Making predictions in a difficult task at the beginning of every NHL season.
But for the last two decades, the safest prediction has been picking the Detroit Red Wings to reach the playoffs.
The Original Six franchise extended its postseason streak to a record 23 seasons in 2013-14 by earning a wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. It was a remarkable feat considering all of the injuries suffered by veteran players.
Those injuries — including 421 man games lost — put young players into important roles, and many of these prospects played really well. It was a valuable experience that will make the Red Wings even better in 2014-15.
Key arrivals: None
Key departures: David Legwand, Todd Bertuzzi
Player to Watch
Gustav Nyquist entered the Hart Trophy conversation late last season when his impressive goal scoring helped the Red Wings earn a wild-card playoff spot. He finished with 48 points, including a team-high 28 goals in just 57 games. In fact, the 25-year-old winger was the only Red Wings player to score 20 goals in 2013-14.
Detroit needs Nyquist to be even better in 2014-15 because No. 1 center Pavel Datsyuk won’t be ready for the start of the season because of a shoulder injury, and captain Henrik Zetterberg’s durability is a concern. Daniel Alfredsson, who led the team in scoring last season, hasn’t yet re-signed after battling back issues in the 2014 playoffs. These injury worries and the abundance of inexperienced forwards in the Detroit lineup will put a lot of pressure on Nyquist to provide consistent scoring production.
With that said, it will be fun to watch Nyquist play a full season, as he’s never played more than 57 games in a single campaign at the NHL level.
Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL. He’s coached in three Stanley Cup Final series, has one championship ring and led Team Canada to Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. Not many coaches, if any, would have guided the Red Wings to the playoffs last season with all of the injuries to key players such as Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
Not only is Babcock a great motivator, he’s a great teacher as well. This is important because the Red Wings are entering a new era that will be headlined by talented young players such as Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Anthony Mantha, Danny DeKeyser and Nyquist. Babcock is the perfect coach to help develop these players and put them in positions to succeed.
Most Glaring Weakness
Jimmy Howard didn’t have a good 2013-14 season. He won just 21 games, the lowest total of his career in a non-lockout campaign. The former UMaine netminder’s 2.66 goals against average was more than a half goal per game higher than it was in 2012-13, and his .910 save percentage was the second-worst mark of his career.
Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson wasn’t much better, posting a .907 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA.
The Red Wings lack scoring depth — they had zero 50-point scorers last season — which puts extra pressure on the goaltending to be solid each game. Howard must play a higher level for Detroit’s consecutive postseason appearance record to remain intact.
Expectations In 2014-15
The Red Wings proved their doubters wrong last season when it appeared that the postseason streak was coming to an end. Despite the goaltending concerns, this team has a lot of experience, great skill and depth down the middle and the league’s top head coach. In a weak Eastern Conference, those strengths will be enough for Detroit to earn a wild-card playoff berth.
Just don’t expect the Red Wings to win a round in the postseason.