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Red Wings general manager eyes return to playoffs

Holland says depth, improvement on power play among keys to bounce-back season

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com Correspondent

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Detroit Red Wings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016-17 for the first time in 25 seasons, but that hasn't changed general manager Ken Holland's outlook for this season.

Holland is hopeful the Red Wings can start a new streak with better health, role players bouncing back from struggles last season and the signing of veteran defenseman Trevor Daley in free agency. It would also help if a prospect or two contributes meaningful minutes.

 

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Detroit's reputation as a Cup contender might've taken a hit, but it's business as usual for Holland going into training camp Friday.

"Well, I mean, everybody tells me it's not," Holland said after games concluded at the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament on Saturday. "That's why [I'm asked] the question. Since the [NHL salary cap] was implemented in 2005, we were the last team to miss the playoffs. Everybody else in the League has missed the playoffs, so missing the playoffs is a part of being in the National Hockey League now, for everybody. We were the last man standing, and we're no longer standing. So, we go back to this year, and the goal is to try and compete for a playoff spot … to try and be the best team that we can be."

To do it, the Red Wings have a list of things that need to go better than last season, and it starts with the health of key players. Last season, veterans including defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, forwards Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, and goalie Jimmy Howard all missed extended time with injuries.

Video: EDM@DET: Abdelkader bangs home rebound to net PPG

It forced younger, less experienced players to fill the vacancies.

"The players replacing those [injured] players are not as good as those players," Holland said. "Those are NHL players. It's a small margin for error, so when we don't take care of things we can take care of, and then lose so many people for so long, it all adds up."

The effects were also compounded by not having as many elite players as seasons past, when the loss of a role player could be mitigated by the great players still in the lineup. Last season, the Red Wings had 18 players miss time with injuries and finished with 307 man-games lost.

"There was a time when we had four or five superstars on the team, so if you had some injuries, it didn't bother you," Holland said. "Well, that's not who we are today. We're going to have injuries. We expect to have injuries, but you're hoping you're in the middle of the pack in the League in injuries versus leading the League in injuries."

The Red Wings hope to have better consistency on the power play, where they finished 27th in the League at 15.1 percent. Detroit was also 26th in scoring (2.41 goals per game) and forward Tomas Tatar was the only player with at least 20 goals (25).

"We didn't score enough last year, and I can't tell you if we're going to score more this year," Holland said. "Certainly, the power play's got to produce more. If you think that you're going to go into a game and you're not going to score a power-play goal, and the other team is going to score a power-play goal, to think that you can beat them by two goals at 5-on-5 … you're going to win enough games like that to make the playoffs. It's incredibly difficult."

It remains the goal in Detroit, though.

"We're going into training camp trying to compete for a playoff spot, trying to be in the mix," Holland said. "It's a very deep [Eastern Conference], and we know that if we're going to be better, we need internal improvement. We need some of our young kids to take a step. We need some of our people that had an off year last year to bounce back."

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