The Detroit Red Wings have played with an array of line combinations since the start of the season.
Each forward on their current roster has seen the ice in some capacity—minus Darren Helm—and many of them in different roles. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have already been split up and reunited while 17 different players have skated as a forward.
Coach Mike Babcock has a tendency to shake up the lines in order to provide a spark or help out struggling talents. He’s also not afraid to scratch veterans if he feels another player can improve his lineup.
This writer has a penchant for visualizing certain lineups and perhaps even gets a little nostalgic for past successes. With that in mind, here are five lineup changes the Red Wings could consider.
Mikael Samuelsson was signed to an unattractive two-year contract before last season that is a primary contributor to the team's current roster woes.
Because of his no-trade clause, the 36-year-old Samuelsson is a tough sell, as is his one point in four games this season.
I thought he was really good. He was effective for us, he was on the puck, he was strong on the puck, he played way quicker than he did his last time. I thought he was effective.
Tatar is going to bring an energy and youth that Samuelsson simply can’t and his role should become more prominent in a Red Wing uniform.
This could seem crazy, but Johan Franzen was more effective when he was forced to work as a bottom-six forward. In fact it’s how he became “the Mule” in the first place.
Franzen is a former 34-goal scorer, but he did it along with Marian Hossa (40), Pavel Datsyuk (32) and Henrik Zetterberg (31) in 2008-09. Jiri Hudler even put up 23 goals and 57 points that season.
The recurring issue is the misuse of his size.
He doesn’t appear to use it as an advantage or possess the drive to go into the dirty areas which made him so effective in the past. He has scored just two goals this season, both coming in a 4-2 win over Colorado. All five of his points have come in three games, and he has been held scoreless in the other nine.
Until Franzen can show he possesses the work ethic and consistency that comes with being a high-end forward on this team, a demotion could be the wake-up call he needs.
Obviously this will have to wait until Darren Helm is healthy and skating, but this line provided so much fire when assembled.
But with Eaves returning Wednesday and Helm’s hopeful return over Detroit's current road trip, a little familiarity could help all parties.
Detroit has struggled to find the right combinations after Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but reuniting Eaves, Helm and Miller could provide a spark in morale as well as the offense.
It’s no coincidence that, when Gustav Nyquist received an opportunity last season, he parlayed it into an impressive rookie postseason.
Nyquist had just six points in 22 games during the regular season last year but posted five points in 14 playoff games. On a supporting line with Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner, he showed flashes of the offensive talent he possesses and was an instrumental cog in the Red Wings machine.
Nyquist was—and currently is—a victim of Detroit’s glut of forwards at NHL level and has played with Grand Rapids in the AHL all season. Should he play in two NHL games, he will lose his waiver-exempt status and have to clear waivers if sent down again.
In seven games with Grand Rapids he leads the team with three goals and eight points. Detroit needs secondary scoring desperately, and there’s no doubt Nyquist would be happy to provide it.
Jimmy Howard has started more than 75 percent of Detroit’s games since becoming the starter in 2009-10.
Given that injuries to backup goaltenders have been the most substantial reason for the numbers, this season has started on a different note. Jonas Gustavsson has made three starts in Detroit’s first 12 games and posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.67 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
He was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Oct. 21.
With both goaltenders healthy, it’d be smart to lessen Howard’s workload early on and keep Gustavsson sharp should anything happen to the Red Wings' No. 1 netminder. With a successful, well-rested goaltending tandem, Detroit could make some noise in the Atlantic Division and provide a fresh Jimmy Howard for the late-season playoff push.
Howard has certainly been Detroit’s workhorse between the pipes, but a few extra days off could do wonders for him and the club.