Detroit Red Wings: What This Season Taught Us, and How We Move Forward
I'm still having trouble coming to the realization that the Red Wings are done.
This was an interesting year for the Detroit Red Wings, who, after last year's disappointing season, boomed to the top of the standings at the beginning of the year.
They looked flawless, reminding us of the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 back to back finalist Detroit Red Wings. Deep. Talented. Confident. All of the above.
Then came the injuries. Detroit slowly then gave up their top spot to the surging Vancouver Canucks. A five-game win streak would immediately be followed by a three or four-game losing steak. The Red Wings couldn't seem to regain any of the consistency they had at the beginning of the season.
Throughout this season, many things were learned. With the right moves this offseason, I see the Red Wings being even better next season. Here are just some of the things we learned and can look forward to.
Nicklas Lidstrom Is Ageless
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Nicklas Lidstrom isn't human. Nominated for the Norris Trophy once again, Nicklas Lidstrom proved to the world his 41-year-old body was not in decline, but instead posted numbers that could earn him two pieces of hardware this July.
He was nominated for the Norris for the 11th time in his career.
He quarterbacked the power play brilliantly and earned 62 points—the highest he's had since the 2007-2008 season.
His talent, work ethic and leadership is unmatched anywhere in the league. He is a genius with the puck. His hockey IQ is so unbelievably high, I never doubt any decision he makes with the puck.
But the big question this offseason is will he retire?
I don't think so. I was much more worried last season about him retiring then I am now. Last season, Lidstrom's numbers declined to a low level (for him). The Wings struggled to make the playoffs, and the team as a whole looked to be in an overall decline. If there was a time to retire, that would've made the most sense.
So why would he retire now? He has proven that his numbers that year were a fluke, and the team improved its record and regained control of the division. The young guns of the Wings showed much improvement all around, and with Lidstrom's return, the Wings will once again be a major Stanley Cup contender.
Pavel Datsyuk Is Even More Un-Human Than Nicklas Lidstrom
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This man never ceases to amaze me. To me (and everyone has their own opinion on this debate), there is no doubt Pavel Datsyuk is the best player in the world.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan even said it himself.
He's that good. Even Sharks fans have to admire his ability. The backhander goal in Game 7... unreal. The Versus broadcasters said it best: "There is not a hockey school in the world where you can go to and learn to do what Pavel Datsyuk just did"
Amazing offense. Amazing Defense. Unbelievable hockey IQ. Incredible work ethic. I could go on and on and on. He is in a league of his own, and in my mind, the best player in the world. He continues to produce amazing numbers, and like Lidstrom, appears to be ageless.
Datsyuk was the most outstanding and consistent performer in the playoffs hands down with 15 points in 11 games. He had a point in every single playoff game except for one. He was also on pace for a near 100 point season before his injury in December. Oh, and did I mention he's the three time defending Selke (best defensive forward) winner?
Bottom line is with Datsyuk, Detroit has the most talented player in the NHL. And he's not going anywhere. God, I love him.
He and his best friend Henrik Zetterberg both proved last year to be a fluke. They aren't done, and won't be for awhile.
The Future Is Bright
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Yes, Detroit is a veteran team. But explosive young talent is also something the Wings have.
Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves and Justin Abdelkader all made great improvements this year.
Darren Helm, arguably the fastest player in the NHL, improved his point total by eight. He was more confident offensively and was a nightmare defensively. He was an excellent penalty killer (posting several shorthanded goals), checker, shot blocker and hustler. His speed alone is a game changer. Each year in the league, he has improved. His hustle and work ethic also point to a bright future. Expect Helm to be a star.
Abdelkader improved his offensive numbers greatly this year. He lead the team in hits last season, but was virtually invisible offensively. He improved his point total by 13 points and also improved his plus/minus by 26.
Patrick Eaves, like Helm, provided good penalty killing and also continued to help offensively. His line with Drapes and Helm was dominant against Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. He and Helm are a duo to keep together.
But that's not all to look forward to.
Look for some young studs to be called up from the minors frequently. Tomas Tatar and Jan Mursak have been very impressive. Both young, fast and aggressive. Both scream potential.
Jimmy Howard Is Ready, It's Time for the Players to Be.
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Jimmy was simply unbelievable this postseason.
Ironically, he was probably the biggest question mark coming into the playoffs.
After having a great rookie season, expectations were high for Jimmy. He had his ups and downs, and had many concerned coming into the postseason. I don't know if Jimmy started changing his routine, what he ate before games or what, but he looked like a Conn Smythe candidate to me once the playoffs began.
He is zero percent why the Red Wings didn't advance in the playoffs. I am more confident than ever that he is ready and capable to be the hero behind a cup winning Red Wings team.
He posted a .923 save percentage while only allowing 2.50 goals per game this postseason.
Moves Might Need to Be Made
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As I said last off season, Jiri Hudler could be the difference maker in the Wings winning a cup. Why would anyone be wrong in saying that?
He is young, talented and was improving yearly. He had raised his point totals by 22 in just two years! He produced 57 points at only 26 years of age in the 2008-2009 season. With the return of Hudler from Russia, expectations were obviously high.
He stunk. No way around it.
He was inconsistent the entire year and only produced 37 points. He failed to live up to all expectations and even was invisible in the playoffs. With the Hudler we all knew and expected, the Wings would've beaten the Sharks in the playoffs. Instead, we get the other Jiri Hudler. And in all of those tight battles with San Jose, secondary scoring was gone. We needed it. We needed him, and he didn't deliver.
So what now? Do we trade him? Give him another shot?
What about Franzen or Filppula (Both are much less of an issue than Jiri Hudler.)? These two seem to be amazing at times, but are inconsistent, always injured and are both aging. Do we cash them in for some good young talent before their value is diminished? I'd say keep them at least another year, but I've heard good arguments both ways.
Johan Franzen is Mr. Postseason, and has 40+ goal potential when he is healthy. But his health, like for many Red Wings, has been the killer. He also had several lengthy goal droughts this season. His health is a reoccurring issue just as his inconsistent play is.
Filppula has shows waves of excellence. He has even looked Datsyukian at times. But these instances are few. He again this season failed to even play in 60 games, and at times was very non productive and unreliable.
I'm not sure where I stand on all of this. But I have faith in the best GM in the NHL. Thank God for Ken Holland!
If the Unthinkable Happens (Lidstrom Retires)
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This is a thought no Red Wings fan wants to fathom. A player like Lidstrom is a once-in-a-lifetime player. There is no replacement.
Just picturing a Red Wings team without him is difficult.
But there is optimism.
Kronwall and Rafalski both looked fantastic at times this year. Kronwall is a shot blocking machine. Rafalski had a great statistical year despite missing a lot of games. Both seem very comfortable in the top defenseman role.
Niklas Krownwall was physical, tough and delivered in big time situations when needed this season and postseason.
Rafalski is much more similar to Lidstrom. The three-time Stanley Cup winner is smart with the puck and great on the power play. Not as physical as Kronwall, but still vital to the team.
Also, with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, a huge space is opened in the salary cap. That gives our genius GM much money to work with. With several good defenders hitting the FA market this offseason, one may very well be wearing a winged wheel next year.
Next Year Could Be Great
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We have Datsyuk.
We have Zetterberg.
We have an amazing coach.
We have young talent.
We have the best general manager in the NHL.
We have 20 consecutive playoff berths.
Next year could be the year.
As Coach Mike Babcock has said, you just keep knocking on the door and eventually it will open.