Detroit barely made the playoffs in 2013-14 and was promptly dismissed by the Boston Bruins in the first round. In terms of points percentage, it was the team’s worse season since Mike Babcock became the head coach and yet he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. The reason for that isn’t hard to decipher.
The Red Wings had to overcome a lot just to get to the postseason. They set a franchise record with 421 man games lost due to injuries and it wasn’t just a question of the quantity of the injuries. Detroit’s top two players, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were each limited to 45 contests.
Starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, forward Johan Franzen, and free agent acquisition Stephen Weiss are just a few of the other players that spent a portion of the season on the sidelines.
Given all of that, were the Red Wings truly a merely average team last season as their record would suggest or were they a good squad that was simply unlucky? Injuries are part of the game and it’s assumed that every team will deal with some hardship over the course of the 82-game season, but when the amount of time players have spent on the sidelines becomes record-breaking, it’s hard to just dismiss it as business as usual.
At the same time, an argument can be made that the Red Wings were fortunate in other regards. Gustav Nyquist stepped up with an impressive 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games. It’s too early to know if he can replicate those results, but it certainly seems like he got hot at the right time.
This isn’t an entirely academic question. Whether or not Detroit was unlucky last season doesn’t change the result, but keep in mind that they’ll be entering the campaign with roughly the same roster. If you buy into the argument that Detroit underperformed in 2013-14, then it’s not unreasonable to make the leap that they are a serious candidate to do meaningfully better in 2014-15.