2013 NHL Season: 5 Items the Detroit Red Wings Need to Address

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2013

2013 NHL Season: 5 Items the Detroit Red Wings Need to Address

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    Finally!  There will be a hockey season.  While people go through the new CBA and figure out who gets what, there are more important issues to focus on.  What do the Detroit Red Wings need to address? 

    Once the lockout started, it ended any moves that the team could have made.  The new CBA will also effect what they need to do in order to be a contender for the coming seasons.

    The shortened season will prove to be difficult on many teams.  Injuries are likely to occur more often.  There is less time to evaluate players and there is less time to be patient.  A quick three- or four-game losing streak could cost a team the playoffs this year.

    Here are five items that the team will need to address.

Defensive Depth

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    It is no surprise to see this on the list.  When Nick Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart decided to head back west to be with his family, the defense became the top priority for the team.  They struck out on their efforts to get some of the bigger-name free agents or trade targets. 

    Brendan Smith has been on the radar for quite some time as a defensive star to be.  This season, he will be able to show if he is worth the hype as he will have a major role on this team.

    Niklas Kronwall will now be the defensive leader on the team.  It is a role that he has slowly been building towards over the past two seasons.  He will not be asked to replace Lidstrom, as those skates are just too big to fill.  However, he will be able to lead the defensive unit in his own way.

    Beyond these two players, the team brings back Ian White and Kyle Quincey.  White was a free-agent signing the year before and played well in his first year in Detroit.  Quincey returned to the team via a trade in the middle of the season. Now that they each have had time to fully acclimate to their new team, they should be able to help even more this season.

    Jonathan Ericsson received a surprisingly generous contract offer before last season.  While his potential is good, he has never quite fully lived up to it.  With the new contract under his belt, he did play somewhat better last season.  Ideally, he can take another step this season.

    Carlo Colaiacovo was the only addition to the defense this offseason. He was to provide some depth, but is likely to miss the start of the season due to injury.  When healthy he is very inconsistent.  He has potential, but has never been able to stay healthy long enough to turn it into reality. 

    Babcock has said he will also look to Brian Lashoff and Adam Almquist.  Chad Billins and Nathan Paetsch have played very well in Grand Rapids and could also get a look.

Rotating Players

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    The shorter schedule is going to mean more games in a tighter time frame.  The team will need to be able to rotate players in order to keep them fresh and healthy. 

    Aging players, such as Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson, will need to take breaks throughout the season.

    Beyond just resting players, the team is heavy with forwards to rotate. 

    Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi and Samuelsson are secure in their spots.

    Damien Brunner is a new addition to the team.  He will get a chance to start out on the top line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

    The rest of the roster spots will be fought out between Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Drew Miller, Jan Mursak, Gustav Nyquist and Jordin Tootoo. 

    Abdelkader, Nyquist and Tootoo will likely start as regulars.  The others will need to fight for playing time and, once they do get some, they will need to shine.

    Too much time off combined with a short training camp will likely lead to several injuries this season.  Having players ready to rotate in and excel will be very important.

Checking on the Youth

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    The Wings need to start looking at their youth more.  With the short season, it will be difficult.  This is a team in transition.  Players like Todd Bertuzzi are aging quickly and might need to fight for playing time as the season progresses.

    In three of the past four seasons, Dan Cleary has had down years.  He will be a free agent after this season.  With the youth waiting in the organization, he will be playing for a contract somewhere else.  At some point, they might need to look at trading him in order to make room for younger players.

    Tomas Tatar, Francis Pare, Joakim Andersson and Riley Sheahan are players who are impressing in the minors.  They will need to show that they fit into the long term plans of the team.

    While he is probably a few seasons away, the team also has 20-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek.  He moved to Grand Rapids during the season.  In 16 games he has 12 wins and an impressive 2.10 goals against average. 

    He likely still needs more time in the minors but, it is tempting to see what he can do at the NHL level.  There could be added pressure to hurry him along as Jimmy Howard will be a free agent after the season.

Looking Ahead

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    Under the new CBA, the rest of the season will be played under the previously agreed upon of $70.2 million salary cap.  Next season however, the cap will drop to $64.3 million

    This year the team will be $8.2 million below the cap.  However, with that number dropping next season, they will be hard pressed to make many moves.  Valtteri Filppula will be a free agent.  If he comes anywhere to matching last season’s break-out year, then he will be looking for a raise.  The same applies to Ian White.

