Detroit Red Wings: 9 Reasons for Optimism This Season

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIAugust 22, 2012

Detroit Red Wings: 9 Reasons for Optimism This Season

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    The Detroit Red Wings have not had the best offseason.  They watched Nick Lidstrom retire and Brad Stuart head west.  They had hoped to land at least one of the big name free agents or trade targets, but they came up empty.

    Many writers, including this one, have wondered if the team can really compete next season.  While they did not make a big enough offseason splash, this is still a team loaded with talent.  As the Los Angeles Kings proved last season, it is all about playing great at the right time.

    Here are nine reasons why fans should still be optimistic about the season.

Pavel Datsyuk

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    Pavel Datsyuk is arguably the best all-around player in the game.  While there may be players that are better at certain aspects of the game, he is so good in so many areas. 

    The only knock on his game is that he is sometimes too unselfish.  With his speed, puck handling and accuracy, he could be a 50-goal scorer—but he passes the puck a little too often.  A more aggressive Datsyuk would help the team greatly.

    Even without any changes though, he is still a dangerous weapon on the ice.  He can usually be found as the league leader in takeaways which helps produce offensive chances for his team.  The real key is who plays on his line.  If he takes more shots or continues to pass the puck, his linemates need to be ready at all times to step up.

Darren Helm

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    Darren Helm has been a projected breakout player for a couple of seasons now.  While he has been a solid player he still has not taken that next step.  He has great speed and has a knack for stealing the puck.  He just needs to improve on his scoring touch.

    He has the talent to score at least 25 goals a season. He just needs to finish his chances better.  He has yet to do that as his career best is 12 goals, but this will be the season that he starts to realize his potential.

Dan Cleary

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    Dan Cleary was banged up for most of last season and it showed as his goals dropped from 26 to 12.  Now healthy, he will hopefully be able to return to his 20-plus goal totals, which he has achieved three times while in Detroit.

    The team greatly missed his scoring touch last year as well as his usual all-around solid play.  A healthy Cleary will greatly boost the team’s performance.

Damien Brunner

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    Brunner may be end up being the best offseason signing by any team.  He is a quick skater with good puck handling skills.  As is the norm with Red Wings players, he plays the entire ice.  He also is willing to play a physical game.

    In the Swiss Elite League he was the leading scorer last year (60 points in only 45 games).  He has been a "point-per-game-plus" player in each of the past three seasons.  Over that time frame he has averaged 1.24 points per game.

    In the IIHF World Championships he was able to showcase his skills against many NHL players.  While playing games against teams such as the United States; Canada; Finland and the eventual runner-up Slovakia, he was still able to maintain his point-per-game performance.

    After showcasing his ability against so much talent, several teams were interested in signing him.  He picked Detroit and should be given every chance to excel.

Brendan Smith

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    Brendan Smith has been the "star prospect in waiting" for the Wings.  He is an offensive-minded defenseman and has been rated as a "can’t miss" prospect for several years.

    He had a short stint with the team last season and played very well.  This year he will have the chance to step into a full time role.  If the scouting reports and career projections are right, then he is looking at a bright future.

    It is not fair to ask anyone to replace Lidstrom, especially a rookie. However, Smith should quickly rise to become one of the better defenders on the team.  He will make the usual rookie mistakes throughout the season but his talent should overcome those mistakes. 

Ken Holland

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    Ken Holland has been built this team.  In his 14 seasons as the General Manager he has won three Stanley Cups and has a fourth from when he was the assistant GM. 

    Doubters thought that the team would struggle in the salary cap era. Instead, the Wings have made it to two cup finals (winning one).  Holland was able to make transition look easy.

    While he did not land the free-agent prizes of Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, he is not done yet.  There may not be any high-end free agents left on the market. However there are several players on the trade market. The Red Wings have enough depth on the team as well as talented prospects in the minors to be able to trade for any improvement that they may need.

    Holland is patient and smart; he will not make a move just to make a move.  Unless something major is offered he is likely to wait to see how the team does during the season before deciding on any possible moves.

Jimmy Howard

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    Jimmy Howard has played very well since earning the starting job a few seasons ago.  Last season, before injuries hit, he was among the league leaders and was being talked about as a possible Vezina candidate.  Now that he is healthy, he should pick up where he left off last season.

    An added benefit for Howard will be the addition of Jonas Gustavsson, which solidifies the backup goalie role.  Over the past couple of seasons the backup role has been shaky.  This has forced Howard to play more games than the team would like.  Now with Gustavsson they have viable backup that will allow Howard to stay fresher and healthier than in the past.

Valtteri Filppula

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    Valtteri Filppula had a breakout season last year.  He finally broke through the 20-goal mark as he scored 23 times.  His 66 points topped his previous best by 26 and his plus-18 was also a career best.

    Filppula is in the prime of his career and should continue to improve this season.  He is growing into the role of a go-to scorer for the team.  That continued development will be a bright spot for the team this season.

Jonathan Ericsson

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    Ericsson made great progress last season.  While he still has a ways to go, he proved to be valuable on special teams.  He will have every opportunity to continue to improve and in turn play more minutes.

    While I still firmly believe that they heavily overpaid for him last season, he did improve.  Hopefully that will continue this season.  Based on last year, he proved that he can and will improve.

    While the Detroit Red Wings will not start the season as a Stanley Cup favorite it does not mean that they will have no chance.  They still have plenty of talented pieces and enough players that are still improving that they will be in the thick of race all season long.

    PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.

    You can follow him on Twitter.

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