Who Will Be the Odd Men out in Detroit Red Wings' Crowded Stable of Forwards?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 25:  Henrik Zetterberg #40 of the Detroit Red Wings talks with Pavel Datsyuk #13 and Niklas Kronwall #55 during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on March 25, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Red Wings defeated the Coyotes 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ken Holland and Mike Babcock will have some work to do in training camp when it comes to deciding who will be in their core group of forwards in 2013-14.

The Detroit Red Wings have shifted to the Eastern Conference this year, and they will take some time to get used to "new" opponents like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. These Original Six teams are not new, per se, but the Red Wings have not had heated rivalries with any of them for decades.

The Red Wings seemed to come up with a game plan for solidifying their defense last season, as Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl all moved into prominent roles and will clearly be a key part of their present and future.

The crew of forwards is not as certain. Daniel Cleary, who had been with the Red Wings since the 2005-06 season, was reportedly going to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, according to Brendan Savage of MLive. However, after a change of heart, Cleary decided to stay with the Red Wings.

Damien Brunner is not under contract either and could return to Switzerland this year. 

Both of those losses are likely to hurt the Red Wings. Brunner scored a team-high five goals during the team's 14-game postseason run last season, while Cleary had four goals and six assists during the playoffs.

The additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss are positive moves that will increase the Red Wings' ability to put the puck in the net, but there are questions about who Babcock will have on his bench and who will be on the outside looking in when the season starts in October.

The first line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Alfredsson should be dangerous and productive. Alfredsson, 40, will have to show that the change in locations from Ottawa to Detroit won't bother him, and while there will be an adjustment period, he still has the speed and big shot to maintain a dangerous persona.

Weiss is likely to center a second line that includes Johan Franzen on the left side and Mikael Samuelsson on the right side. Samuelsson was signed as a free agent prior to last year, and he will earn $3 million this year. Injuries kept Samuelsson to four games last year, and he hasn't been a bona fide goal scorer in the NHL since he potted 30 goals in 2009-10 for the Vancouver Canucks.

Cleary could also find himself in the mix on the second line in place of Samuelsson.

While he may get replaced on the second line—and sooner rather than later—he will be on the active roster when the season gets underway (as long as he can stay healthy).

The third line figures to include Tomas Tatar on the left wing, Joakim Andersson at center and Justin Abdelkader on right wing. Of those three, Tatar has the most offensive potential. While he has played just 27 games in his NHL career, the 22-year-old had 16 goals for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, helping the team win the Calder Cup.

Abdelkader is a sand-paperish forward who will win his share of battles in the corners. Andersson may or may not be a productive NHL player. He played in 38 games last year for the Red Wings and scored three goals and five assists. Andersson knows how to play the game, but his lack of speed has to be an issue going forward.

The fourth line has a chance to be impressive with Darren Helm at center, Gustav Nyquist on the left side and Todd Bertuzzi on right wing. That scenario would require Helm to be healthy, something that was not the case last year when he played just one game because of a bad back. Helm has been skating prior to camp, but it has not been pain-free.

If Helm proves to be healthy, Holland may be in a position to trade center Cory Emmerton, who played in all 48 games last year and scored five goals and three assists. If Helm can't go, Emmerton will take his spot on the fourth line.

The Red Wings liked the toughness and edge that Jordin Tootoo brought to the ice after signing with them in 2012. However, Tootoo will have a tough time competing for playing time and a roster spot, and he may be traded.

The most likely trade partner is the Nashville Predators, according to Ansar Khan of MLive.com. Tootoo played eight seasons in Nashville before signing with the Wings, and he remains quite popular there.

Patrick Eaves (two goals in 44 games in the last two seasons) and Drew Miller (career-high 14 goals in 2011-12; four goals last year) have a good chance of being the 13th and 14th forwards, but they will have to hold off non-roster players Teemu Pulkkinen and Riley Sheahan. 

Babcock will determine which of the bottom-six forwards deserve to see the ice for the Red Wings. If he is not pleased with what he sees, he will almost certainly ask Holland to address the needs through the trade process.

That won't be easy, because the Red Wings have no room under the salary cap. But that's life with the $64.3 million salary.


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