    Damien Brunner is only on a one-year deal.  If he is anything close to what the team thinks he can be, then he will be in line for a long-term contract for well above his current $1.35 million.  They also will have to deal with Jimmy Howard.

    Currently the team looks to be comfortably under next year’s cap. However, they only have 15 players signed.  The $19.1 million that they are under next year’s cap will go fast.

    One option is Bobby Ryan.  The team did show interest in him over the summer.  Once the season is under way and GM Ken Holland gets a better idea of where his team is at, he will likely make another play for him. 

    Over this quick season, the focus needs to be setting the team up for future success. 

Brunner’s Transition

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    Ryan Sutter, Zach Parise, Shane Doan and Rick Nash are just a few of the players that the team went after and failed to get.  Their biggest veteran signing was Mikael Samuelsson.  At 36 he can still play, but his best days are behind him.

    Damien Brunner is the wild card.  He was signed from the Swiss-A League, where he has been a high-scoring player.  Over the previous three full seasons, he has been a 1.2 point per game player.  During the lockout, he was able to play with Henrik Zetterberg and his numbers got even better.

    In only 33 games, he already has 25 goals and 57 points.  The goals are a career high and he is only four points away from breaking his best point total. 

    There will be some transition time, and of course the NHL is a higher level than the Swiss-A league.  However, there were many NHL players who were playing in that league during the lockout.   This means that he was able to put up these numbers against some very good players.

    The Red Wings have a long history of discovering players in Europe.  Brunner looks to be the next one.  He will need to make a quick transition to the North American game.  Already playing with Zetterberg will greatly help in that they will have developed some chemistry. 

Players Need to Step Up

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    A short season leaves little room for error.  A short three-game losing streak can cost a team a playoff spot.  While one would hope that the entire roster will step up, there are five returning players that really need to step up this season.

    Todd Bertuzzi is the oldest player on the team, and his best days are clearly behind him.  He still has great hands to put the puck in the net.  However, he is just slower on the ice.  He is only signed through the end of next season, but could be pressed for playing time by the younger crowd.

    He needs to recapture his physical presence that he once held on the ice.  He might not be able to keep up with faster skaters anymore, but he can out muscle them.

    Johan Franzen is perhaps the most frustrating Red Wing.  At the end of the season he has good stats, but is known for being a streaky player. 19 of his 56 points happened over a 15-game streak.  He also put together two separate four-game streaks where he combined for 12 points.

    This means that 31 of his points occurred in only 23 games.  Over the remaining 54 games that he played in, he only had 25 points.  He needs to be a consistent force on the team.  If he balanced out his various hot-and-cold streaks from last season, he could have had 73 points with 38 goals.

    All eyes will be on Henrik Zetterberg as the new captain of the team.  He has not broken the 30-goal mark in three seasons.  There are signs of hope that he can return to his old form though.  During the lockout, he played with Damien Brunner in the Swiss-A League. 

    He was impressive with 16 goals and 32 points in only 23 games. That would put him on pace for 57 goals in a normal NHL season.  Granted the NHL will bring stronger opposition, but it was good to see him find his scoring touch again.  Perhaps playing with Brunner has been a spark and he will be able to continue that upon his return to the team.

    It is rare that you want a superstar player to be more selfish, but that is what the team needs from Pavel Datsyuk. While the team looked for a high-scoring player over the summer, they should not have needed to.  Datsyuk is one of the most gifted players in the league and should fill that role.

    He is a regular on the highlight reels for his crazy moves that embarrass defenders and goalies alike.  He has always been a pass first type of player.  While that is admirable at times, the team needs him to step up and become a scoring force.  Ideally, he gets at least 20 goals in this shortened season.

    Valtteri Filppula is the final player who will be watched closely.  Last season, he had a career year when he scored 23 goals and had 66 points.  He also was better defensively and became a real asset to the team. 

    This year he will need to show that was not a fluke year.  He is in the final year of his contract.  Often playing for a bigger contract is a great motivator for players.

    This short season will be tough for the teams.  Those that can adjust the quickest will have the best chance of making the playoffs.


    PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings, as well as many other sports. He is also taking part in a Polar Plunge for Special Olympics and would greatly appreciate your support.

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