put him in the best position to succeed.
Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson may be aging a bit, but they are still capable players, especially when they aren't staring down the top players from other teams.
Bert has seen action on the top two lines in Detroit since he arrived on the scene and hasn't disappointed. He has been a steady 40-point performer (aside from last season when he missed 11 games, but still almost hit the mark). If he could continue that sort of production in a third-line role, Detroit would be that much tougher to match up against.
Samuelsson had a rough 2011-12 and decided to head back to Hockeytown after ending the year with the Florida Panthers. He is a bit of a question mark here, but should get a look on a line featuring the speedy Helm and big-bodied Bertuzzi.
If he doesn't work out in this role, the Red Wings have no shortage of players who could take up the wing. I doubt Detroit signed him in the offseason just to sit him in the press box.
Dan Cleary is a bit of an oddball on this line with bangers Justin Abdelkader and Jordin Tootoo, but he's been effective in checking roles before and brings a little bit of offensive touch to the fourth line here.
Abdelkader and Tootoo could be a nightmare to play against, and bring back flashes of the glory days of the Grind Line. They both have a little bit of finish to go with the sand paper. Detroit's brass probably felt like they were pushed around a little too much in their playoff loss to the Nashville Predators.
So they went out and signed Tootoo away from the Nashville Predators. He must have done something, right?
I'd consider a few of the pieces in the bottom six here very movable. Slotting Clearly on the third line while moving Helm down would also be tough to match up against. In all honesty, if I didn't like Helm as much as I do, that's exactly what I'd like to see.
A line of Helm, Tootoo and Abdelkader going all Avengers, smashing everything in their paths and forechecking defenders to death would just be a general pain in the rear for opposing teams.
There'd be a little bit of snarl on this top pairing, and I like it.
Niklas Kronwall inherits the blueline from fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom and will be as up to the task as any one man possibly could be. Fans have seen Kronwall evolve from a hitting machine into a guy that is capable of anchoring this team. The circle of life that is hockey comes into full swing here as well, as Kronwall will teach Brendan Smith the same way Lidstrom taught Kronwall.
Such is the way of the Red Wing.
Both of these guys are capable of putting up some points, but Smith is still pretty green and could be prone to a mistake or two. That's where Kronwall comes in, both as a saving grace and a calming influence.
If Smith knows his partner has his back he'll be able to play with confidence right out of the gate. Given the state of Detroit's blueline at the moment, they'll need all hands on deck with as much confidence as they can muster.
Some people may get the heebee-jeebies when they see this pairing, but I'm not among them.
Great men are born from great opportunity, and that's exactly what both of these players will have now that Brad Stuart and Lidstrom are gone. While they may not have been counted on for big minutes last season, both Ian White and Kyle Quincey will need to step up in big ways if the Red Wings are to be contenders.
Now this is a pairing I can see giving fans the jitters.
Jonathan Ericsson shows flashes of brilliance before settling into a predictable pattern of regrettable plays. Carlo Colaiacovo hasn't played 70 games in an NHL season, ever. THis means that Ericsson will quickly need to figure out what kind of future he wants to have in this league, and that Jakub Kindl will find himself in Colaiacovo's spot sooner or later.
Colaiacovo is a man that seriously looks to be made of glass. He's the Rick DiPietro of skaters, and how he suckered Ken Holland into a two-year deal is beyond me. The difference this pairing will make is huge, as there is an obvious step downward from the second pairing to the third.
If these guys can change that, find consistency and just keep the puck out of the net, Detroit may not be in such bad shape defensively after all.
No surprise here. Jimmy Howard will continue to be the man in net for the Detroit Red Wings. Expect to see Mike Babcock lighten his workload a little bit to prevent Howard from burning out before the playoffs.
They went out and signed backup Jonas Gustavsson just for that purpose, and a fresh Howard tends to be a more effective Howard. He may not steal as many games as a Ryan Miller does, but he doesn't give them away either.
He'll need to be at his very best as Detroit adjusts to life after No. 5.