In 2013-14, the Detroit Red Wings will look to extend their unprecedented 22-season playoff streak, but their move to the Eastern Conference’s stacked Atlantic Division could push them to their limit.
The streak was nearly broken in 2013 until the Wings won their final four games to snag the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Detroit then showed their postseason experience by upsetting the Anaheim Ducks in seven games and taking the eventual champion Blackhawks the distance.
Finally granted a long-desired move to the Eastern Conference, the Red Wings won’t rack up nearly as many frequent flyer miles and Detroit fans won’t have to stay up late for west coast games. Instead, the Red Wings will join 2013 playoff teams Boston, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa in the new Atlantic Division.
All four of those teams should contend for the division title again this season, but the Red Wings are well equipped to crash the party.
GM Ken Holland took an aggressive approach to the offseason, hauling in two major free agents. Though Tampa-signing Valtteri Filppula and free agent Damien Brunner are no longer in the fold, the Red Wings did manage to acquire Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss from two of their new division opponents.
The Daniel Alfredsson signing robbed the Ottawa Senators of their long time captain, and it also blocked the Bruins from making a key addition. The 40-year-old Swede is desperate to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in his lengthy career, and he is still a good enough player to make a significant top-six contribution. Much like former Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom, “Alfie” has been a model of consistency for years. 2013-14 could be his 14th 20-goal season, although it could also be his last.
In stark contrast to Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss is an unknown quantity. The former Florida Panther was limited to just 17 games in 2013 by a wrist injury. Despite his health issues, the Red Wings handed him a five-year $24.5 million deal that I recently called the worst free agent contract of the summer.
The Wings undoubtedly expect Weiss to return to the form in which he scored 20-plus goals in each of the three seasons ahead of the lockout. However, the Wings new second line center was abysmal in his few 2013 appearances, scoring just one goal and three assists. He should be ready to go in October, but the financial commitment was unwarranted by Weiss’ recent history.
The Red Wings are more likely to get a burst of offensive energy from a few young players. The Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins should be ready to graduate top prospects Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Both young forwards have superb hockey IQ’s, and they are virtual locks to contribute in the NHL this season.
Though the Red Wings have almost no chance of ever properly replacing Lidstrom, who retired after the 2011-12 season, Michigan-native Danny Dekeyser should augment the defensive corps in Hockeytown quite nicely. The 23-year-old defensive-defenseman won’t light up the scoreboard, but he projects to be a very dependable top-pairing blue liner.
Niklas Kronwall should continue to emerge as an all-star caliber defender as well. His offensive production in 2013 was superb, but the 32-year-old could stand to improve in his own zone. If he can up-end his minus-5 rating, it will provide goaltender Jimmy Howard with some added confidence.
Granted, Howard won’t be lacking in confidence after an excellent postseason. The American goalie was elite throughout 2013, causing nightmares for the Blackhawks’ usually unstoppable offense in the playoffs. The former-Maine Black Bear should feel right at home in the Atlantic Division. His steady play in net will be a driving force for Detroit this season.
Head Coach Mike Babcock will put a quality product on the ice. There is no doubt about that. However, the Atlantic Division could legitimately be called the “Group of Death” this season. The Maple Leafs, Senators and Eastern Conference champion Bruins each reloaded in the offseason, and the more or less unchanged Montreal Canadiens are still ready to defend their division crown.
Featuring four Original Six teams, the Atlantic race is bound to be a classic. Due to the stiff competition, the Wings could reasonably finish anywhere between first and fifth. They should extend their postseason streak, but to do so they’ll have to box out at least one playoff quality team.