Top Storylines to Follow in Detroit Red Wings' Training Camp
The Detroit Red Wings are just over two weeks from kicking off training camp for the 2013-14 season, but there is already a sizable amount of speculation about the position battles.
This speculation stems from the fact that there are 25 players that the Red Wings currently have signed to NHL contracts (per CapGeek.com). The Red Wings can only have 23 players on their NHL roster which must be finalized two days before the season starts on October 2.
Not only are the Red Wings over the player limit on their roster, but CapGeek also has the Red Wings currently over the NHL salary cap by over $637,000.
This means that players must be waived, traded, sent down or start the season on injured reserve.
Here are six story lines to watch in the Red Wings' 2013 training camp.
1. Anthony Mantha: Is There a Chance He Makes Detroit's 23-Man Roster?
With the No. 20 overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings selected Anthony Mantha from Val-d'Or of the QMJHL. Mantha put up 50 goals last season, becoming the only player in any Canadian major junior hockey league to achieve that number last season.
But where it gets interesting is that Brendan Savage of MLive.com reported in late July that Mantha is planning on starting the season with the Detroit Red Wings.
Just for a point of reference, the last Detroit Red Wings' first-round pick to start the season with the Red Wings was Martin Lapointe in the 1991-92 season.
Savage writes that the two main reasons that first-round selections don't step into the Red Wings' lineup right away are that:
Many years, the Red Wings don't have a first-round pick because they traded it away to bolster the lineup for the playoffs. And it's not exactly easy for youngsters to earn a roster spot with a franchise that hasn't missed the playoffs in 22 years.
There are other reasons that Savage goes into, including Mantha's "compete level every day" that needs work.
But forget those two things for a minute. The main thing to focus on with Mantha is that he does not have a contract as of yet. The Red Wings have no reason to sign him to one until they have to sign him to one because as soon as the contract is signed, the countdown until he hits restricted free agency starts.
But that fact aside, the non-existing contract along with the fact that he would literally have to replace the point production (and grit) of a roster player make him a long shot at best.
2. Will Darren Helm Be Healthy Enough to Avoid Starting the Season on IR?
Darren Helm played just one NHL game in the 2013 NHL season.
This was largely due to a back injury that he mysteriously sustained back in January, just a few days before the abbreviated season started.
Helm managed to play at the Red Wings' prospect camp in July, but the question remains how physical he can be in preseason games.
George Sipple of USA Today gave some good news to Red Wings fans earlier in August when quoting Detroit GM Ken Holland:
"He's very happy where he's at. He has no issues. Obviously, the challenge is physical play. I'm cautiously optimistic...getting banged around, that's part of his game...that's part of what makes him special. He's physical. He's on the puck. He finishes body checks. He goes to hard areas....My feeling is if he's in the lineup against Buffalo we're feeling pretty good about things."
The issue is less of Helm being overly physical, but more just him not aggravating his injury.
Should Helm actually be able to start the season as the Red Wings' No. 3 center, it would take a huge weight off of any other Red Wings who would have to fill in that role without Helm in the lineup. The 26-year-old is a key factor on the Red Wings' penalty kill and fore check when he's healthy.
3. Is Mikael Samuelsson "Good to Go" or Good to Leave?
The Detroit Red Wings announced via their Twitter account today that Mikael Samuelsson described his status as "good to go" in regards to the injury he had been recovering from.
The big question for the Red Wings is whether Samuelsson is good to go, or good to be bought out?
The veteran right-hander was a non-factor last season, playing in just four games in the regular season and five games in the postseason. Samuelsson had one assist in the regular season and a goal and an assist in the playoffs.
He had a torn pectoral muscle at the end of last season, but according Ansar Khan of MLive, Red Wings' GM Ken Holland thinks that Samuelsson will be ready for training camp.
But seeing as how the 36-year-old Swede will make $3 million this year and he can't seem to stay healthy of late (playing only 58 games over the past two regular seasons), the question remains: will he be on the Red Wings' roster when the season starts?
