Today begins the same quest that the Detroit Red Wings have been on for the past 25 seasons; make the playoffs once again. Most pundits projected last year or the year prior to end the streak, but the team battled and extended the streak once again. So it comes as no surprise that many experts feel like this could be the year where the Wings finally miss the playoffs.
As a fan of the Red Wings, I am inherently biased when it comes to my projections for their seasons. I try my best however to stay objective and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and not just assume they will be the best because I like them. This years incarnation of the Wings might have the toughest road to getting to the playoffs for a 26th straight season.
The team lost arguably its best and most consistent player of the decade when Pavel Datsyuk decided to move back to Russia and end his playing career in the KHL. Trying to make up for his loss in leadership is not going to happen. Making up for his scoring certainly won’t be easy either, but that seems more plausible than the former. After missing out on the opportunity to sign Steven Stamkos in the offseason, the Red Wings jumped on their second target, and signed Frans Nielsen to a 6 year/ $31.5 million contract. He will fill the role that Datsyuk left empty on the second line at center. He is a solid. two-way player who can score the puck as well as create for others. This means that Dylan Larkin, who is entering his sophomore season wearing the winged wheel will be moved back to his natural center position atop the first line.
Detroit’s journey back to the playoffs is tougher not only due to their loss of talent, but also the addition of talents to teams in their division. The Florida Panthers won the Atlantic Division in 2015-2016 and will once again contend for that title. In my eyes, the Tampa Bay Lightning became the best team in the division once they were able to resign Steven Stamkos in the offseason. Florida shouldn’t see much of a drop off, and all eyes will be on Jaromir Jagr to see if at 44 years old he will be able to replicate the 66 points he had last year. The Montreal Canadiens should also be improved as they were the best team in the Atlantic until goalie Carey Price went down with an injury that he wasn’t able to bounce back from. So with these teams placed first through third in my opinion, that leaves the Red Wings to fight for a Wild Card spot once again. I think that the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will provide the most competition for Detroit when April comes. I do believe that the Red Wings will be able to lock up one of the Wild Card spots when the season is all said and done.
Record Prediction: 43-30-9 for 95 points and the second Wild Card spot
Side Note: Can we all take a step back and realize how truly special what Auston Matthews did last night was? No one in NHL history had ever scored 4 goals in their debut, and I don’t foresee it happening again anytime soon.