NHL 2014-15 preview: Detroit Red Wings

The Strategy Room guys discuss the most surprising moves on the first day of free agency, including the lack of activity from the Red Wings, and the amount of money spent on back up goalies.

Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.

A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.

Detroit is our 15th-ranked team.

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Detroit Red Wings
Division: Atlantic
2013-14 finish: 39-28-15,93 points, 15th overall; lost to Boston in Round 1 of the playoffs
Leading scorers: Daniel Alfredsson and Niklas Kronwall (49 points)
General manager: Ken Holland
Head coach: Mike Babcock
Captain: Henrik Zetterberg
Opening night starter: Jimmy Howard
Key acquisitions: Assistant coach Tony Granato
Key departures: David Legwand, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo, Daniel Alfredsson(?)

Off-season grade: D. The only thing preventing the Wings from a completely failing grade is that they’ve managed to lock up some of their extremely promising collection of young players, including Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser and Riley Sheahan, for reasonable prices. Even Kyle Quincey, who is nobody’s favourite defenceman, got a two-year deal worth $4.25 million per season—a decent price for a solid second-pair D-man on the open market. And the term is decent, too.

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Greatest strength: It’s so weird to be writing this, but beyond Pavel Datsyuk (already down with an apparent shoulder injury) and Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings real strength is youth. Lots and lots of youth. Despite not having a draft pick higher than 17th since well before they became a powerhouse, the Wings have assembled an enviable cupboard of prospects who are now starting to bear fruit at the NHL level. Gustav Nyquist was a revelation, notching 28 goals in just 58 games and looking—if you squinted—like Zetterberg minus the defence. Tomas Tatar became a 20-goal man in his second season. Riley Sheahan lined up with them in the second half of the year and but up better than a half-point per game as a rookie. Anthony Mantha cut a swath through junior hockey and the world junior tournament. Danny DeKeyser continued his development into a rock-solid NHL blueliner, and for all his boneheaded mistakes, Brendan Smith seemed to get it as the year progressed and began to show flashes of the talent that makes him the team’s best offensive defenceman prospect. Oh—and Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet are both ready to make the jump while Petr Mrazek has starred at a world juniors and was one of the AHL’s best goalies. The pipeline is flooded.

Greatest weakness: There is precious little to bridge the gap between the old generation and the young. There’s a gaping hole in the lineup where the high-level, late-20s players would be on a contending team. Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall are all well past 30—Datsyuk is 36—and by the time the young stars are ready to be elite, those guys won’t be anymore. Of the projected 2014-15 roster, the only major contributors between ages 26 and 31 are Quincey, Howard, third-line buzzsaw Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson. This is not exactly a core in the prime of their careers.

Biggest story line to watch: Can the kids grow up quickly enough to keep Mike Babcock around? The best coach in the business is in the final year of his contract, and while he’s said all the right things about staying (and GM Ken Holland has echoed him), if the team can’t improve on last season’s just-scraping-into-the-playoffs effort, he might go somewhere that offers him a better chance at a Cup. That said, there’s a lot of talent here, and if there’s a man to get the most of it, it’s Babcock.

2014-15 prediction: A slow start turns into a rolling finish as the Grand Rapids kids infiltrate the lineup even further and the Wings start simply outskating opponents with one of the league’s youngest lineups. They run through the first two rounds in six games each and find themselves tied 2-2 in the third period of Game 7 against the Penguins with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

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