Detroit Red Wings' Present and Future Look Bright Ahead of 2013-14 Season
The Detroit Red Wings are the model franchise in professional sports.
Instead of rebuilding after veteran players retire or age past their prime, the team reloads with shrewd free agent signings, smart trades and the ability to find cornerstone players in the middle-to-late rounds of the NHL Draft.
Detroit extended its all-time record of consecutive playoff appearances to 22 years during the shortened 2013-14 season, which was originally billed in January as a "bridge year" with the development of young players being more important than winning.
Despite the losses of veterans Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart, the Red Wings upset the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime in Game 7 of the second round.
As the franchise prepares for its first ever campaign in the Eastern Conference, let's breakdown why the Red Wings' present and future look promising.
Rebuilt Blue Line Starting to Take Shape
The recent departures of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski left some huge holes for Detroit to fill on the blue line. Over the last two years, the Red Wings have started to build a formidable blue line again with the additions of young defensemen Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser.
Smith is a top-four defenseman with strong skating ability, a powerful shot from the point and good playmaking skills. He has a high level of offensive awareness and handles the puck very well. DeKeyser projects to be a superstar stay-at-home defenseman because of his impressive size (6'3", 198 pounds), toughness and spectacular defensive talents.
After only a few regular season games with Detroit after signing as a college free agent, DeKeyser made a substantial impact on the team's success before his year ended in May due to a thumb injury. He quickly adapted to the NHL game and should enjoy a breakout season in 2013-14.
In addition to these youngsters, the Red Wings blue line also has reliable veterans such as Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson. These veterans bring toughness, penalty killing and stability to a young group of d-men.
Detroit finished fifth in GAA and 12th in penalty killing last year, which was impressive based on the team's inexperience and lack of elite talent on the back end. With a full 82-game season to improve and develop, the Red Wings should have one of the league's top-five defensive corps in the near future.
Goaltender Situation Is Taken Care of Long Term
Jimmy Howard proved to be an upper-echelon goaltender last year with a 23-13-7 record, a .923 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA. For performing at a high level and enjoying the best season of his career, the former UMaine star was rewarded with a six-year, $31.75 million contract.
Howard rarely receives enough credit, but all he does is win. He's won 35 or more games in three straight non-lockout seasons and, at age 29, he still has many of his prime years remaining.
His playoff performance last season should make Red Wings fans excited for his future with the club. Howard is a fantastic goaltender and will give Detroit stability, consistency and exceptional performances in the sport's most important position.
Prospect Pool Is Deep with Impressive Talent
No team drafts better than the Red Wings. Their ability to scout players in every round, develop them the right way after the draft and put them in a position to succeed at the NHL level is remarkable.
Here's a look at some notable draft picks made by Detroit after the first round.
|1989||3 (53)||Nicklas Lidstrom|
|1989||4 (74)||Sergei Fedorov|
|1989||11 (221)||Vladimir Konstantinov|
|1990||3 (45)||Slava Kozlov|
|1991||3 (54)||Chris Osgood|
|1994||10 (257)||Tomas Holmstrom|
|1998||6 (171)||Pavel Datsyuk|
|1999||7 (110)||Henrik Zetterberg|
|2004||3 (97)||Johan Franzen|
Many of the team's best prospects and young NHL players were also selected after the first round. Even though Howard is the No. 1 goalie of the present and future, top prospect Petr Mrazek projects to be a star NHLer and could be used as trade bait in later seasons.
Here's a look at the Red Wings depth and impressive amount of young talent at the NHL, AHL and junior levels.
|Tomas Tatar||22||LW||AHL||Quality goal scorer with great hands and a quick release. He will likely play a third or fourth line role in Detroit in 2013-14.|
|Gustav Nyquist||23||LW||NHL||Has yet to play a full NHL season but impressed during 2013 playoffs. He was re-signed to a two-year deal on Tuesday and projects to be a top-six forward with impressive playmaking skills.|
|Anthony Mantha||18||LW||CHL||Only 50-goal scorer in 2013 draft class projects to be a top-six forward and a 25-35 goal scorer at the NHL level.|
|Calle Jarnkrok||21||C||AHL||A promising playmaking center with strong puck-handling skills and a high hockey IQ. He will likely be in the AHL next season.|
|Riley Sheahan||21||C||AHL||This two-way power forward needs only one more year of AHL experience before making an offensive impact in the NHL.|
|Joakim Andersson||24||C||NHL||Scrappy two-way forward brings toughness, energy and valuable scoring depth to the lineup.|
|Teemu Pulkkinen||21||RW||AHL||A highly skilled, speedy forward with a great shot and improving playmaking ability. He has the potential to be a star forward at the NHL level.|
|Martin Frk||19||RW||AHL||An exciting young talent with rapidly developing playmaking skills and an ability to score spectacular goals. He will likely play in the QMJHL next year.|
|Ryan Sproul||20||D||AHL||Polished offensive defenseman took home the 2013 CHL Defenseman of the Year Award. He projects to be a top-four blueliner and a 25-45 point scorer at the NHL level.|
As you can see from the above chart, Detroit has plenty of depth and talent to keep its playoff appearance streak alive well into the future.
The Red Wings hardly ever rush players to the NHL and instead take a slower approach by giving prospects plenty of minor league experience. This ensure that they are ready for the increased speed and physicality of the NHL at the time of their debuts.
To stay competitive in the salary cap era (2005-present), teams must draft well so they are able to surround stars with enough depth to win in the playoffs. Detroit has done this for over two decades and there's no reason to believe it will end anytime soon.
When veterans such as Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson retire, the Red Wings will have a new crop of talented young players ready to become the next generation of Hockeytown stars.
Veteran Stars Ensure Red Wings Will Remain Competitive In Short Term
Despite all of the young talent making its way to the NHL roster, the Red Wings are still a team led by veterans, most notably Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall and the offseason additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss.
These stars have impressive two-way games and set a great example for the young players with their high level of dedication and strong work ethic.
Weiss, Zetterberg and Datsyuk still have plenty of excellent seasons on the horizon even though they are age 30 or older. In fact, Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still capable of scoring at a point-per game rate while also playing Selke Trophy-caliber defense.
Detroit will maintain its position among the eight best teams in the league next season because of their veteran talent and leadership. These players know how to win and can be relied on to produce at both ends of the ice consistently.
The NHL's Best Head Coach Is Behind the Bench
Mike Babcock is a mastermind behind the Red Wings bench. No head coach in the NHL makes better in-game adjustments than the 50-year-old veteran. His feel for the game and which players need more/less playing time is phenomenal.
He's also a great teacher, which helps explain how the Red Wings have successfully developed so many quality young players during his tenure in Detroit (2005-06 to present).
Babcock's teams have made the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons as an NHL head coach and his resume includes three Stanley Cup Final appearances (including one win) and a gold medal with Team Canada from 2010.
The Red Wings will always be well prepared for every opponent because of Babcock's brilliant coaching skills. He's the perfect man to coach this team now and in the future.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. All salary information via CapGeek.