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Red Wings expect to make playoffs again with Blashill

by Paul Harris / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

DETROIT -- A new coach and two key free agent additions will attempt to help the Detroit Red Wings to their 25th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

Jeff Blashill takes over as coach, replacing Mike Babcock, who left in May for the same job with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blashill coached Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids the past three seasons.

The Red Wings also signed free agents Mike Green and Brad Richards on July 1.

Green, who signed a three-year contract reportedly worth $18 million, is the offensive-minded defenseman with a right-handed shot Detroit has lacked for so long.

Richards signed a one-year contract reportedly worth a guaranteed $3 million; he could make up to $4 million with bonuses.

The Red Wings made the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season in 2014-15, and they're confident that it will be 25 in a row come April.

Forwards

The biggest issue for the Red Wings entering the season is when Pavel Datsyuk, 37, will be ready to play. Their No. 1 center had surgery for ruptured tendons in his right ankle on June 26 and likely won't be in the lineup until late October or early November.

When Datsyuk returns, he could play on the top line with captain Henrik Zetterberg, with Richards centering the second line. But until then, Zetterberg will center the top line, and Richards will be the No. 2 center.

Right wing Gustav Nyquist and left wing Justin Abdelkader will be on Zetterberg's wings to open the season.

Richards, 35, was scheduled to play with Tomas Tatar on the left side and Darren Helm on the right, but Helm sustained a separated shoulder and concussion in a freak collision in the opening minutes of the first workout of training camp. Tomas Jurco has replaced Helm, who was expected to miss 2-4 weeks, on the Richards line.

Tatar, whose 29 goals led Detroit last season, and Richards showed chemistry in their first preseason game together, a 4-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sept. 23. Tatar scored three goals, each assisted by Richards.

Zetterberg will turn 35 on Oct. 9, when Detroit opens the regular season against Toronto. He and Datsyuk have long been the offensive catalysts for the Red Wings, but the emergence of Tatar, 24, and Nyquist, 26, who scored 55 goals the past two seasons (27 in '14-15), gives them two young and still-developing offensive threats.

"I think for the last number of years, it's been [Datsyuk and Zetterberg]," Blashill said. "If they've been out with any kind of injury, we need to make sure the next group of guys are ready to jump into the same roles and be go-to guys. That's what I talked to Nyquist and [Tatar] about. They've been really good players in the NHL since they've been up here. They've proven to be go-to guys in the American league, not that they haven't been go-to guys at times here, but now let's make sure, run a line by ourselves, we can carry a line instead of being a piece of it."

Abdelkader, 28, had a breakout season in 2014-15 with 23 goals. With his size (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) and physical and responsible play at each end of the ice, he became one of the Red Wings' most important players.

"My confidence has grown each year, and I just have to put myself into a position to continue to excel," he said. "Building on last year and working hard to put myself back into that position. Obviously, expectations will be high. All I can do is work hard and put myself in the same position."

It will be a big boost for the Red Wings if right wing Johan Franzen, 35, can stay healthy and produce the way he has in the past. Franzen is returning from post-concussion syndrome, which limited him to 33 games last season.

Center Riley Sheahan, 23, and forward Luke Glendening, 26, have become key players on the third and fourth line, respectively.

Defensemen

COMING AND GOING



2014-15 record:
43-25-14, 100 points

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in Eastern Conference First Round

Key additions: D Mike Green, C Brad Richards, Jeff Blashill (coach)

Key subtractions: C Stephen Weiss, D Marek Zidlicky, RW Erik Cole, G Jonas Gustavsson, Mike Babcock (coach)

The addition of Green will give the Red Wings defense a dimension that it hasn't had since Brian Rafalski retired in 2011.

"People talk about a right-handed shot from the point on the power play," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Sure, [forward Daniel Alfredsson] was here, but since [Rafalski], we really haven't had that presence nor a real offensive defenseman. Happy to have [Green] come in here and do his thing, contribute offensively and jump into the rush when he can. … A lot of offense these days comes from the defenseman beating their forward."

Green, 30 on Oct. 12, was considered a defensive liability by many over the past several seasons with the Washington Capitals. In Detroit, he will be paired with Danny DeKeyser, 25, who is strong defensively.

"Great guy, great skater, moves the puck well," Green said of DeKeyser. "Obviously, playing against him, I know sort of just by watching him. I haven't paid too close attention to his tendencies, but I'm sure I'll get to learn him real quick. I'm really excited to play with him. I've kept an eye on him. I've actually watched a little bit of tape online, just clips of him."

Kronwall, 34, and Jonathan Ericsson, 31, will continue to be the top defense pair. Two of Brendan Smith, 26, Kyle Quincey, 30, and Jakub Kindl, 28, will make up the third pair. Kindl often found himself in Babcock's doghouse, so he is getting a fresh start with Blashill behind the bench.

Goalies

Jimmy Howard, 31, and Petr Mrazek, 23, will compete to be the Red Wings' No. 1 goaltender into the season.

Howard, who had been the No. 1 since 2010-11, got off to a great start last season, but hours after he was named to the NHL All-Star Game in January, he sustained a groin injury, missed a month, and was not able to regain his form.

"It's going to be an open battle. … Not the way I'm used to," Howard said. "[Blashill] said, 'Just go out there and work hard. It's there for the taking.'"

Mrazek started all seven games and had a 2.11 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in the Eastern Conference First Round series loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"That was great that I had the chance to start last year, but this is over," Mrazek said. "It happened and now it's a new time to show the coaches and the staff that I'm ready for a full-time job here and play in as many games as I can."

Special Teams

The Red Wings' power play and penalty kill were among the best in the League for most of the first half of the 2014-15 season. The power play continued on the same course the rest of the season, finishing second in the NHL (23.8 percent), but the penalty kill went into a slump and ended tied for 16th (80.9 percent).

The addition of Green, with his powerful right-handed shot from the point, and Richards, who also is adept at playing the point on the power play, will only improve an already elite unit.

Drew Miller and Glendening are back to lead the Red Wings' penalty-killing forwards. Kronwall and Ericsson are first up on defense when they're shorthanded.

Coaches

Blashill, who was introduced as coach June 9, has said the Red Wings' style of play won't change much from what it was under Babcock the past 10 seasons.

"It's not much different than how they played here in the past, so I just think it's building those principles, making sure we get our principles down," Blashill said.

Although the style may remain nearly the same, the message will be delivered much differently than under Babcock. Blashill is more easy-going, give-and-take demeanor is in direct contract to Babcock's hard-driving, abrasive approach.

"They're both very similar but different. With Mike, a lot of one-way conversation," Howard said. "Nice (with Blashill) to have someone who you can bounces things off of. It's different."

Blashill retained assistant Tony Granato from Babcock's staff last season. Granato, who is one of the most respected assistants in the NHL, is joined by Pat Ferschweiler, who was Blashill's assistant in Grand Rapids last season, and Chris Chelios, who will work with Detroit's defensemen on a part-time basis and be stationed in the press box as the "eye in the sky" during games. It will be Ferschweiler's first season in the NHL.

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