Why Mike Babcock Should Keep Shuffling Detroit Red Wings Roster Early in 2013-14

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IOctober 13, 2013

Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock found success on Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers when he decided to shake up his roster.

In particular, he decided to move heretofore third-line winger Todd Bertuzzi to the top line, and Bertuzzi responded with one of the better individual player performances of the young season.

Now, playing with two of the best players in the world in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk certainly had something to do with Bertuzzi's success, but his effort and focus against the Flyers is praiseworthy nonetheless.

It stands to reason that Bertuzzi should remain playing with Zetterberg and Datsyuk—but he shouldn't.

In fact, the Red Wings' success might be better facilitated by replacing Bertuzzi with Daniel Alfredsson and then Alfredsson with Daniel Cleary.

Babcock's work prior to the tilt against the Flyers wasn't limited to his forwards; he also inserted defender Brian Lashoff in place of Brendan Smith.

Smith hasn’t been particularly bad through four games, but his minus-4 rating certainly made him temporarily expendable.

Smith surely won’t be out long, but perhaps his return shouldn’t coincide with a one-for-one swap with Lashoff. Perhaps sitting Jakub Kindl or Kyle Quincey should be an option, if only for a game.

Continuing to juggle his forward lines and shift around his defensive pairs might be the best way for Babcock to light a fire under the whole team. With very few jobs safe, the collective effort might just improve from game to game.

This is not to suggest that Babcock should be employing cheap psychological tactics to get his team to perform, not at all.

Rather, spreading talent and effort around and breaking up his line combinations could very well provide incentive for all his players, veterans and youngsters alike, to give 100 percent every shift, every game.

A breakout effort on the fourth-line in one game could punch a ticket to a spot on the second-line the next.

For it is that kind of team-wide effort that has been lacking so far this season, and that is exactly what has cost this team games it didn’t have to lose.

Additionally, by getting players familiar with each other game in and game out, stronger line combinations could emerge such that Babcock could have an easier time deciding who to keep together long term.

That Datsyuk and Zetterberg should remain together, nearly at all costs, is abundantly clear; however, so is the fact that theirs is the only line that has performed with any kind of consistency thus far.

A line of Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson should be dangerous, but they simply haven't been so early on.

Babcock shifted Alfredsson down a spot to the third line against the Flyers, but it'd be better to shuffle in a few different wingers, or maybe promote center Joakim Andersson to the second pivot spot for a game, than to try piecemeal improvements.

Among the forward corps, no spots should be safe save for Zetterberg's and Datsyuk’s.

And let's not forget the relative wealth of options the Wings have due to injuries and overripe players in the minors.

Rising players like Tomas Tatar deserve some additional looks, and 2012-13 standout Gustav Nyquist has yet to see any NHL action this year.

As winger Patrick Eaves and (God willing) center Darren Helm come off the long-term injured reserve list, the Red Wings will have some tough decisions to make in order to become cap compliant.

The luxury of rotating players in and out of the lineup, be they veterans or AHL call-ups, will soon be a lost option for the Red Wings. As such, they should make the most of it while they can.

At this point, one might think, "Why make any changes to a roster that finally broke through on the power play and pumped in five goals against Philadelphia?"

Well, that last bit about Philadelphia answers a large part of the question—the Flyers are hardly a daunting opponent at this point.

But, that being the case, they still out-shot the Wings 34 to 29 and, but for their pedestrian penalty killing (Philadelphia's PK is currently ranked 15th at 78.8 percent), the game could very easily have slipped away for Detroit.

One high-scoring win against a subpar opponent does not make a winning roster.

The instinct to shuffle his roster was a good one on Babcock's part and one that he should continue to act on for the next few games.

Injecting a little bit of uncertainty into the Red Wings' roster might, in the end, make their success more certain that it has been thus far this season.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MAHutter12.


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