The Red Wings have some talented younger forwards that are pushing their way into the NHL. Samuelsson is among many contestants vying for the last top-six forward spot that would include Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson.
Samuelsson hasn't put up top-six forward numbers since 2010-11 with the Vancouver Canucks when he had 50 points in 75 games. It would almost be easier to waive him if he did not agree to a trade as it doesn't seem fiscally worth putting a $3 million player among the Red Wings' bottom-six forwards at this point.
4. How Healthy Is Todd Bertuzzi? Would He Have a Spot in Top-Six Forward Group?
The difference between Todd Bertuzzi and Justin Abdelkader is that one of them has put up 23 points or more 12 times and the other one has yet to hit that mark.
Todd Bertuzzi has averaged 42 points a season over his last five seasons, excluding last season where he played just seven games in the regular season.
Bertuzzi had just three points last season in seven games, but still had a better point-per-game average (0.428) than Abdelkader's 13 points in 48 games (0.27).
Abdelkader played most of the season with Pavel Datsyuk when Todd Bertuzzi went down with his injury and never really seemed to fit on Datsyuk's line, despite being left there for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
But what happens when Bertuzzi has a full offseason to get completely better? Although he managed to come back for the end of the season, he was a healthy scratch in most playoff games.
If Bert had a chance to prove that he could still play well like he had previously with Datsyuk, would the role in the top-six forwards group still belong to Abdelkader?
Look for Bertuzzi to make a curtain call of sorts this season and prove that he can still play in the top-six forwards group on Datsyuk's wing.
5. Will Justin Abdelkader End Up on the Red Wings' First Line?
Justin Abdelkader got the nod for the Team USA Olympic orientation hockey camp this offseason. But Abdelkader put up just 13 points this season, while playing on the same line as Pavel Datsyuk.
Given, 10 of those points were goals, so he has shown the ability to put the puck in the net from time to time. But the former Michigan State Spartan has never put up more than 22 points in a season, nor had a point-per-game average of higher than 0.271.
So who is Mike Babcock kidding? The Red Wings' management would be foolish to leave him on the first line with talent like Pavel Datsyuk when there are other players who have shown (or could show) more promise on Datsyuk's wing.
The aforementioned Todd Bertuzzi could be one such player who "has worked well as a winger for Pavel Datsyuk in the past" (according to Helene St. James of Detroit Free Press). But there have been other prospects such as Gustav Nyquist and veterans such as Johan Franzen or Henrik Zetterberg that could easily fill that role as well.
Now that the Red Wings have Stephen Weiss as their second line center, the fact remains that Zetterberg would be free to join Datsyuk (and possibly Johan Franzen) on the first line.
If Abdelkader dropped down to the third line to join Darren Helm (if healthy), they would pose quite the threat as far as a checking line is concerned.
Keep an eye on where Abdelkader ends up in camp because it will bump around other players as well.
6. Who Will Get Waived, Traded, Sent Down or Put on Injured Reserve?
It isn't difficult to do math that is this black and white. The Red Wings need to have a 23-man roster by September 30 and they currently have 25 players signed.
Two players will have to move off of that roster in some context. If Darren Helm is not on injured reserve to start the season that means that a combination of two other forwards or defensemen will have to be moved.
The Red Wings have 16 forwards and seven defensemen signed to NHL contracts (per CapGeek).
The easiest way would be to send down Gustav Nyquist because per CapGeek he is exempt from waivers, having played just 58 career NHL games. Danny DeKeyser is also exempt from waivers per CapGeek as he has only played 13 career games.
Being that these are the only two players that are exempt from waivers on the Red Wings' roster, the fact of the matter is that barring Helm being placed on injured reserve, any other moves would have to come via trade.
The Red Wings could opt to waive other players, but would risk them being claimed by another team.
Keep an eye on which players make the final roster, as there is no telling for sure which bottom-six forwards are guaranteed to make it come September 30.