After remaining dormant for the last few off-seasons, the Detroit Red Wings are making a splash (of sorts) to announce their arrival in a new eastern division. In the old days, summer was a great time to be a Wings fan, as free agents and trades brought big names to Motown with dreams of hoisting the silver chalice high over their heads. But after 2009, it seemed the talent pool shrunk through retirements and departures, and not a lot of top-end talent joining the team.
That all changed last week when Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson approached Wings GM Ken Holland about joining the team. Leaving the city where he made his reputation and where fans loved him had to have been difficult, but Alfredsson revealed an insatiable hunger for winning a championship before he retires. ““I’m really excited to get this opportunity at this stage of my career to go for a Stanley Cup and fulfill a longtime dream.” (Associated Press) You know, the usual platitudes about winning. Except that the Wings came surprisingly close to defeating the seemingly unstoppable Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, and Alfredsson risked burning a lot of bridges to go to Detroit. Here are three things the Alfredsson signing brings to the Red Wings.
Boosting the Top 6
Alfredsson was not necessarily the biggest name on the market, but his arrival indicates that the Wings are waking up after a few years of slumbering. His arrival bolsters their stagnant top six (also strengthened by the signing of second line center Stephen Weiss) and gives the team some hunger and heart that seemed to have disappeared until late last season.
Nick Lidstrom’s retirement in the summer of 2012 threw a wrench in Ken Holland’s plans. His pursuit of Ryan Suter failed when Suter backtracked and signed with his best friend in Minnesota. The Wings have always relied on defense to get the offense going, but this past year coach Mike Babcock had to shift to a stronger focus on team defense, or “defense by committee” as he called it.
Then injuries hit and the top six looked more like a hodgepodge of role players trying to keep up with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. When they scored more than three goals, the team was practically unstoppable, a testament to the team defense, but they seldom scored three goals in a game. Alfredsson (and Weiss) allows the Wings to ice a legitimate top six with a variety of offensive options. Alfredsson and Weiss can drive the net, as can Franzen from time to time. Zetterberg and Datsyuk can embarrass the opposition and cause havoc from the circles or the half-boards, and Justin Abdelkader–whom I suspect will return to first line duties–can cause grind out some opportunities.
Alfredsson’s arrival also helps the team continue to build an identity for itself. As a fan of the team, I’ve noticed that between 2010-2012 the team struggled through insane amounts of injuries and had to roll with jumbled lines with no character. The players seemed complacent, especially Johan Franzen, and they lacked the urgency that defined the team in earlier times.
In the 2013 playoffs we saw the emergence of a strong third line consisting of Damien Brunner, Joaquin Andersson and Gustav Nyquist. Brunner is unlikely to return, but Tomas Tatar might be able to replace him on that line. They were speedy and functioned as a secondary scoring line thanks to Brunner and Nyquist. But the top six was still a mess and struggled to find a groove. Alfredsson not only brings a ton of heart, he will restore urgency to whichever line he plays on. I suspect he’ll be on the second line with Weiss and Franzen, which could become a potent force. Expect them to really pressure the defense and go straight for the net.
If he plays on the top line, he’ll score at least 25 goals on Datsyuk’s wing. The only real question mark remains the fourth line. Possible members are the remaining forwards: Drew Miller, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo, Corey Emmerton, Andersson or Darren Helm (should they choose to “rest” Helm until his back gets into form). And of course, love him or hate him, Holland is still trying to re-sign Danny Cleary.
But I expect the Red Wings team to be hungry, energetic, and return to a style of play that has paid off well in previous years.
Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss can hold onto the puck. The Wings’ twenty-two year playoff run is due in large part to their puck possession style. Injuries, retirements and other departures weakened their puck possession game from 2010-2012, but now the top six should be more than capable of controlling the puck in their opponent’s zone. This will be important when they face off against the “tougher” Eastern teams like Boston.
But this is all a fairly one-sided analysis. What Alfredsson brings to the table might not change anything if the defense doesn’t continue to improve and feed the forwards the puck without turning it over. But that’s a topic for another “Three Things” article.