The Detroit Red Wings' move to the Eastern Conference was expected to be met with domination by a franchise that has been a stalwart among the elite in the Western Conference for years.
Detroit pushed the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to the limit in 2013, and the reloaded Red Wings, complete with the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss and a few younger players who played so well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, were expected to challenge for the top spot in the conference.
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: RED WINGS
Undervalued: Niklas Kronwall -- Kronwall continues to fly under the radar as a top-15 fantasy defenseman. Over the past two seasons, his 78 points rank seventh among defensemen, and though he won't shoot or score a ton, his 65 assists during that time are tied for third most at his position. He might not have name recognition like Ryan Suter and Kris Letang, but a case can be made that Kronwall will end up more valuable than either of those players next season.
Overvalued: Gustav Nyquist -- Every fantasy drafter will be drooling over Nyquist, but you should know the forward is going to regress in 2014-15. His totals might not due to the fact he played in 57 games last year, but his per-game numbers will. Nyquist finished last season with 28 goals, and his 0.49 goals/game were sixth best in the NHL among players with at least 35 games played. However, 22 of his 28 goals came during even-strength play and he had an outrageously high 18.3 shooting percentage. Those numbers are nearly impossible to replicate. Another thing worth noting is that a good portion of his dominant play came in February and March (27 points in 21 games) while Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were injured, meaning Nyquist's role was much larger. With a healthy lineup, Nyquist's role will diminish and so will his fantasy value. Expect a 25-goal, 55-point season and you won't be disappointed.
Sleeper: Tomas Tatar -- According to DobberHockey.com, Tatar played on a line with Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan more than any other combination over the course of the season. If this line can stick together for the future, the Red Wings might have something going. Tatar, 23, had 19 goals, 39 points and a plus-12 rating in 73 games for Detroit last season. He also received 2:17 of power play ice time per game, a number that should rise going forward, which will result in an increase in production (he had six power-play points last season). There's plenty of room to grow for Tatar, and taking a flyer on him with one of your final picks could pay off.
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It didn't go that way, in part because of an avalanche of injuries to key players. The Red Wings kept their incredible postseason streak (23 seasons) alive, but lost in the first round to the Boston Bruins.
General manager Ken Holland has been trying to upgrade the defense corps through free agency for three years but hasn't been able to. The forward group looks deep and talented, as several prospects have proven they can play at this level in the past two seasons.
Whether Detroit can be more than a fringe playoff team could depend on better health and possibly an addition on defense at some point during the season.
Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Red Wings:
Gustav Nyquist, who started the season in the minors because of a salary cap crunch, had a breakout season and carried the offense when Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg (or both) were sidelined. Zetterberg and Datsyuk still are fantastic players, but the Red Wings need to keep them healthy.
Weiss had a terrible first season with the Red Wings, but coach Mike Babcock might give him a mulligan and see if he can lock down the No. 2 center spot. Babcock likes playing Zetterberg and Datsyuk together, but Weiss or maybe Riley Sheahan needs to be a capable second option for that to happen.
Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Sheahan also played well near the end of the season. There are a couple of other exciting prospects, notably 2013 first-round pick (No. 20) Anthony Mantha, who could help the Red Wings this season.
This group still could include Alfredsson, who hasn't decided if he'll play in 2014-15, but if he does it almost certainly will be with Detroit. There is high-end talent and depth here. The only thing Detroit needs is better luck with health.
Niklas Kronwall is a fringe-elite player. Jonathan Ericsson is his steady partner and was missed sorely for half of last season. Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser are capable of being consistent top-four defenders in the NHL, but they're still working on the consistency part.
After the Red Wings reportedly missed out on a couple big names in free agency, they circled back and signed Kyle Quincey for a lot of money considering he might only be the team's fifth- or sixth-best defenseman. The top six seems pretty set, but someone like Adam Almquist or Xavier Ouellet could impress during training camp.
Jimmy Howard started a new long-term contract last season but was just OK. His .910 save percentage was his lowest since 2010-11 and he, like many Red Wings, missed time with injuries. He only played in three of the team's playoff games.
For the Red Wings to be an elite team again Howard will need to bounce back in a big way. Jonas Gustavsson is a league-average backup at this point, though Petr Mrazek has been crafting a nice resume since joining Grand Rapids two seasons ago and could be one of the better No. 3 options in the League.
*Restricted free agent