Thursday, September 1, 2011

Detroit Red Wings 2011-12 Preview

Is Detroit still the powerhouse they’ve been in past years Or are they on the decline? 
Last season, the Detroit Red Wings struggled to find their grove and endured a series of notable injuries to top players. As a result, they suffered in the standings and entered the playoffs as a lower seed than in recent memory.


This time around, the Wings will hope to remain healthy, and so they should. Due to their dormant off-season, they did little to improve their existing line up. Nicklas Lidstrom is another year older, (though he appears timeless), and Brian Rafalski retired. Nicklas Kronwall will take on a larger role, but they will miss Rafalski’s experience.

Up front, the Wings will hope to keep Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen healthy, as well as their supporting cast including Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary. If the Wings are hoping to regain their President’s Trophy form, they will need players like Jiri Hudler, Valteri Filppula, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader to take on larger roles.

In net, Jimmy Howard shows flashes of brilliance, but his inconsistency may be unsettling for a team no longer loaded with talent to the extent that non-exceptional goaltending was acceptable.

This year, how the Red Wings fare against division rivals will go a long way to determining where they will sit by season’s end. The re-tooled Blackhawks are the favourites to win the division, while Nashville, St. Louis and Columbus all appear stronger than last year. If the Red Wings off-season can be summed up by ‘standing still’, they may have in fact moved backwards.



Forwards Detroit needs to avoid injury to regain their form. Will they be able to stay healthy this year?

Pavel Datsyuk
Regarded as perhaps the best overall player in the game, Datsyuk is gaining superstar status for his tremendous stickhandling and puck protection ability. His wizardry with the puck is second to none. 80 points is almost a guarantee if healthy.

Henrik Zetterberg
The talented winger has been a model of consistency and also displays a sound two way game. 80 points is also a good expectation for him. He may be the most durable option for a Red Wing of elite level, and is a model of consistency.

Johan Franzen As if ‘Mule’s reputation wasn’t solidied as a playoff performer, the big Swede took a huge hit in the playoffs against Phoenix, only to return later that game—albeit looking like Frankenstein. Franzen is a handful but struggles to stay healthy. Hope for 55-60 points.

Valtteri Filppula Filpulla could become more durable as well, but did enjoy a solid campaign last year. This time out, the slippery forward could exceed 40 points and get closer to 50 if he’s aligned with more talented linemates, or granted more ice time. If Bertuzzi and Holmstrom fall to injury or decline with age, a spot with Zetterberg or Datsyuk may be in line.

Jiri Hudler The Russian winger took off to the KHL a while ago but was not the same upon his return. The Wings hope he can rejoin his form from a couple of years ago and push the 50 point barrier. Expect 40 and be pleased with anything more.

Todd Bertuzzi Big Bert had a great start to last season, but faded as the year went on. He’s getting long in the tooth and his best days obviously appear to be behind him. This season, Bertuzzi could hit the 40 point mark, but that’s probably the top of the mountain for him at this point.

Daniel Cleary Despite missing a lot of time due to injury, Cleary still posted record numbers in goals and points. Cleary is a well-rounded player who compliments skilled scorers like Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Once again, 40 points is a solid expectation for this wily veteran.

Tomas Holmstrom Is there any player in the NHL who takes more abuse in front of the net than Holmstrom? These have been long, hard years for the resilient Swede. Expect a decline in point totals this year. 40 would be a steal.

Defence
Nicklas Lidstrom
The perennial all-star and consummate defender is nearing the end of his career. Lidstrom has a rebound year last season, notching 62 points and his first career hat-trick. A decline may be in order this year. 50 points would be great, but expect 40-45.

Nicklas Kronwall Kronwall is the future of the Detroit blueline. One of the best all-around defenders in the league, he can deliver crushing hits, join the rush, and pinch at the right time to snipe a goal. His best years are yet to come. Expect 50+ points.

Goaltending
Jimmy Howard
Howard shows flashes of brilliance and periods of inconsistency. As he enters this year, he’ll be leaned on more heavily to carry the Red Wings goaltending. He is a pretty good goaltender on a good team, so expect a fair share of wins.

Prediction - 33 Wins

Joey MacDonald MacDonald will serve Jimmy Howard as a credible back up. He received a share of the goaltending duties last season and will be ready to appear when needed.

Prediction - 5 wins

TOP SLEEPER 

Nicklas Kronwall With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, Kronwall will be encouraged to take on a larger role this season. Effective on the power play, and one of the league’s best all around defenders, this may be the year that Kronwall takes over the Red Wings defense from the aging Nicklas Lidstrom.

50-60 points are possible if he can stay healthy, as are a myriad of hits and a solid plus/minus rating.

TOP ROOKIE 
Valtteri Filppula

C-L—Tomas Tatar The speedy rookie had a nine game audition with the Wings last season. He showed potential and notched his first goal during the brief stint.

This year, Tatar may find himself on one of the bottom two lines more frequently, and his sped and skill may land him a promotion as an injury replacement or if he acquits himself well early on.

Tatar is probably one of the next good finds from the Detroit Scouting and Player Development system.

Potential Breakout Player
Valtteri Filppula

Filppula broke out a little bit last year, but contains a good amount of skill and could take the next step this season.

As some Red Wings decline due to age, Filppula will fill that void, along with Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jiri Hudler.

Filppula had a strong playoff last year and could score 50-60 points this year if all goes well. If you’re in a keeper league, Filppula is one of your best options on Detroit after Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

2011-12 Season Previews
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