5 Biggest Storylines for Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season
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The regular season is just around the corner and the Detroit Red Wings still have some things to figure out.
Between trimming down to the 23-man roster, getting healthy and becoming salary-cap compliant, there is still plenty of work to be done with two preseason games remaining. However, those are concerns that will be dealt with before the start of the regular season.
After the lockout-shortened season, the Wings are prepping for their first 82-game campaign under the new collective bargaining agreement. Detroit lost Valtteri Filppula and Damien Brunner in free agency, but were quick to replace both with Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss.
While chemistry will be an early concern, it will come around over the course of the year. Once the roster is scribed in ink and the team takes the ice, there will be bigger stories to keep an eye on.
Here are five of the biggest storylines the Detroit Red Wings will face this season.
Young Defensemen Handling a Full Season
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The Red Wings are bringing back all six starting defensemen from last year’s postseason, led by Niklas Kronwall.
At 32, Kronwall is the oldest of the corps and will play alongside Jonathan Ericsson (29). Kyle Quincey (28) will rejoin Brendan Smith (24) and Jakub Kindl (26) will skate with rookie Danny DeKeyser (23). Brian Lashoff (23) will be seventh defenseman.
This starting six only had the luxury of playing 13 total games as a unit due to the March acquisition of DeKeyser and ultimately his season-ending thumb injury. Kronwall and Ericsson played together nearly all season, as did Quincey and Smith.
Kindl is coming off a productive season with 13 points in 41 games and finished second on the team with a plus-15. With a steady partner like DeKeyser, it could allow him to be more offensive-minded and improve upon last season’s numbers.
It is expected that they could struggle to gel in the beginning of the season, but as the year progresses, we could be looking at one of the better young blue lines in the Eastern Conference.
Can the Aging Veterans Remain Healthy
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While Hockeytown was ecstatic with the signing of Daniel Alfredsson, it’s important to remember that he is 40 years old. For example, he is currently nursing a groin injury that has limited him this preseason.
Todd Bertuzzi (38) and Mikael Samuelsson (36) return after playing just 11 games combined last year. Dan Cleary (34) signed a one-year contract and further clouded the forward situation.
Bertuzzi suffered from a nagging back injury for most of the season, while Samuelsson dealt with an assortment of ailments. Dan Cleary was one of the better players for Detroit in the postseason and looks to build on it upon his return.
Detroit has had luck with older players like the seemingly-ageless Pavel Datsyuk (35) but has also seen the worst-case scenario like Mike Modano.
On the bright side, depth is something the Red Wings have plenty of up front with young talents like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar vying for their shot at the NHL.
It is a long season and over 82 games even professionals are susceptible to strains, pulls and sprains. Even so, the concern for long-term health lingers.
Adjusting to the Eastern Conference Realignment
The Red Wings will play in the Eastern Conference for the first time since conferences were developed in 1974. Detroit has felt out of place since becoming members of the Clarence Campbell Conference, ultimately the Western Conference, but are excited to head out east.
The Eastern Conference style of hockey is much more physical, as the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens—two of Detroit’s division opponents—proved in last year’s postseason.
The biggest advantage is the new travel schedule. Since they have only 14 games west of their time zone and a full season, the adjustment won’t be difficult. Detroit went 11-9-4 on the road last year, which included four separate trips to California or Western Canada with a condensed schedule.
The serious decrease in geographical distance should improve the overall longevity of the aging veterans. As a team who is accustomed to traveling out west, Detroit could have an underrated advantage over other Eastern Conference foes.
Original Six Rivalries Renewed
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One of the best results of the realignment is the return of some of the greatest rivalries in NHL history.
Unfortunately, the move takes a bite out of the enmity with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the two teams will still meet twice a year in each facility.
The biggest singular event is the 2014 Winter Classic, which should help fuel a bitter rivalry reborn with Toronto. The Wings and Leafs once shared the Central Division until Toronto moved east before the 1998-99 season.
Due to the lockout and the shortened schedule, teams did not play outside of their conference last season. Detroit fans are looking forward to some old-time hockey and will be excited to welcome in an entire conference of teams they haven’t seen since the 2011-12 season.
Earning a 23rd Straight Playoff Appearance
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Obviously a Stanley Cup title is No. 1 on Detroit’s list, but extending their playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons would have to come first.
Standing in the way is the entire Eastern Conference. Now that Detroit has made the move they’re looking at 15 new opponents they’ll see on a regular basis. There is also a new playoff format that NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen explains best:
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It will be possible, then, for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.
Of the eight teams that qualified for the playoffs last season, four are new division foes in Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
With a 24-16-8 record and 22 regulation-overtime wins (ROW), Detroit’s 56 points would have earned the seventh seed in the East last year, just one ROW ahead of Ottawa. As the higher of the two “wild-card” spots, they would have faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
There is a lot to look forward to and even more stories to follow as Detroit drops the puck on the 2013-14 season Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Sabres.