The Detroit Red Wings have just finished a very interesting season. They did not enter it as a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup as they have been for most of the past 20 seasons.
While the term "rebuilding" is new when applied to the Red Wings, this was going to be a rebuilding year.
Unlike many teams that dismantle in order to rebuild, the Red Wings were going to do it on the fly. Last season, they re-signed Todd Bertuzzi. Over the offseason, they signed Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo and Carlo Colaiacovo.
None of those moves proved to be that great. Injuries slowed Bertuzzi and Samuelsson for much of the season. Once healthy, though, they were simply outplayed by other Wings.
Tootoo played in 42 games during the season. Once the playoffs started, he only played in one game before joining Bertuzzi as a healthy scratch.
Samuelsson had an abdominal strain that kept him from playing, but in the playoffs, everyone plays hurt. While I do not doubt the injury, I also wonder who he would have replaced in the lineup. Upon missing that first game, he was not coming back based on how well the team was playing.
Colaiacovo only played six games during the regular season. He did get a chance in the playoffs, but it was more due to Brian Lashoff’s ineffective play than Colaiacovo earning the shot. Once in the lineup, he was able to play the final nine games of the playoffs. While his play was up and down, it was what you would expect from a guy filling out the bottom end of the defensive lineup.
These signings did not help the team and looked to be sinking them during the season.
Luckily, a couple of good moves helped push the team and made it stronger as the season progressed.
First, in the offseason the Red Wings re-signed Justin Abdelkader. At the time, it did not seem as though it was that important of a signing, but with the injuries mounting on the team, Abdelkader stepped up.
Coming into the season, his career-best goal total in a single year had been eight. Despite the partial season, he scored 10 goals in only 48 games.
Those numbers are even more impressive in that he started the season by not scoring in his first 24 outings. Even then, his first goal was an empty-netter. He would eventually join Pavel Datsyuk’s line and exploded on the scoresheet.
He had nine goals over the last 20 games of the regular season. While playing next to Datsyuk certainly helped, Abdelkader still had to be able to finish the plays.
It will be interesting to see if he is a one-season wonder or if this is a sign of things to come. He was more of a scorer when he played in college and the minors. Hopefully, his pro game is just evolving.
The other positive addition was the signing of Danny DeKeyser. While only playing 11 games to finish up the regular season, he showed that he was more than ready for the NHL game.
Head coach Mike Babcock had the highest praise for him. “Getting DeKeyser to come has made a huge difference to our team. If we don’t get (him) we don’t make the playoffs,” he told Red Wings Front in late April.
There are positive signs for the team’s growth.
In the playoffs, the line of Damien Brunner, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist was perhaps the best on the team.
Andersson became a faceoff-winning machine while Brunner and Nyquist scored huge goals. Brunner ended up leading the team in goals during the playoffs. He will be a free agent, but it is hard to imagine the team not being able to re-sign him.
On the bottom line, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller were very valuable. Their tough play really helped during the Chicago series. Miller will be a free agent this summer, but with the questions surrounding Darren Helm’s back, the team will need to bring Miller back.
The two biggest issues the team will face in the offseason will be what to do with free agents Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula.
Cleary really picked it up late in the season and during the playoffs. He will turn 35 next season and is coming off a deal with a $2.8 million cap hit. The team will have to decide if it wants to make room for some of its younger players in the system or if Cleary can maintain his late-season play for another campaign.
Filppula really hurt his value this season. After a career year last season, he just did not produce this season. He had career highs in goals and assists last season while averaging 0.81 points per game.
Obviously, his total numbers were going to be down with a lockout-shortened season, but his stunning drop to 0.41 points per game is of great concern.
His average over the previous four seasons was .53 points per game. Last year’s jump was viewed as a sign of things to come, but after this season’s performance, it appears it was likelier a one-hit wonder.
Allowing some of the younger players to step up will likely be the better option than overpaying for Filppula.
While it is not expected that the team will make a huge splash in free agency, it will certainly make some moves.
The bigger development will be which Grand Rapids Griffins will be given an opportunity with the Wings. Tomas Tatar, Landon Ferraro, Francis Pare, Chad Billings and Adam Almquist all played well enough this season to deserve a look.
They will likely not enter next season as top contenders, but with the growth of their young players and the lessons that they learned this season, the Red Wings are in a better position than they were entering this season.