See also – Pt. 1: Feelingsball
We have finally arrived at the regular season! No more waiting, no more speculating; hockey is back y’all. It’s like being a kid and waking up on Christmas, and I can’t wait to see what new shiny toys Santa left for us. Only this year it’s not quite as exciting as it maybe has been in years past, for reasons discussed previously. Still, it’s nice just to be able to watch meaningful hockey on TV again. In this part of the Red Wings season preview, we’ll take a look at the forwards on the roster and see what kind of dangermen the Wings might have.
Spoiler alert: there aren’t many.
It’s no secret that most people in the hockey scene don’t expect much out of the Red Wings this year. In order to gain a better understanding of why sportswriters both nationally and locally are so pessimistic, I’ll break down the roster by position group. Up first is the forwards
Forwards – probable lines:
Tomas Tatar – Henrik Zetterberg – Gustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Martin Frk
Justin Abdelkader – Frans Nielsen – Darren Helm
David Booth – Riley Sheahan – Luke Glendening
So…yeah. Woof. I think the picture is already pretty clear at this point showing why people are down on the Wings this year. Those lines are … not particularly inspiring, to say the least. Captaining the team and centering the top line is Henrik Zetterberg, who has been the best player on the team by far for the past couple seasons, including leading the team in goals, assists, and points last year – the first following Pavel Datsyuk’s return to Russia. Zetterberg has been asked to be a load-bearer both offensively and defensively, and has been one of the league’s best two-way players for well over a decade. Still, age is beginning to become a factor as Hank enters the twilight of his career, and injuries have begun to creep up on Zetterberg the past few seasons. If the Wings are to have any chance at succeeding this year, their captain’s health is imperative.
Alongside Zetterberg on the top line are Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who have both gained similar reputations amongst Detroit fans as being talented players who are prone to hot and cold streaks. Both players have displayed enough flashes of brilliance to earn themselves top-six minutes, yet both have the tendency to disappear from games for weeks at a time. Consistency will be key for these two; if they play up to their potential, this could actually be a solid scoring line for the Wings, that can also do work on the defensive end.
The second line features third-year center, and former University of Michigan star, Dylan Larkin. After a fantastic rookie season that saw Larkin named to the Eastern Conference All Star team, many Wings fans were disappointed by his follow-up efforts, fearing that he had succumbed to the dreaded “sophomore slump” that seems to claim so many promising young players. While it certainly true that Larkin’s second season didn’t look as good on the scoring sheet as his first, I don’t think he played nearly as poorly people seem to think. A large part of his decrease in production is due to the different role he was asked to play, switching positions from wing to center and picking up more defensive responsibilities. In his rookie season Larkin started in the offensive zone 61% of the time; during his second year that number fell drastically to 52.6%. For the Wings’ sake, that is hopefully the explanation for Larkin’s lack of points.
Outside of that, there isn’t much going on for the Wings offensively. Justin Abdelkader brings a big body to the front of the net, but his lack of production ever since Pavel Datsyuk returned to Russia – and subsequently wasn’t there to shoot pucks into the net off Abdelkader’s ass – has seen his 7-year, $30 million contract turn into one of the worst in the league. Anthony Mantha looks to be a better, younger version of what the Wings thought Abdelkader would be, but he still is unproven, having yet to play a full season. Riley Sheahan is probably better than his 2016-17 stat sheet would have us believe, because, like, it’s almost statistically impossible not to be. Sheahan broke the NHL record for going the most number of games in a season without scoring, before finally netting two in the final game of the season. He’s probably a bit better than that, but not much. The rest of the bottom-six for the Wings is filled out with replacement-level talent, PK and faceoff specialists. Don’t expect them to score much; if they do that’s a nice bonus.
Also of note is the contract situation of Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou, nicknamed “Greece Lightning” by the Wings’ fanbase, due to his incredible speed, is currently holding out from team activities and threatening to flee to the KHL over a contract dispute. A breakout 2016-17 season saw Athanasiou pot 18 goals in limited playing time for the Wings, many in high-speed breakaway fashion, and excited fans for his future with the team. Athanasiou and the front office can’t seem to reach an agreement on a contract extension, however, so Athanasiou is not starting the season on the roster. While his 2016 season was certainly very promising, Athanasiou’s 18 goals came from a very high 62.1% of his starts in the offensive zone – even higher than Dylan Larkin’s rookie season. Athanasiou was protected by the team from his defensive liabilities, leading to much higher scoring totals. Still, there is no question that this is a better team with Athanasiou on the ice, and I would be willing to bet that his holdout will end within the first couple weeks. I wouldn’t be shocked if his days in Detroit are done, however, and he sits out the entire year before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
The Bottom Line:
Especially without Athanasiou in the starting lineup, I don’t see the Wings having many scoring threats this year. Zetterberg is only going to be a year older, and his back isn’t strong enough to carry everyone on the team again. Unless multiple players step up in a big way, I doubt the Wings will strike much fear into opposing goaltenders. Hopefully Larkin has a nice bounce-back, and plays well with linemates Mantha and Martin Frk, who form a potentially intriguing trio.
Rating: 3 out of 5, potentially 3.5 out of 5 if Athanasiou returns