The Red Wings ended last season with an early offseason and no playoffs for a team who hadn’t missed them for 25 years straight prior to that.
Injuries and not enough offensive power left them at the back of the standings of the powerhouse teams that control the Eastern Conference. A hand full of problems could have been controlled though. The fact that they weren't taken care of over the off season will lead to another early offseason this year.
The goaltending might be the number one problem for the team. As of right now, Jimmy Howard is considered the team's starting goaltender.
The past three seasons for Howard have been cut short because of injuries. Petr Mrazek, the backup netminder, was able to begin making a name for himself during the 2014-15 season when Howard was first struck by a groin injury.
Mrazek was able to put up similar numbers to Howard in his absence. That season wasn't the only example of the younger Mrazek keeping the team steady while Howard battled the injury bug. Each season ended up being almost evenly split between the two netminders.
General Manager Ken Holland has declared Howard as the starter and franchise goaltender. He's done this at the end of each season just to make sure that there is no confusion with the fact. Despite that statement, people have questioned it. Why keep the contract of an injury prone goalie when the backup is taking about half of a season worth of starts already and posting almost identical numbers to the starter?
With the salary cap era, every bit of money a general manager can preserve is extremely important. That extra salary cap space could then be used towards signing a different player.
As honorable as it is of the Wings to try and keep certain players until retirement, it has caused some major problems. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are two such players. Together they take up just under $11,000,000 in cap space and only managed to put up 81 points this last season.
To put that in better perspective, Nick Bonino and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins put up a combined 71 points and had a total cap hit of $9,150,000. Letang only played half of the season and Bonino was a third line center where he would have only received a fraction of the ice time that Zetterberg did.
Luckily for the Wings, Kronwalls's contract ends after this season. Unfortunately, though he put up horrendous numbers last year which will have caused his trade value to go down if they would wish to get some return on him. The Wings may have no choice but to accept the dead weight for the remainder of the season. Zetterberg's numbers aren't horrible but playoff teams generally have good depth at center, something the Wings don’t have behind an aging Zetterberg.
That center depth has been a problem since Pavel Datsyuk left. A problem that should have been addressed through a trade or free agency. The only big signing the Wings managed to make during the offseason was one that brought in Trevor Daley.
Daley is an offensive minded defenseman that was a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. The Wings made a great move bringing him in, but the Wings play a different style of game then the Penguins. The Wings have always focused on shut-down defense. A good defense leads to a good offense, right? Not in today's NHL. One person on the back end won't make as big of an impact as they need.
The game is focused on high speed offense and skill now. Neither of which the Wings have truly embraced. Two years ago, they looked poised to make the change with Dylan Larkin stepping in and other young stars like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Andreas Athanasiou, and Anthony Mantha.
Larkin made the move to center last year, and the extra responsibility at that position had a negative impact on his ability to swing back in the zone and build speed on the offensive rush. As a result, his point production dropped.
Athanasiou was a restricted free agent at the end of this last season. The Wings and him have not been able to work out a contract. The speed that Athanasiou produces will be sorely missed until he returns……if he returns.
The fact of the matter is the Wings did not address the gaping holes that could be found in their team. The defense is still built around an underachieving Kronwall and an old-school style of stay-at-home defense. The forward group is not deep at all. Zetterberg, Larkin, Tatar, Nyquist, and Justin Abdelkader are really only the major standouts in the lineup.
Without good depth, the playoffs are well out of the reach of the Wings in the strong Eastern Conference.
My picks to make the playoffs out of the East are the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colombus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, and New York Rangers.
Out of the Western Conference we'll see the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, and Las Vegas Golden Knights.