October 02 2013 02:30PM
Over the next few days, we'll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…
Today's preview comes from JJ From Kansas of Winging It In Motown, a blog that we could have sworn used to be about a team in the Western Conference...
The Red Wings enter the Eastern Conference as a team with rebuilt expectations. The retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom after a disastrous first round series loss to the Nashville Predators in 2012 left the team and fanbase with hefty concerns going into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Detroit was expected to be a playoff bubble team and, in the end, that's what they were, but not for the reasons expected. Injuries slowed the team down much more than expected defensive shortcomings and, by the end of the season, they were one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Coming through this offseason, the Wings cut some weight on defence (Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo) while making essentially lateral moves up front (Valtteri Filppula out for Stephen Weiss and Damien Brunner replaced by Daniel Alfredsson). They got a little more experienced and a bit more "Eastern-savvy" with their additions, but in the end, if the Wings end up being the same team that put up top-five numbers in team possession, fans will expect them to be more than the bubble team they were last year. However, injuries and inconsistent play could haunt them all season. All-in-all, they're probably a mid-tier contender with a lot of wiggle room to be better or worse than that.
Only a couple of years ago, the Western Conference was perceived as the "tougher" conference. The Flortheast Division notably has a lot of teams adding muscle in the last couple of offseasons, except for perhaps the Red Wings. In your estimation, what's the best way for the Red Wings to neutralize the Colton Orrs, Matt Kassians, and Shawn Thorntons of the world?
It goes back farther than this, but part of why the Red Wings and Ducks had a great rivalry when they shared a conference was the philosophical divide in team-building methods. The Burke-built Ducks won a cup with the same kind of blueprint you see in teams like the Bruins and Maple Leafs (obviously) before the "softer" Wings got the upper hand and set the mold for teams like Chicago or Vancouver. Obviously the perfect middle-ground remains a team full of tough-shouldered but soft-handed guys, but in the absence of that, the Flortheast has certainly embraced the "err to the side of toughness" mentality.
It takes a lot of maturity and confidence to remain a team that can handle being goaded both physically and verbally into the type of antics in which guys like Orr, Kassian, and Thornton specialize, but the final score of the game remains more important than the little personal scores to settle. In the end, those guys aren't as good at playing hockey as the people that Detroit will be sending out there, and that's the important thing.
What's your take on Jimmy Howard? Could he be a potential darkhorse starter for Team USA, or would you rather he stick around Detroit during the break?
I think Howard is probably going to end up on Team USA, but it will take just enough injuries/bad play by guys ahead of him for him to become the starter that calling him a darkhorse is appropriate. Personally, I do want him to go to Sochi, but not to play unless Team USA really needs him. The work strain on a backup or even third-stringer in the Olympics isn't bad and it will keep him focused on hockey while firing him up to play competitively.
Of course, this could all change if the Wings find themselves in a position to rely as heavily on Howard as they did last season. If he's playing absolutely every night for the Wings just to keep them close to the race for the final push of the season, I'd much rather he gets those two weeks off to spend with his wife and son.
When will Darren Helm come back and when should I add him to my hockey pool team?
I think Helm is closer to healthy than a lot of people dare to believe, but I don't think I'd count on seeing him in the lineup until at least mid-to-late October. Unless he gives himself another series of setbacks by straining to do too much (which is more likely than I'd prefer), he should be up to game speed by December. The back problems which sidelined him all but once last season took a long time to get a proper diagnosis, but was something he kept aggravating by trying to ramp up the intensity of his workouts. He's still trying to overcome that and, to top it off, he strained his groin skating recently. He's been doing drills in practice and even taking a little contact lately though, so I think he's on the right path.
|2013 Stats||Detroit (Lg. Rank)|
|Points/82 Games||95.7 (13th)|
|Goal Differential||+9 (12th)|
|Corsi Tied||54.7% (4th)|
|5v5 Shot %||6.65% (27th)|
|5v5 Save %||.935 (2nd)|
Similar thing we saw with the Senators. Excellent possession differential, poor shooting, and excellent goaltending.
Detroit really interests me, in the sense that their "reign of terror" may have had life injected into it by joining this division. "West is best" opinions aside, their emphasis on skill and possession over intimidation will either clean up or get cleaned up in this division.
Daniel Alfredsson may be beyond his best days, but he should still be a big addition to the red and white. They've experimented with him on the point during the powerplay, giving them a presence they've missed since Niklas Lidstrom's retirement. Their biggest question marks are a pair of high potential rookies in Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser. DeKeyser in particular will have to show the potential he displayed with West Michigan University if the Red Wings want to assert themselves as a contender.
That said, with most of the core from last year still around, and the assumed to be weaker competition, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Wings take the division.
Detroit had some very high possession rates last season, and probably did better in the playoffs than most people were expecting. The truth is that they were never really that bad or that old, but they had to bank a lot on goaltending because they had a tough time putting the puck in the back of the net. A 96-point pace is encouraging, but at best, Alfredsson for Brunner and Weiss for Filppula represent lateral moves.
The only real "upgrade" on the roster is Dan DeKeyser, but does he play in an important enough role to offset the added year of age? This team could break either way, but I'm leaning towards them being a contender for the division crown because they kept a roster that was so good last season relatively intact. A couple of breaks in close games could give them second place as long as the guys at the stop stay healthy.
Also, I'm quite high on Jimmy Howard. Should contend for the division, but their current core has probably peaked. Anything that happens from now until Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are gone is just gravy.
No sense reminding you, but the following Maple Leafs were not born yet the last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs:
- Carter Ashton
- Nazem Kadri
- Jake Gardiner
And neither were the following Red Wings:
- Tomas Tatar
- Danny Dekeyser
- Brian Lashoff
- Petr Mrazek
The Red Wings got more first place votes than any other team:
Yet they still finished behind the MYSTERY FLORTHEAST TEAM in average ranking. We'll figure out who that team is tomorrow...