Detroit Red Wings: Post-Lockout Plans

Zetterberg will be announced as Detroit’s next captain after years of grooming for the role. Picture from Getty Images.

By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)

With the players expected to ratify a memorandum of understanding later today, all NHL fans can breathe a sigh of relief. There will be hockey. Some can stop watching football, basketball, or whatever substandard program has become the steady replacement for NHL hockey.

Earlier this week, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock announced his lines going into an abbreviated training camp.

Up front, Babcock’s top line will consist of soon-to-be-named Captain Henrik Zetterberg with fellow superstar Pavel Datsyuk and impressive newcomer Damien Brunner. Valtteri Filppula will center Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson, who returned to the Wings on a $6 million, two-year deal this off-season.

Speedster Darren Helm will center the third line with veterans Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary on his wings. Jordin Tootoo and Drew Miller will help Justin Abdelkader make a gritty fourth line. Tootoo signed a $5.7-million, three-year deal this off-season.

Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, and Gustav Nyquist, whose two-way contract may mean he starts the season in Grand Rapids, will provide the depth the Red Wings need.

On the back end, Niklas Kronwall, the long awaited heir apparent to the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom, will pair with Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey will team with blue chip prospect Brendan Smith, and Ian White will steady Jakub Kindl.

Newcomer Carlo Colaiacovo is currently nursing a separated shoulder that resulted from a hit from teammate Brunner in the recent Spangler Cup overseas, though he expects to be ready for the opener on January 19th. Colaiacovo signed a $5-million, two-year contract this off-season. When he is healthy, Kindl will likely be the odd man out.

In net, Jimmy Howard will look to prove how good he really is as the post-Lidstrom era begins. Newcomer Jonas Gustavsson will serve as one of the more capable back-ups Detroit has had in some time.

Given Babcock’s penchant for changing lines and pairings, Red Wings fans are used to looking at any projected combinations and shrugging skeptically. Babcock told the Detroit Free Press, “Like always, we’re going to have a hard-working team that’s going to compete. That’s our plan, and that’s why we’re excited about training camp and getting the process rolling.”

If and when the team suffers injuries, prospects Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, and Riley Sheahan were a few of the names mentioned by Babcock as potential call-ups.  Nyquist is currently fourth in scoring in the AHL with 36 points in 35 games, while Tatar is tied for eighth. With the NHL returning, the top scorers Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, and Cam Atkinson will certainly be making the jump to their respective big clubs.

Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist drives past Nashville’s Nick Spaling in Game 5 of Detroit’s first round playoff exit in 2012. By John Russell, Getty Images.

Schedules are expected to be released today. The current version has Detroit beginning its 48-game campaign on the road at St. Louis on January 19th.  The Red Wings will host Dallas for their home opener on January 22nd and finish the season on the road against the Stars on April 27th.

Rhys’ Rants:  For those of us heavily invested in Nyquist in fantasy hockey pools, the notion of him starting the season in the AHL is almost offensive.

Brunner, 26, has been excellent for Zug for five seasons, but the top Swiss league does not compare to the AHL, especially during the lockout. In 23 games with Zetterberg during the lockout, Brunner was excellent. He was far and away the leading scorer of Swiss-A with 57 points in 33 games.

Nyquist, 23, has posted impressive statistics in a highly competitive lockout version of the AHL. Nyquist is set to make $838,000 should he stick in the NHL, while Brunner would take home $925,000.

Even factoring in Brunner’s age, contract, and chemistry with Zetterberg, Nyquist is Detroit’s best forward prospect. The former Hobey Baker finalist for the University of Maine showed great skill and some chemistry with Datsyuk in 18 NHL games last season. He posted a goal and six assists with limited playing time, though he was held off the score sheet in four playoff games.

Look for Nyquist to use Babcock’s pre-season plans to drive him to prove himself in training camp.

Statistics and other information obtained at www.nhl.com, www.freep.com, and www.nhlnumbers.com.      

Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq.  He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com.  Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.

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