The Most Disappointing Detroit Red Wings so Far in 2013-14
The Detroit Red Wings are still adjusting to their move to the Eastern Conference, and their coaching staff is still trying to find the key to success.
Injuries to star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg would put a strain on any lineup, but the pressure is mounting on those who are already underwhelming. Although it remains relatively early in the season, there has been concern in the Joe Louis locker room.
Inconsistent or disinterested play is causing a lot of problems for an already depleted lineup with Datsyuk, Zetterberg and rookie defenseman Dan DeKeyser out. Whether it is high expectations or a sizable contract weighing on key players, Detroit is trying everything it can to shape up before it’s too late.
Some players have worked to shoulder the load, but others appear to have set up shop in coach Mike Babcock’s doghouse. These players are the most disappointing Red Wings so far in 2013-14.
Let’s address the elephant in the room.
Stephen Weiss received a substantial contract this summer after spending his first 11 seasons with the Florida Panthers. The four-time 20-goal scorer was expected to step in and produce on the second line and has yet to do so.
His play has brought up the subject of a possible compliance buyout at the end of the season. However, because of a recent change to the collective bargaining agreement, Weiss is not eligible to be bought out. The CBA states in Exhibit 16, No. 53 (page 355 of the CBA):
Clubs shall only be permitted to exercise their right to compliance buy-outs for SPCs that were entered into on or before September 15, 2012.
Ultimately, Detroit will be facing Weiss’ $4.9 million cap hit for each of the next four seasons. He has two goals and four points in 23 games and is drastically underachieving considering the talent that surrounds him.
Ansar Khan of mlive.com quoted Mike Babcock when discussing Weiss before the season:
We explained the situation to him very clearly. Told him if he wasn't ultra-competitive he couldn't come here. If he didn't bring it every day he couldn't come here, because he was going to hate it if he didn't, dislike the coach and dislike playing here. It's real straightforward. If you don't do it right, you're not happy here.
Weiss will need to kick it into high gear—and soon—if he wants to remain on a scoring line. Otherwise, when Datsyuk and Zetterberg come back, he’ll return to his role as an overpaid, bottom-six forward.
Dan Cleary’s return to Detroit was just as perplexing as his play has been substandard.
After spending most of the summer in free-agent limbo, Cleary signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract just before Detroit’s training camp opened. His return clouded an already unclear forward situation that remains unsolved.
Cleary received a relatively lucrative offer from the Philadelphia Flyers, but remained unsigned when their training camp was underway. Elliotte Friedman of cbc.ca reported Cleary’s deal with Philadelphia looked to be a three-year, $8.25 million contract.
Mike Babcock has coached Cleary for nine years and is a big fan of the way he plays, but has been forced to deem him a healthy scratch on more than one occasion. Babcock explained to Ansar Khan:
I just know each and every day as a coaching staff we go through the previous game and we look at what we did and we try and dress the best lineup that’ll help us win. Sometimes you never know for sure. You dress a lineup and watch them play. You base it on facts and that’s what we try to do.
It’s not just Cleary’s play, but the roster spot he holds that is the biggest disappointment. His signing initially took a spot away from prospect Gustav Nyquist, who has notched four goals and six points in seven games since being recalled from Grand Rapids.
The 34-year-old has one goal and four points in 28 games this season. Although he gave Detroit quite the hometown discount, his play this season has yet justify the lesser contract he ultimately did sign.
Howard’s six-year, $31.8 million deal is still a decent contract for an upper-echelon goaltender, but the fear lies in a possible early decline.
Having played 75 percent of the team’s games since 2009-10, Howard has been quite busy entering his fifth season as Detroit’s No. 1 netminder. His financial reward could be the weight under which he is currently cracking.
Howard is the 10th-highest-paid goaltender in the NHL at an average cap hit of just under $5.3 million per year. If a player is going to be paid top-10 money, he certainly better put up top-10 numbers—which he has not done.
He is currently on pace to finish with some of the worst numbers in his career. In 20 starts he possesses a 6-8-6 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He has just one win in his last nine starts and has given up three or more goals in a game 12 times this year.
Jonas Gustavsson has been the hot hand in goal and will see more time with Howard’s struggles. “Howie” still has plenty of time to right the ship, and the team is hoping he can return to the form they saw in the postseason last year.
This writer is admittedly guilty of falling for the preseason Vezina Trophy hype for Howard, but this is certainly not what many expected—definitely not the Red Wings.
As one of the oldest members (28) on Detroit’s blue line, Kyle Quincey was expected to help lead and solidify a growing corps.
As one of just five Red Wings to skate in all 29 games, Quincey has just three assists on the season. His play in his own end has been suspect, recording a team-worst minus-nine. He was originally selected by Detroit in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL draft.
Since rejoining the Red Wings in a three-team trade with Colorado and Tampa Bay, Quincey has totaled a measly three goals, nine points and a minus-two rating in 83 games. His current contract expires after this season, giving general manager Ken Holland options before the year’s end.
Quincey’s cap hit is just under $4 million and would be a welcome relief from Detroit’s current salary cap bind. The Red Wings have a few young, talented defensemen in the farm system who could provide the same level of play as Quincey with a far cheaper price tag.
He hasn’t shown the kind of stability on the back end that Detroit expected during his first stint in Hockeytown, and the time feels right to make a change.
Nothing immediate is in the works, but it would be smart of Holland to get something in return rather than let Quincey walk in free agency.
After injuries held him to just four games last season, Mikael Samuelsson has been in and out of the lineup this year due to the abundance of forwards.
The biggest reason for his playing time is his right-handed shot. Detroit has such a profusion of lefties that Samuelsson is deemed valuable from the point on the second power-play unit. In 17 games he has totaled just one goal, three points and is minus-one.
Samuelsson inked an unattractive two-year deal worth $6 million before the 2012-13 season, and it has been a burden for Detroit ever since.
Ken Holland explored the possibility of trading Samuelsson, but because of injury, age (36) and a no-trade clause, finding a suitor came up fruitless. Because of those factors, Samuelsson was also not eligible for a compliance buyout over the summer and remains a financial affliction.
He isn’t expected to skate any higher than the fourth line and will likely see the majority of his ice time on the power play.
As another aging veteran with a relatively large cap hit, it disappoints to consider the young players who could receive their opportunity to play in the NHL but for the spot taken by Samuelsson.