CHICAGO -- When the Detroit Red Wings lost seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement after the 2011-12 season, the impact seemed obvious.
But Detroit also began the 2012-13 campaign without steady veteran Brad Stuart, who was traded to the San Jose Sharks just before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent this past summer.
It left two huge holes in the Red Wings defense corps, and Plan A for helping to fill the void, free agent Ryan Suter, ended up with the Minnesota Wild instead.
The Red Wings regrouped, and over the course of this season there has been a youth movement afoot on the team’s back end. Veterans Carlo Colaiacovo and Kent Huskins were signed to offer depth, but it was clear some young defensemen would get a chance to play.
Niklas Kronwall moved up the depth chart and embraced being the team’s new No. 1. Jonathan Ericsson has proven to be a solid partner for him.
A huge reason the Red Wings can eliminate the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS) has been the play of the blue line after the all-Swede top pairing.