After being two years removed from back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the Detroit Red Wings looked primed for one more prolonged playoff run as the 2011-12 regular season came to a close. A combination of age, injury and an upstart foe in the Nashville Predators led to an early exit from the postseason after just five games.
The offseason was not kind to the Red Wings, either. An icon, Nicklas Lidstrom, retired. Another key member of the defense, Brad Stuart, wanted to be back on the West Coast. Tomas Holmstrom, another longtime pillar of the franchise, has not been re-signed. The Red Wings were considered favorites to land one of the top defensemen on the market, most notably Ryan Suter, but they all signed elsewhere.
2012-13 Red Wings Fantasy Team Preview
Under-valued: Jimmy Howard – Despite starting just 57 games, Howard recorded 35 wins with a 2.13 GAA, .920 SV% and six shutouts. Loss of Lidstrom will hurt Detroit defensively, but at 28, Howard still has the tools to be elite fantasy goalie.
Over-valued: Henrik Zetterberg – Points total decreased from 80 in 2010-11 to 69 last season, his 22 goals were the lowest since his second NHL season in 2003-04 and his 267 shots were the lowest since 2006-07. Still a valuable fantasy player, but draft with caution.
Sleeper: Mikael Samuelsson – At 35, Samuelsson still offers solid production and returns to Detroit where he could exceed the 14 goals and 31 points (13 PP points) he posted last season in just 54 games.
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General manager Ken Holland did land some added depth at forward. Damien Brunner was considered one of the top unsigned players in Europe, and he could be an impact guy immediately. Mikael Samuelsson should also provide depth scoring. Jonas Gustavsson was signed to be Jimmy Howard's backup, and he could thrive away from oversized expectations in Toronto.
There is still plenty of talent in Detroit led by one of the League's best coaches, Mike Babcock. Holland also has lots of salary cap space and a strong set of prospects to work with should he feel additions are needed.
NOTES: There is quite a logjam at forward in Detroit. Bertuzzi has been a top-six player during his tenure with the Red Wings, but his production has slipped and he'll be 38 in February -- he could be in for a Holmstrom-esque dip in ice time. A healthy Cleary and newcomer Brunner look like possible replacements for Jiri Hudler and Bertuzzi in the top six, but don't count out Nyquist or Samuelsson as contenders for those spots as well.
This lineup doesn't even leave room for Patrick Eaves, who has two years at $1.2 million per left on his deal, or prospects Tomas Tatar or Jan Mursak, who could force their way into the opening-night lineup with a strong training camp. If the Red Wings only keep six defensemen, holding onto 15 forwards is possible and that would mean another spot for Eaves' or Mursak's one-way contract.
It seems rather implausible that Holland won't add a veteran defenseman of some kind before the season begins. Detroit has five guys on one-way contracts plus top prospect Brendan Smith, who is a lock for a roster spot. Beyond those six, someone like Brian Lashoff or Adam Almqvist would be in line for an NHL debut if injury strikes.
Both are still young and likely to stay in the American Hockey League until needed, though. If the Red Wings want a seventh defenseman as insurance on the roster, expect them to grab a veteran free agent on a cheap deal.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22