Projecting Detroit Red Wings' Defensive Pairings in 2014-15 NHL Season

Isaac SmithAnalyst IJune 6, 2014

Projecting Detroit Red Wings' Defensive Pairings in 2014-15 NHL Season

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings' offseason rolls on with more player personnel decisions needing to be made leading up to the NHL draft June 27-28 and free agency in July.

    These decisions won't be easy but are critical to Detroit's long-term and short-term success. One thing that will be hard to do is predict exactly which players will be on the team next year, and even more difficult will be previewing the starting lines and pairings for the Red Wings.

    Nevertheless, this article will attempt to project the Detroit Red Wings' defensive pairings for the 2014-15 season.

    Note: These predictions will be made off of past statistical production, as well as other factors that will be specified on the slides themselves.

Should the Red Wings Sign Matt Niskanen?

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    If the Detroit Red Wings sign Matt Niskanen as a free agent this offseason, they will be paying him as a No. 1 defenseman.

    Detroit Free Press writer Helene St. James notes:

    The Wings will have salary-cap space to throw such money around, but it is hard to see them going that high, as it would be $1 million more than captain Henrik Zetterberg’s $6-million cap hit and a good $2 million more than that of No. 1 defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

    St. James goes on to ask if Niskanen is worth the "big-money risk, or is there a safer way to upgrade on defense?"

    The simple answer is that Niskanen is not worth the "big-money risk" because he has been feeding pucks to players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all season.

    His 46 points this season were solid for most defensemen. But if a player like Niklas Kronwall fed pucks to Crosby and Malkin all season, how much higher would his point total be than Niskanen's 46 points? As St. James goes on to state at the end of her article: "Even $6 million a season would be a gamble for someone with one banner season out of the past six."

    So will Niskanen end up a Red Wing?

    The simple answer is that Niskanen is going to get paid—it just shouldn't be by the Detroit Red Wings.

    If that bursts Red Wings fans' free-agency bubbles, then stop reading. But otherwise, here are the projected defensive pairings for the Detroit Red Wings in 2014-15.

No. 1 Pairing: Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson will be the No. 1 defensive pairing for the Detroit Red Wings next season.

     

    Why It Makes Sense

    Top-pairing defensemen are at a premium in this league, and although Kronwall and Ericsson aren't shutdown defensemen by themselves, together they form a pretty formidable pairing.

    With the exception of Brendan Smith (who doesn't have the experience that Ericsson and Kronwall have with each other), no other Red Wings defenseman is ready to challenge Ericsson or Kronwall for their respective roles.

    Even if Smith did have a great showing in training camp or early in the season, he still has just 138 total NHL games to his credit, meaning he would do well to be "sheltered" on the second pairing for at least another season.

     

    Why It Might Not Happen

    If general manager Ken Holland actually ever does pull the trigger on a deal for a player of the quality of an Alex Edler, Ericsson could be bumped down to the second pairing. According to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, the Red Wings are interested in Edler

    But would they make a move for him?

    No one knows, but Edler was almost selected by the Red Wings before the Vancouver Canucks traded up to get him in 2004, according to Mike Morreale of NHL.com. Johan Franzen was next on the Wings' board, so they selected him.

    Would the Wings try and make it happen with Edler again?

No. 2 Pairing: Brendan Smith-Danny DeKeyser

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    Jana Chytilova/Getty Images

    As with the Kronwall-Ericsson possible pairing, unless a splash is made for a top-four defenseman, Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser will be the second pairing for the 2014-15 Detroit Red Wings.

     

    Why It Makes Sense

    Ideally, the Red Wings would pull the trigger on a trade in this offseason to give Brendan Smith a slightly better option to play with than Danny DeKeyser. 

    DeKeyser found his groove offensively, with 23 points in 65 contests. But the Michigan native struggled to be physical in his own end, with just 13 takeaways in 65 games and had 36 giveaways by comparison.

    Simply put, DeKeyser needs to be stronger on the puck.

    Meanwhile, Smith wasn't too strong in his own zone either, with a 49-to-18 giveaway-to-takeaway ratio. Smith struggled to break the puck out of his own zone, but his speed on the rush gives him an edge moving forward into 2014-15.

     

    Why It Might Not Happen

    DeKeyser and Smith have played a combined 221 NHL regular-season and playoff games. That isn't very many for a potential second-line pairing. 

    Ken Holland might want to seriously think about bringing in another top-four defenseman and not throwing his defensemen into a "trial-by-fire" kind of situation.

    Then again, defensemen on the trade market and through unrestricted free agency will not come cheaply or easily. It may be the case that Wings fans will see DeKeyser taking over what was Kyle Quincey's spot on the second pairing.

No. 3 Pairing Mike Weaver-Jakub Kindl

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    Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

    While some fans might be jumping on the "Matt Niskanen to Detroit" bandwagon, the simple fact of the matter is that Niskanen could fetch a salary "to the tune of a $7-million-per-season offer," per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. While the Red Wings are desperately in need of a top-four, right-handed defenseman, Niskanen would take up almost all of the money that the Wings have to spend in free agency.

    Instead, the Red Wings should take a look at Mike Weaver.

     

    Why It Makes Sense

    While DeKeyser could be bumped up if the Red Wings won't break the bank on Niskanen, the Wings still need to fill a hole on the third pairing that would be inadequately filled by just Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff. The big quality the Red Wings were missing on defense last season was grit. 

    Enter Mike Weaver.

    With a third-line combination of Weaver and Jakub Kindl, the Red Wings would add some veteran depth without sacrificing ability to play special teams.

    Weaver averaged almost three minutes of short-handed ice time per game last season with the Montreal Canadiens. His play on the penalty kill helped the Habs to the fourth-best unit during the regular season with an 85.1 percent kill rate.

    Weaver is also a right-handed defenseman and would not break the bank, with a cap hit of just $1.1 million last season per CapGeek.

     

    Why It Might Not Happen

    The Red Wings need a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman who can play top-four minutes. While Weaver played almost 20 minutes a night against the New York Rangers in the playoffs, he isn't a puck-moving defenseman like a Matt Niskanen would be.

    The Red Wings might opt to spend their money on a right-handed player that can move the puck and contribute with some big-time minutes as well.

Seventh Defenseman: Brian Lashoff

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Brian Lashoff will be on the Red Wings roster next season due to his NHL-level contract that pays him $725,000 for the next two seasons.

     

    Why It Makes Sense

    Statistically speaking, Lashoff wasn't that great last year offensively. With his output of just a goal and five assists in 75 games played last season, one wouldn't necessarily be wrong to say that Lashoff just isn't an offensive threat.

    But the Red Wings don't need Lashoff's offense.

    Wings fans are just hoping that Lashoff can shore up his defensive play and become a better shutdown defenseman this coming season. The Albany, N.Y., native put up 65 hits and 93 blocked shots in limited minutes this season, his first full season as a Red Wing.

    Lashoff played just 31 games in the lockout-shortened season, but couldn't find the scoresheet as consistently as he did last year.

    Detroit would be better off having Lashoff fill the seventh defenseman spot, because if the team brought up a prospect, it would want him getting playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench on more nights than not.

     

    Why It Might Not Happen

    It wouldn't necessarily be a stunning turn of events if Lashoff isn't Detroit's seventh defenseman next season, but he would need to one-up former first-round pick Jakub Kindl to earn more regular minutes next season. 

    Kindl is a better skater than Lashoff and has better offensive upside than Lashoff.