Detroit Red Wings Offseason: 5 Improvements to Make a Run at the Stanley Cup
The Detroit Red Wings were ousted in the second round by the San Jose Sharks two years running.
While it doesn't signify a total shift in power in the West, it does mean the rest of the league is finally catching up to the Winged Wheel.
The Sharks are frighteningly young and it has been kids who probably just bought their first razor, like Logan Couture, spelling trouble for the Wings in the playoffs.
Even the non-playoff teams have the tools needed to do some damage in the coming seasons. I, for one, believe the St. Louis Blues are only a piece or two away from really surprising some people when it comes to the big show.
Nashville will do what they have always done: spend close to the cap floor, and get the most they can out of workmanlike players.
So what can Detroit do to remain among the League's finest, and again find itself back in the Stanley Cup Finals?
Here are five things the Red Wings need to do during this offseason to keep up with those around them who are gaining speed.
Allow Fewer Goals
When Detroit last won the Stanley Cup in 2007-'08 there was no other team in the NHL who allowed fewer goals during the regular season. They allowed a miniscule 179 goals through the 82-game regular season.
In the playoffs the squad tightened the air tight seal at the blueline even more—that Cup winning version of the Red Wings allowed a microscopic (and mildly astounding) 1.79 goals per game.
The following season Todd McLellan left to coach in San Jose, taking with him his brilliant offensive approach. His replacement?
The now departed "defensive specialist" Brad McCrimmon.
There are five coaching vacancies in the NHL currently, and McCrimmon had to head to the KHL to find work as the lead guy behind the bench. The reason for that could very well be how poorly his defensive units played in Detroit.
Yes, he is taking over one of the best teams in the KHL, but the fact he didn't even wait for the summer to end before deciding to head overseas should tell you something.
The Red Wings allowed 240 goals during his first season as an assistant. There were no major personnel changes to explain the sudden 60 goal increase in his department, just a shifted system that didn't seem to be working.
The Wings allowed 237 goals last season, and are surrounded mostly by teams that missed the playoffs in the bottom-third of that category. Finishing behind the Florida Panthers in goals allowed isn't going to cut it in the cut-throat West.
Is this three-year trend all McCrimmon's fault?
I'm not ignorant enough to blame this trend fully on a coach. The players play the game. But with the fleet of two-way forwards Detroit boasts there is no reason for this spike to continue.
If Detroit wants to find the way back to the late playoff rounds, the defense must improve.
It is no coincidence that the two teams that allowed the fewest goals during the regular season are now facing off in the Finals.
The Red Wings have consistently scored three goals or so a game while their defense has slipped significantly. Turning into a four-goal-a-game team isn't going to work, (ask Washington, who toned down their fireworks to play a tighter game in their own zone) and they must rekindle their prowess as a defensive, neutral zone dominating team to have a shot at the Grand Prize.
Continue to Score Goals at the Same Clip
At first it may appear that I am expecting a lot out of the Red Wings next season.
Maybe you're asking "you want them to cut back on scoring while not allowing the offense to slide much?"
The Canucks and Bruins allowed the fewest goals in the NHL while placing in the top-five in goals.
The last time Detroit won the Cup, they were third overall in goals scored while (as noted in the previous slide) allowing the least.
This is what the best teams in the League do. They aren't too heavy on one side of the puck. It seems obvious, but somewhere along the line the Wings have seemingly lost their identity as a puck-possession team.
During the playoffs players like Darren Helm were dogged in their pursuit of the puck, but Detroit is at the peak of its game when they are controlling the foe and imposing their collective will with their talent and vision.
My dream vision for this team next year?
Two (maybe three) lines that can control the tempo of the game through puck control in the middle of the ice through the the offensive zone while the bottom two lines wear teams down with speed and nasty forchecking.
I look at the roster and see the tools there to play a hybrid-type game. This is one of the deeper forward units one through 12, and could end up playing a Swiss Army Knife type game as the younger players continue to thrive in their roles, while the old guard plays like always.
Whatever system Detroit employs for this coming season, hopefully they return to the type of ice and space controlling style they popularized a few years back.
Answer the Questions Concerning the Defense Core—and Quickly
The press has already torn this one apart: What will the defense look like in Detroit come October?
While there isn't a whole lot of room for forwards—the Wings maybe have one hole up front—there are two or three spots to be filled on the blueline.
Count it. That's half of an entire defensive unit.
Brian Rafalski unexpectedly retired, leaving $6 million on the table. Ruslan Salei more than likely won't be back to clear room for a youngster to come up the pipeline, and Jonathan Ericsson has already turned down two years at $2 million a pop (whatever, dude.)
There are one or two players in the system that the Wings could use to plug up one or two of these spots. Jakub Kindl played 48 games last season for the big club and should make the team out of training camp.
Kindl should be more than capable of filling in for Salei at the very least.
Brendan Smith, though younger than the Wings would like, could make the jump already. Detroit doesn't like to rush players along, and generally wait a few years before bringing them along in the pros.
Smith may have the tools to force management's hand early however.
With Rafalski's departure Detroit has several million dollars to play with in free agency, and one of the notable rearguards could end up calling Detroit home a few days into July.
Dealing with the questions on the blueline early will be integral to success in the Motor City next season. If the headlines are still reading the same way three or four months into the season, there could be some trouble in Detroit.
Shaking out these questions with haste will bode well for the squad as it moved forward.
Stay out of the Box or Get Better on the Kill
Detroit was in another unfamiliar situation during their two rounds of playoff action: They found themselves shorthanded more than they were accustomed to.
The regular season wasn't a whole lot different, as the Wings were the 13th most penalized team in the League. Which isn't too brutal. In fact one could argue the Red Wings walk a pretty fine line between being totally soft and totally rambunctious.
Until you realize that the Wings killed penalties at a pedestrian 82 percent—worse than teams such as the Islanders and Wild.
One of those two figures needs to be bucked, and pronto. The story was very similar during the playoffs as well, and not being able to fend of a talented power play like San Jose's with consistency will lead to disaster.
In the playoffs Detroit was the fourth-worst penalty killing team out of all of the 16 teams that made the dance while they were the sixth most penalized—they only had one less call against them than the much rougher Philadelphia Flyers.
Needless to say this situation needs to improve if the Wings wish to progress into the Conference Finals and beyond again.
Begin Meshing with Youth and Free Agents
The Red Wings underwent a very important transformation period after the lockout, and filled voids left by guys like Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, and Steve Yzerman with a ridiculous efficiency.
Not exactly easy pickings to say the least.
Detroit is now facing a similar turnover with long-time Wings like Kris Draper (perhaps), Brian Rafalski (definite), Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood all on their way out in the next season or two.
While the team may decide Drapes has one more year left in the tank, and Lidstrom may decide to return, there is another prospect push happening for the Wings. Guys likes Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader have proved to be invaluable depth players.
In the next season or so the Wings will see a surge of the kids who are supposed to take over the first line or two as the aging veterans relinquish their roles, and eventually their jerseys.
It's an exciting time to be a Wings fan as players like Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar appear poised to be the faces of the new generation that fans in Detroit will grow to love.