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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Ken Holland

Red Wings general manager discusses shifting Dylan Larkin to center, health of Niklas Kronwall

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland:

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is trying to stay realistic with his preseason expectations.

"I don't know that there are more than five or six legitimate Stanley Cup contenders; we're probably not in that group," Holland said. "After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We're in that group of 20.

"Certainly there are lots of questions about our team."

The biggest one can't be answered until April: Will the Red Wings make the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, or is this the year the streak comes to an end?

Detroit has made the playoffs for 25 straight seasons but squeezed in last season because it had 39 regulation/overtime wins compared to the Boston Bruins' 38. Holland doesn't know if the margin will change much this season, especially without forward Pavel Datsyuk, who has returned to his native Russia.

"We're going to be in a race," Holland said. "We think we're going to be in that photo finish with a whole bunch of other teams."

Don't let Holland's honesty fool you into thinking his belief is wavering. His expectations are still high and his belief remains strong.

Holland said he thinks the Red Wings have a group of players between 20 and 27 years old, all with room to grow.

"Can one or two of them do it?" Holland said.

Chief among them are Dylan Larkin (20), Anthony Mantha (21), Andreas Athanasiou (22), Riley Sheahan (24), Alexey Marchenko (24), Petr Mrazek (24), Tomas Tatar (25), Gustav Nyquist (26) and Danny DeKeyser (26).

"As we sit today, we don't have a superstar in his prime," Holland said. "We have lots of good players. I think we have lots of really good players. How far can they grow? I don't know. Pavel Datsyuk came over and scored 11 goals and 12 goals in his first two seasons in the NHL. I don't think we have any Pavel Datsyuks, but it's an example that people can grow."

Holland is right. The Red Wings will entering training camp next month with a lot of questions that need to be answered. Here are a few of them that Holland himself tried to answer in a phone interview with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with … Ken Holland:

Do you see Dylan Larkin as a center and can he be a top center for the Red Wings this season? Can he make that transition?

"That's our plan going into camp. He's obviously been a center his entire life. We drafted him as a center, but when you have guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk down the middle, guys who are so good 200 feet, it's tougher. Dylan played with Zetterberg last season and Zetterberg took a lot of the responsibility off of Dylan to free him up to play the game. Long-term, the plan is that Dylan is going to be a center for us. Obviously when we start camp, Dylan is going to be at the World Cup. I'm not sure what the plan for him will be there. I know when Dylan went to the World Championship, he asked the U.S. team if he could play down the middle, which he did. I'm not sure what the North American team is planning for him in the World Cup. Our plan is he's going to be given every opportunity to play down the middle."

Video: DET@TBL, Gm2: Larkin goes five-hole to tie game

If Larkin is down the middle and you have Frans Nielsen, does that mean that Zetterberg gets pushed to the wing?

"Well, probably. Nothing is written in stone. We've got [Darren] Helm, [Luke] Glendening and Sheahan, who can play in the middle. We've got Zetterberg, who can play in the middle. Larkin wants to play in the middle. Frans Nielsen will play in the middle. So we've got some options. The plan is to give Larkin a chance down the middle, and certainly Nielsen is one of our top two center icemen. We're thinking Zetterberg is going to play with Nielsen, so obviously if Nielsen is down the middle, Zetterberg is on the wing. Now, we have to also consider that Zetterberg and Larkin played real well together [last season]. Training camp is going to be a short window of opportunity for us to explore those different options because of the World Cup, but as you and I talk today in August, the plan is that Nielsen will be in the middle centering Zetterberg and Larkin is going to center another one of our lines. Now you've got to see it happen. You have to see if there is chemistry and how it all fits, but that's what we're looking at today."

Zetterberg moving to the wing should take pressure off of him. Is that part of the plan too? Realistically, do you think you have to pull back on him and Niklas Kronwall a little bit? Is 22 minutes a game too many for Kronwall to stay effective and stay healthy? Is 20 minutes too much for Zetterberg at this stage in his career?

