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Season Recap

Red Wings in transition after first-round exit

Datsyuk retirement, development of Nyquist, Tatar among decisions for Detroit

by Paul Harris / Correspondent

DETROIT -- Despite making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 25th consecutive season, the Detroit Red Wings are facing a summer of question marks.

That's because Detroit was eliminated in an Eastern Conference First Round series by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games, making it three consecutive seasons that Detroit has been eliminated in the first round and four of the past five.

The Red Wings organization and fan base has much higher aspirations than first-round exits.

But because Detroit has made the playoffs for the past quarter-century, it hasn't had high draft picks, which yield elite players. So the Red Wings player development has been a huge emphasis for the organization and some key younger players did not progress as Detroit thought they would in 2015-16.

Two, in particular, were forwards Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. The pair combined for 56 goals (Tatar 29 and Nyquist 27) in 2014-15, but the combination only produced 38 goals (Tatar 21 and Nyquist 17) in the 2015-16 regular season and one in the playoffs.

They were expected to take the scoring load off of veterans Pavel Datsyuk, 37, and captain Henrik Zetterberg, 35, who were the Red Wings top two point-producers. Zetterberg led Detroit with 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games and Datsyuk had 16 goals and 49 points in 66 games.

Detroit's offense struggled and scored 211 goals.

And Datsyuk likely won't return next season because he wants to go back home to Russia. He said Monday he would not announce his final decision until after playing in the World Hockey Championship in Russia.

The 2016-17 season would be the third and final season of his contract, and the Red Wings would not be able to use his $7.5 million salary cap charge to pay other players because Datysyuk signed the contract when he was 35.

Detroit could trade Datsyuk's rights and free up the $7.5 million, but there's the risk he changes his mind.

WHAT THEY SAID: Zetterberg: "I think there are going to be changes. We'll probably find that out real soon." 

THE BURNING QUESTION: Datsyuk will probably retire, But if he doesn't, do the Red Wings keep his $7.5 million of dead money on the salary cap or will Detroit trade his rights.

INJURIES: Tomas Tatar says he has an upper-body injury that may or may not keep him out of the World Hockey Championship (Slovakia). Left wing Drew Miller, who missed most of the season because of a knee injury, says he will start skating in June. Johan Franzen will likely retire because of continued concussions.

WHO COULD GO: UFAs: D Kyle Quincey, C Darren Helm, C Brad Richards, LW Drew Miller, C Joakim Andersson. Tatar, Nyquist and goalie Jimmy Howard have been the center of most of the trade talk.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: Right wing Anthony Mantha, who scored two goals during a late-season call up, will likely make the team in 2016-17.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: Six; the Red Wings traded their third-round pick to the New Jersey Devils when they acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky on March 2, 2015.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Though his production tailed off in the second half of the season, rookie Dylan Larkin, who led the team with 23 goals and had 48 points as a 19-year-old, could ultimately be the franchise's cornerstone player. "He's got a real special make up asa person," coach Jeff Blashill said. "He doesn't see a ceiling for himself and he's got a real inner drive to be as good as he can be."

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