After making the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, the Detroit Red Wings historic run came to an end last season and it might be a few years before we see them back in the postseason.
The Red Wings were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in their last three appearances, so the writing was on the wall that it wouldn’t last forever. With the premature departure of Pavel Datsyuk the 2016-17 started on a sour note and it never really improved.
Despite the finishing under .500 for the first time since 1990-91, the Red Wings didn’t really tear things down this summer and start a rebuild like many prognosticators expected. Instead they signed a 33-year-old, injury prone defenseman Trevor Daley and might not have enough room to ink electric winger Andreas Athanasiou to a new deal.
General Manager Ken Holland has done a rather poor job of managing the salary cap and it has put the Red Wings in a very difficult spot. Detroit has a number of bad contracts for players who simply don’t contribute like their cap-hit might suggest they would. Whether it’s Johan Franzen’s $3.955M AAV to sit on LTIR, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm’s combined $8.1M cap-hit to play in the bottom-6 or Jonathan Ericsson’s $4.25M AAV to get exposed on a nightly basis, the Red Wings are in cap hell.
Detroit’s blueline is a mess, but upfront there is reason for optimism. Captain Henrik Zetterberg proved last year that he still has a lot left in the tank, posting 17 goals and 51 assists (68 points). Tomas Tatar scored 20-plus goals for the third straight season and signed a reasonable four-year extension this summer. Gustav Nyquist put a sluggish start behind him to finish the 2016-17 season with 30 points (8G / 22A) in his final 35 contests. Anthony Mantha is near the top of this season’s breakout candidates thanks to his size/skill combination and obvious 30-30 upside. Dylan Larkin remains a highly touted prospect who will try and put a sophomore slump behind him and return to the 2015-16 form that had people comparing him to Jonathan Toews. If Athanasiou remains in Red and White, he has 25-goal upside, especially if he starts seeing more meaningful minutes. Lastly, Riley Sheahan’s 2017-18 campaign simply can’t be as bad or unlucky as last year was and a return to 15-to-20 goals will certainly help the Red Wings’ offence.
Outside of Mike Green, this blueline doesn’t offer a lot in terms of fantasy value. Last year he finished with the seventh most goals (14) among defensemen and is tied for 33rd in points over the last two seasons. Green has room to grow as well because the beleaguered Niklas Kronwall still saw the majority of first unit power-play time a season ago. Kronwall is basically playing on one-leg and it doesn’t make sense to have him ahead of Green in the PP pecking order. The aforementioned Daley could be a fantasy factor, as he’s shown the ability to be so in the past, but he is a massive injury risk—Daley has missed 55 games over the last four years. The Red Wings have a plethora of youngish defensemen but none of them look like difference makers. Nick Jensen was a pleasant surprise last year, Xavier Ouellet is still kicking around and Ryan Sproul, who owns an excellent point shot will serve as a seventh defenseman if he doesn’t find himself on waivers before the season starts.
Where the Red Wings appear to be strong is in between the pipes. In the first half of the 2015-16 season, Petr Mrazek played like a top-5 netminder, only to see his play fall off down the stretch. However, the first half led to high expectations entering last season and Mrazek stumbled, posting the third highest GAA (3.04) and third lowest SV% (.901) among qualified netminders. While it was a bad year for Mrazek, veteran Jimmy Howard had a career-year, ranking second in the NHL in SV% (.927) and third in GAA (2.10). However injuries continue to be a bugaboo for Howard, who missed nearly three months with a knee injury. It remains to be seen who will be the No.1 to start the season, but look for a stronger campaign from Mrazek and slight regression from Howard.
The Red Wings should actually be better than they were last year, but it still won’t be enough to get back into the playoffs. This is an unfortunate time for the Red Wings to be trending downward as they prepare to open their brand new building, Little Caesar’s Arena this month.
Fantasy Rankings (Top 350)
- Henrik Zetterberg-#81 (#23 C)
- Anthony Mantha-#112 (#20 RW)
- Gustav Nyquist-#160 (#27 LW)
- Mike Green-#166 (#36 D)
- Petr Mrazek-#169 (#27 G)
- Tomas Tatar-#202 (#38 LW)
- Dylan Larkin-#203 (#38 RW)
- Frans Nielsen-#215 (#54 C)
- Jimmy Howard-#223 (#33 G)
- Andreas Athanasiou-#227 (#45 LW)
- Trevor Daley-#289 (#72 D)
- Justin Abdelkader-#334 (#63 LW)
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