"Well, in Kronwall's case [last season], I don't think it was age as much as it was injury. Obviously he had knee surgery and we timed it right around the All-Star break to try to minimize his time out, and he actually was out way longer than what we originally thought. Before the All-Star break when he was playing, he didn't feel great but he's a competitor and he doesn't have to feel 100 percent to perform. He obviously missed a lot of time, about three weeks there, and then he didn't quite perform at his level coming back. Age is always a factor. He's 34. What we've done with some older players through the years is, to your point, manage the minutes. I talked to Kronwall the other day and he feels a lot better. He's had much better training sessions this summer than he had last summer. He feels his leg is stronger and he's done some things to be more prepared physically for the upcoming season.

"And on Zetterberg, when you're a center iceman, we want you to go 200 feet, to take care of all those defensive responsibilities and then you've got to get your hands on the puck and transport and it try to create some offense. Certainly moving 'Z' to left wing, he doesn't have to play 200 feet; he can play maybe 180 feet because he doesn't have to go so far down low in the defensive zone. 'Z' is still a really good player in the offensive zone. He's heavy on the puck. He's smart. He's competitive. Obviously playing with Larkin last season we asked a lot out of 'Z' defensively, and I think 50 or 60 games Larkin was a big story for us, but he was freed up to concentrate just on providing offensive because of 'Z'. If 'Z' plays with Nielsen, Nielsen will have that responsibility and hopefully that frees up 'Z' to have more gas in the tank on the offensive side."

Video: PHI@DET: Kronwall scores to put the Red Wings on top

Gustav Nyquist had a regression in his goal output from two seasons ago to last season. He had 27 goals two seasons ago and 17 last season. Tomas Tatar had a similar regression, going from 29 goals two seasons ago to 21 last season. Why do you think they regressed and what needs to change for them to get back to where they once were?

"When you get on the NHL scene and you score like Nyquist did, 28 goals in 57 games, and then you score 27 goals in 82 games -- this is a league of adjustments and the other team is not going to keep letting you score like that. The other team is more ready for you. You're going to get more difficult matchups because the other team's coaching staff is more aware of you. He had the security of a four-year contract and we had a brand new coach (Jeff Blashill), and I think both factored in [to his regression]. We also had some people who didn't produce the way they had the previous year. I think about it now and Jeff Blashill has a year under his belt, so he knows these players better and has a better feel for the League. We obviously made some adjustments to our coaching staff with the addition of John Torchetti. I think it's more of a fresh start now. Everybody said when Mike Babcock left it was a fresh start, but he had been here for 10 years and it's not quite as fresh in the first year he's gone. Now it is a fresh start.

"What ends up happening too, and Jeff Blashill and I talked about this, when you have Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the emergence of Larkin, Sheahan, Brad Richards, Tatar, Nyquist, Helm and [Justin] Abdelkader, someone's ice is getting clipped. Zetterberg's wasn't. Datsyuk's wasn't. Larkin's wasn't. And Abdelkader's wasn't. There's only so much ice time to go around, and that's part of what I'm talking about with Jeff Blashill's experience. He's got to figure out exactly how he wants to use these people, but certainly we head into this season, we understand we have to score a little more and Tatar and Nyquist, that's what they do."

It sounds like you believe Jeff Blashill has the chance to be a better coach this season?

"Well, I'm a big believer in experience. Maybe there is no different between year seven and year eight, but when you've had no experience and now you have one year of experience, and then from one year to two years it's significant just in knowing the League. It's the same thing that we're talking about with guys like Tatar and Nyquist. Now they have three or four years of experience, you factor in their age and experience, you'd like to think they're in the ideal time frame in their career to max out. I think it's the same thing with Jeff Blashill. I think he's a tremendous coach and I think he's going to be in the League a long time. He's had a lot of success at every level he's been at except the NHL. He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it's hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff."

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