Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Subtracted: Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner, Dan Cleary
The Red Wings are going to be good
You can’t be truly successful – as in, Stanley Cup winning successful – without elite talent, and the Detroit Red Wings have it in spades. Pavel Datsyuk is pretty universally revered around the NHL for a reason. He scores some of the slickest goals while winning defensive player of the year awards while winning gentlemanly player awards. I mean, combining those things is almost unheard of in hockey. He gets to line up with point-per-game skillmonster Henrik Zetterberg too, which kinda makes them a lot to handle. They’ve added to their firepower by bringing in multi-season 40-goal-scorer Daniel Alfredsson and all that goes with him. They brought in Stephen Weiss, whose been scoring over 20 goals a year consistently while playing with a bucket of Playdoh and a Raggedy-Ann doll for linemates. Johan “The Mule” Franzen has scored over 27 goals four times in his career (all since ’07), and scores them in a way that creates space for his linemates. Which is to say, he lives in the dirty areas. And their forward depth is remarkable – guys like Helm, Abdelkader and Samuelsson can all chip in consistently. If some of their young forwards like Gustav Nyqvist and Tomas Tatar pan out (and it looks like they will), this team will be able to score at will.
Backstopping this group of studs is an all-star in Jimmy Howard, still in his mid-20s and starting to emerge as one of hockey’s best. And with the League’s hardest hitter and offensive threat Niklas Kronwall in front of him, he’s probably not going to be challenged that often. Some of the Wings talented young d-men (Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser) are ready to take the next step, and the underrated Jonathan Ericsson rounds out a pretty versatile d-corps. This team has all the tools to be one of the top teams in the league, if not the top team.
The Red Wings are going to be bad
So after a year of sneaking into playoffs by a point, the Red Wings thought they’d get better by giving $5.5 million to Daniel Alfredsson, who put up just over 0.5 points a game last year? Look out for that offense! (While you’re skating around him effortlessly.) This team is an age nightmare, with their players either being on the decline of their careers, or too young to be of any value yet. Their loyalty to players is starting to be a serious hindrance, because now they have to figure out what to do with Dan Cleary. Can you still play him, even? And what about the talent void on defense? Are Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey really bothering anyone on the other team as they do what they want when they want in the Red Wings zone? This team is an ineffective group that Babcock basically has trapping so they don’t get blown out every game. They’re not better than last year, they’re worse. This team could be terrible.
Flippant barstool prediction:
Home ice playoff team, the East only makes things easier for them (“We get to play Buffalo and Florida how often?”)
I credit Mike Babcock with a lot of the success the Red Wings had last season (defensive success is often reflective of sound coaching). They only allowed 2.29 goals-per-game in 2013, which was fifth in the league. Sometimes that comes at the expense of offensive production, and their spot in goals-for-per-game – 20th, with 2.54 – seems to reflect that. They did manage to generate over 30 shots a night though (30.1, to be exact – 10th overall), and they only allowed 27.5 (7th). A good sign for them is that they were good 5-on-5, with a goals for/against ratio of 1.10.
Okay, but seriously:
This team has the basic structures necessary to success in place: they have enough elite talent to break games open, and they have the type of quality coaching that ensures they’re getting the best out of even their most average guys. The d-core is relatively unimpressive past Kronwall, so they’d benefit greatly from their young d-men taking steps. If Alfredsson and Weiss show up guns-a-blazin’ this team could be near the top of the Eastern Conference. If they have off years, they’ll be looking to squeeze in one of the final home ice spots.