For a franchise associated almost as much with consistency as it is with excellence, this has been a tumultuous offseason for the Detroit Red Wings.
After a decade of scowls and strong coaching, Mike Babcock fled for Toronto, prompting the Red Wings to hand the keys to Jeff Blashill. Forecasting the impact of such a change is difficult, but Blashill will certainly be under pressure.
The winds of change swept through the roster, too. The team finally swept away the error of adding Stephen Weiss by buying him out. Mike Green provides a big upgrade in the “right-handed offensive defenseman” category over Marek Zidlicky, while GM Ken Holland also added some veteran skill by signing Brad Richards.
Bolstering a competitive lineup with some useful free agents provides some reason for optimism. Pessimists will linger on questions of health, however.
Most obviously, Pavel Datsyuk is expected to miss at least the first month of the 2015-16 season, and it’s plausible that such a situation would be a best-case scenario. Johan Franzen’s career also appears to be in limbo, as he may functionally retire.
The Red Wings often go as far as Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can take them, but injuries have really saddled those world-class workhorses.
There’s been a silver lining to the unfortunate injury issues for Detroit’s dynamic duo: players like Gustav Nyquist received a little extra room to spread their wings. Key players on the Red Wings roster now have a decent amount of experience absorbing heightened roles, so the shock of starting 2015-16 without Datsyuk should at least be tempered a bit.
Goaltending is a question, at least as far as determining if the majority of starts go to Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek. There’s also maybe a bit more age on the blueline than some may want (Green’s one of the younger defensemen, and he’s already 29).
All things considered, it seems like the Red Wings may settle into a reality that once seemed unthinkable: scratching and clawing for a playoff spot rather than cruising in.
That said, if you’d like to weigh in on Detroit’s chances of making the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season, vote in the poll here.