Author: Ryan Dadoun

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It’s Detroit Red Wings Day at PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Detroit Red Wings.

After Detroit just barely managed to squeak into the playoffs in 2013-14, it seemed reasonable to wonder if its longstanding postseason streak dating back to the 1990-91 campaign was drawing to a close. However, the Red Wings’ efforts to rebuild on the fly continued and at first it looked like they would far exceed expectations.

Detroit got off to a 17-6-5 start, prompting Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to call the ’14-15 squad their best team since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2009. The following day Detroit began a six-game losing streak and while that wasn’t the start of a collapse for the Red Wings, it did illustrate that this was an inconsistent team.

Further complicating matters was the decline of goaltender Jimmy Howard, who posted a 2.99 GAA and .896 save percentage in 21 games after the all-star break. That prompted Detroit to lean on 23-year-old Petr Mrazek instead. The young netminder helped keep Detroit above water in the playoff race as its 43-25-14 record secured the squad a postseason berth by a four-point margin.

That set up a first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning with Mrazek starting between the pipes. Detroit held its own against the eventual Stanley Cup finalists and Mrazek certainly had his moments as he posted two shutouts and turned aside 15 of 16 shots in Game 7. The one shot that got by him was all it took though as Lightning netminder Ben Bishop denied all 31 of the Red Wings’ shots on goal.

And with that, Detroit suffered its second straight first-round exit.

Off-season recap

The Detroit Red Wings’ playoff appearance streak started well before Babcock took over as the Red Wings’ bench boss, but he kept that legacy going for another decade and now he’s gone. Following Babcock’s decision to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit appointed Jeff Blashill to serve as the team’s second bench boss since the start of the salary cap era.

He’s inherited a team with some talented young players, but also two superstars in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk that are in the twilight of their careers. On the plus side, GM Ken Holland has provided Blashill with some reinforcements to aide in his rookie campaign.

Detroit signed offensive defenseman Mike Green to a three-year deal, $18 million deal and added veteran center Brad Richards to a one-year contract. Both could prove to be valuable additions with Green aiding Detroit with the man advantage and providing them with a right-handed shot from the blueline while Richards might serve on the second-line, allowing Datsyuk (once he’s healthy) and Zetterberg to play together.

With those additions, Detroit will attempt to build on its 2014-15 run and win its first playoff series since 2013.

PHT Morning Skate: EA Sports’ NHL 16 will include mascots

2015 NHL All-Star Weekend - Mascot Showdown

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Team mascots will be a part of EA Sports’ NHL 16. (EA Sports)

Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg had his day with the Stanley Cup:

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner shined in Canada’s 4-1 exhibition victory over Russia as the two countries prepare for the 2016 World Juniors. (Toronto Sun)

Defenseman Bryce Salvador had a good talk with Devils GM Ray Shero recently, but it’s still unclear if he’ll extend his career. (The Record)

Buffalo Sabres vice president Joe Battista is reportedly planning on leaving the franchise. (Associated Press)

Avs-Red Wings alumni game to feature Sakic, Forsberg, Shanahan, Lidstrom

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

Although Detroit and Colorado are in different conferences now, there was a time when they were frequent adversaries in the playoffs and an upcoming alumni game between the two franchises aims to call back to that time.

In coordination with the Feb. 27 NHL Stadium Series meeting between the two squads, the Red Wings and Avalanche alumni will face off on Feb. 26 with a focus on players that were with the teams from 1996-2002. Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Brendan Shanahan are among those that will be suiting up for Detroit while Colorado will counter with Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Peter Forsberg, according to the Denver Post.

“We have had an outstanding rivalry with the Red Wings during those years,” Sakic said. “We are looking forward to experiencing this grand outdoor setting and a special weekend of hockey in Denver.”

Detroit and Colorado met in the playoffs five times from 1995-96 through 2001-02. Colorado took three of those series while the Red Wings won twice. Colorado also won the Stanley Cup twice over that span while the Red Wings enjoyed three championships.

The outdoor games will be played at Coors Field in Denver.

Sharks re-sign Aaron Dell after strong AHL campaign

Aaron Dell

The San Jose Sharks announced that they re-signed Aaron Dell to a one-year contract.

Dell, 26, went undrafted and spent parts of three seasons with the University of North Dakota. He went pro in 2012-13 and has been battling in the minors ever since. He took a step up in 2014-15 by posting a 2.06 GAA and .927 save percentage with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks .

That gave Dell the fifth best GAA and fourth ranked save percentage in the AHL.

With After Niemi gone, Martin Jones and Alex Stalock are expected to battle for playing time with San Jose next season. That leaves Dell to fight with Troy Grosenick and Joel Rumpel for a spot on the AHL squad. Each member of the trio will also be competing to establish himself as the third-string goaltender in order to be positioned for a potential summoning if Jones or Stalock get hurt.

What does Jack Eichel mean to the Buffalo Sabres?

Jack Eichel

It takes a special type of player to dramatically alter the perception of your franchise and the mood of the fanbase before playing a single minute in the NHL, but Jack Eichel is not your typical high-end draft pick.

He’s the reason over 17,000 fans in Buffalo wanted to see a prospects scrimmage in July. By extension Eichel is the primary source of the optimism surrounding the team despite the fact that the Sabres are coming off of a 23-51-8 record.

In fact, that might even been underselling his impact because as an American he has the potential to accomplish things that no other U.S.-born talent has done before.

That’s what he is to the fans, but just how important was taking him to the Buffalo Sabres? What would it have meant to this franchise if it had missed out on the rare opportunity to draft a player of Eichel’s potential?

Getting Eichel, regardless of how well he does, isn’t nearly enough to guarantee the Sabres an era of long playoff runs and one or more championships. He doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s goaltending is an X-Factor, that they’re still dependent on several other prospects to breakout, or that they need forwards like Evander Kane to bounce back to help close the massive gap that existed between the Sabres offensively in 2014-15 and even just the league average. Buffalo still needs plenty of work and that’s true with or without Eichel.

And yet, while Buffalo might ultimately end up with little to show for the Eichel era, even if he proves to be a superb forward, he is the foundation that gives this franchise a good fighting chance at a championship in the mid-term.

He’s potentially a top-tier center, which is something most serious Stanley Cup contenders have and isn’t typically available on the free agent or trade markets unless you happen to be Jim Nill. Beyond that, he’s a potential “big-time” player and those are equally rare and near essential for success.

For much of the last six seasons, Chicago would have been a team with depth, a great defense, and significant scoring threats even if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were simply good rather than the elite forwards they have proven themselves to be. But that one downgrade alone might have proven to be the difference between a franchise locked in a dynasty debate and one that enjoyed some deep playoff runs without ever lifting the Stanley Cup.

As Mike Babcock put it in April when talking about the aging Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, “In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

That’s what Eichel represents to Buffalo. Even if he lives up to the hype, he’s just a piece of the puzzle, but he’s one of the toughest ones to find.