The Detroit Red Wings have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for so long it is a big deal in the NHL, and not making it would be a really big deal.
Detroit's streak of consecutive appearances in the playoffs was in doubt for longer than usual in 2012-13, but a younger-than-normal Red Wings team earned a spot in the final days of the season and ended up upsetting the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round before pushing the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime in Game 7 of the second round.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: RED WINGS
Under-valued: Niklas Kronwall -- Many fantasy owners expected Kronwall's fantasy value to take a hit with Nicklas Lidstrom no longer around, but he proved otherwise. His 29 points were tied for sixth most among d-men last season and his .60 points-per-game were the second-best of his career -- expect more of the same in 2013-14.
Over-valued: Stephen Weiss -- Likely a better real-life player than a fantasy player, Weiss will get drafted much earlier than he should because of his new uniform. However, his power play ice time will diminish and he's now a No. 2 center, not a No. 1 center. After posting four points in 17 games last season, you shouldn't reach for him come draft day.
Sleeper: Justin Abdelkader -- Known for throwing his body around (he had 120 hits in 48 games last season), Abdelkader has a legit shot to play on Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Enough said.
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That series against the Blackhawks was a star turn for goaltender Jimmy Howard and a glimpse of what could be to come for the Red Wings. What was supposed to be a transition year was one goal from being an incredibly successful one.
This offseason was a pretty successful one for the Red Wings as well. Valtteri Filppula left as a free agent, but they quickly moved to replace him with a similar player, Stephen Weiss. Veteran Danny Cleary became a free agent, but general manager Ken Holland made maybe the most surprising move of the summer, landing Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson on a one-year contract.
Neither Cleary nor the Red Wings' other top UFA, Damian Brunner, has signed a contract. It is possible, if the Red Wings could move some salary in a trade, one of them could return. If not, there are exciting, young internal options for a potential spot on the third line.
Ian White became a free agent, but the defense could be even better this season with a full year of Danny DeKeyser and improvement from a couple of the other young players. Howard will be trying to earn a place on the United States Olympic team and has wedged his way into the discussion of the best goaltenders in the League.
Detroit is moving to the Eastern Conference and looks like a top challenger for the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Red Wings:
NOTES: Nyquist looked like a potential star in the playoffs, so it is possible he passes veteran Franzen on the depth chart. Coach Mike Babcock also might look for a little more distribution of speed among the top three lines by splitting up the old guys (Franzen and Alfredsson).
Babcock liked Abdelkader on the top line with the two superstars, and the addition of Weiss allows the coach to continue to play them together. Tatar is one of several young players who could squeeze into a crowded forward corps; any of the Red Wings' deep crop of prospects (Tomas Jurco, Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Riley Sheahan) could pop up in that spot at camp.
Helm missed most of last season with a back injury, and his availability at the start of ththis season is in question. If he needs more time, Andersson will not end up as the best fourth-line center in the League, but rather back in the No. 3 spot where he was in Helm's absence. Cory Emmerton could be the odd man out if a trade isn't made, but if Helm isn't ready he slots in as the No. 4 center.
Kronwall settled in as the team's first No. 1 defenseman not named Nicklas Lidstrom in a generation and played quite well. Babcock, typically tough on young players, fell hard for DeKeyser and quickly gave him important minutes before a broken thumb derailed his postseason. If Smith and Kindl take another step forward in their development, this group will be sneaky good in 2013-14.
Gustavsson was shaky at times behind Howard, and prospect Petr Mrazek is getting close to being ready for a real chance in the NHL.