Every year, the expectation is the same in Detroit: Stanley Cup or the season is considered a failure.
It's not exactly easy, even with a fully healthy squad of superstars. The challenge became even more daunting last April when both Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen were bit by the injury bug during the first round of the playoffs. Eventually knocked out for a second straight year by the San Jose Sharks, the Red Wings looked to get healthy and make another run at the Cup.
For a team whose only issue appeared to be the health of its stars, the abrupt retirement of Brian Rafalski this past May came as an unwelcome surprise.
The negative ramifications will be obvious. First, it hurts the power play severely. While Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the best at running the top unit, no one is ready to quarterback the second unit. Niklas Kronwall will have to continue his offensive upswing and newcomer Ian White will have to contribute if the Wings plan on staying productive with the man advantage.
Secondly, the defensive unit as a whole will have to work on breakouts and pass accuracy, as those tended to be where most of the turnovers occurred.
Looking on the optimistic side, Rafalski’s retirement freed up $6 million in cap space. Everyone expected Detroit to make a splash and sign someone like James Wisnewski to fill the void in one fell swoop. In the end, however, they signed Mike Commodore and Ian White to very cap-conscious contracts.
The other shock came when Holland resigned perennial underachiever Jonathan Ericsson to a three-year deal worth $3.25 million a year. Ericsson had a fantastic rookie call-up back in 2008. He contributed to the offense, played physically in the corners and made Holland look like a genius (again).
Since then, Ericsson has been only slightly more productive than a skating drill cone. How he managed to procure top-four defensemen money when his play had him flirting with “healthy scratch” status is beyond me.
The signing of White, Commodore and Ericsson looks to leave the promising Jakub Kindl out in the cold and headed back to Grand Rapids.
The forward situation resembles a huge game of musical chairs. With ten roster spots all but guaranteed, that leaves Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Gustav Nyquist and camp invitee Fabian Brunnstrom to battle with incumbants Drew Miller and Jiri Hudler.
Hudler’s massive contract and uninspired play of late make him a prime trade/cut candidate, but if Ericsson can get a brand new contract, maybe Hudler will be given the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, and let’s not forget: Mike Modano hasn’t officially retired yet.
With Chris Osgood hanging up the skates for good, veteran Ty Conklin was brought back to give starter Jimmy Howard an extended breather during the regular season. After starting 63 games last season, the team wants to make sure their No. 1 goalie is fresh come playoff time.
GM Ken Holland stayed true to his conservative nature and addressed two areas of need without much fanfare. Whether the revamped defense can improve their goals for/goals against ratio, which was the fifth worst of any team to make the playoffs last year, remains to be seen.