The Detroit Red Wings are preparing to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
The Detroit Red Wings are inching closer to trimming down to their 23-man roster. With three preseason games remaining, they’re preparing decide on the final group of guys who will don the winged wheel for the 2013-14 season.
With some names already written in ink, it is safe to begin looking forward to the season opener on Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will lead the way on offense and will be supported by newcomers Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson on the second line.
The defense will look as it did at the end of last season, with Dan DeKeyser preparing for his official rookie season. Niklas Kronwall returns as the top blueliner while Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson return between the pipes.
The team is poised and eager to improve upon last year’s surprising playoff run, but there is still work to be done.
Everyone in Hockeytown is ready for the puck to drop. With that in mind, here are some bold predictions for the upcoming year.
Jimmy Howard is ready to take another step forward in his career.
The Red Wings’ No. 1 netminder has put together some terrific seasons in his career, but this one could be his best yet.
There is concern over the youth in Detroit's defense, but after a strong postseason, the team could be ready for a longer run.
Jimmy Howard posted a career-best 2.13 goals-against average in last year’s shortened season. He won 21 of his 42 starts and has been a workhorse since becoming the primary goaltender during the 2009-10 season, winning 58 percent of his starts.
Last season, he finished in the league's top 10 in wins, GAA, save percentage, total saves and was tied for the league lead with five shutouts. Over his four years at the NHL level, only Marc-Andre Fleury (138) and Henrik Lundqvist (134) have more wins than Howard (130).
It’s about time he was recognized for his play—perhaps with some hardware.
Daniel Alfredsson will be a key component on Detroit's power play.
After a couple of dismal years with the man advantage, Detroit added some key components that could remedy its recent power-play woes. Detroit's PP finished 15th in the league last year and just 22nd in 2011-12.
All eight defensemen on the current preseason roster shoot left-handed. We’ve seen right-handed shots such as Ian White and Damien Brunner man the point on the power play with little or no success.
This year, the Wings will turn to righties Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Alfredsson.
Alfredsson is a tremendous piece to add for the Wings, as he’s played the spot before with the Ottawa Senators and will complement Niklas Kronwall well.
Head coach Mike Babcock expressed his excitement to Brian Manzullo of USA Today. “We haven't had a bomb like that on the power play since (Brendan) Shanahan left, from the right side. He'll make us way better,” he said.
Samuelsson has been seeing time on the second unit this preseason and would be a good fit with Jakub Kindl—if he remains healthy. In his first stint with Detroit (2006-2009), Samuelsson scored 23 of his 67 goals with the man advantage.
Throw in faceoff wizards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss and the special teams will see tremendous improvement.
Dan DeKeyser is ready for his rookie season.
Dan DeKeyser joined Detroit after his final season at Western Michigan University. In the final year of his two-year contract, DeKeyser is beginning his first full NHL season.
He played in 11 regular-season games last year as well as two playoff games before breaking his thumb against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. Once healed, he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL and helped them earn their first Calder Cup title.
In the offseason, he’s increased his size and focused on improving the nuances of his game. As Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of MLive.com, “He put on lots of muscle and got stronger and looks real confident and is good with the puck out there.”
His addition to the Detroit blue line provided stability when he joined the club for the final 11 regular-season games. He was occasionally given the opportunity to play the power play, was used often on the penalty kill and averaged over 17 minutes of ice time in the regular season.
With a full season at the NHL level and the experience the 23-year-old received last year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can raise his game to a higher level.
Darren Helm has no timetable for his return.
Since an unfortunate wrist injury at the end of the 2011-12 season, Darren Helm has played just one NHL game.
A nagging and often confusing back injury kept Helm out nearly all of last season and he has yet to be cleared for contact. He came close until he suffered a groin injury, further delaying his total healing process.
Helm shared his disappointment with Ansar Khan of MLive.com a couple weeks back.
"It’s going to be a couple of weeks where I’m not going to be able to get the physical contact or do stuff that I wanted to do. It’s kind of taken a back seat right now to this groin and (his back) feels alright right now," he said.
Helm was able to join teammates for the morning skate on Sunday, although there’s no timetable for his return. As he told Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press, “It’s going to be a while.”
When healthy, Helm’s speed is his greatest weapon. He’s most effective as a penalty-kill specialist and is efficient in the faceoff circle with a career average over 51 percent.
He’s a tremendous competitor and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas, making him a valuable piece to the depth of this Detroit team.
Detroit is a top team in the new Atlantic Division.
This one is among the boldest of predictions, but there are some factors that could play a key role in Detroit’s success this season.
During last year’s 48-game schedule, the Wings played 24 of those games on back-to-back nights, finishing with a record of 15-6-3 in those games. Without the condensed schedule, the Red Wings will play 30 games in back-to-back fashion while receiving a break from Feb. 9-25 for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
On top of that, the schedule finally favors Detroit in light of its move to the Eastern Conference.
With the realignment, Detroit will only travel out West twice—four games in Western Canada in early November and four games in California in January.
Geography will certainly play less of a factor than in years past and could save a few miles on some of the veterans in the lineup.
With four of the Original Six in the same division, there is hope that rivalries will be renewed and some of that old-time hockey will return to Hockeytown.