Hockey is back, but the Detroit Red Wings are not. Fans of the team from Michigan instead have to find a secondary franchise to cheer on as this unique tournament unfolds. One way to determine which teams to cheer for is to find some familiar faces.
In the midst of a rebuild, the Red Wings have sent away many players in order to gather future assets. Some of those players are now in the Toronto or Edmonton hubs as their new teams begin the pursuit of a Stanley Cup championship. This includes some former fan-favorites.
So if you’re a Red Wings fan who needs somebody to cheer for during the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are plenty of options available to you. It’s not the same as cheering on your favorite team, but it’s always nice to see a player you like have success.
Petr Mrazek – Carolina Hurricanes
Though he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2017-18 season, Petr Mrazek has since returned to prominence with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a big part of their run to the Eastern Conference Final last season. If the Hurricanes are going to improve on last year’s result, Mrazek is surely going to be a big part of it.
The 28-year-old had a 21-16-2 record this season, as well as a flat 50 percent quality-start rate. Despite his success last season, he battled inconsistency up until the season was put on hold – a fault in his game that should be very familiar to Red Wings fans. It was his inability to flip the switch that put the nail in the coffin on his time in Detroit.
The Hurricanes are loaded on the blue line, and they’ve made some savvy moves to enhance their offense. Andrei Svechnikov – younger brother of the Red Wings’ Evgeny Svechnikov – is a year older and has already established himself as one of the league’s top young talents. If Mrazek can improve on his .894 save percentage from last year’s playoffs, the Hurricanes should be able to make some noise in this tournament.
Tomas Tatar – Montreal Canadiens
In what was perhaps Ken Holland’s last great trade as the general manager of the Red Wings, Tomas Tatar was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2018 trade deadline. The move yielded a first-round pick in 2018 (Joe Veleno), a second-round pick in 2019 (Robert Mastrosimone) and a third-round pick in 2021. Despite the coup of future assets, Tatar’s electrifying celebrations and personality are definitely missed in Hockeytown.
Since that trade, Tatar was moved again, this time to another Original Six team in the Montreal Canadiens. The acquisition of Tatar has been a monumental success for the Canadiens. He led his team in scoring with a career-high 61 points in 68 games this season. He has maintained a spot in the team’s top-six – something he didn’t do in his brief stint with the Golden Knights.
While the Canadiens mostly pin their playoff hopes on goalie Carey Price, the team will look to Tatar to provide the offense needed to come out ahead. Given their qualifying match-up is against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’ll also need Tatar to display a strong two-way game in order to help nullify the Penguins’ stars.
Gustav Nyquist – Columbus Blue Jackets
It takes a lot for a Michigander to cheer on a team from Ohio, but perhaps “Goose” can gather some Blue Jacket support from the mitten state. Given that Nyquist spent a decade in the Red Wings’ organization, there’s bound to be plenty of fans with a red Nyquist jersey hanging in their closet.
After last year’s trade that sent the winger to the San Jose Sharks, he signed a four-year deal with the Blue Jackets last summer. His points per-game rate of 0.60 this season was right on par with his career rate of 0.61. He has primarily been used as a middle-six winger by head coach John Tortorella, providing his new team with a solid offensive presence down the lineup.
With 19 points in 56 career playoff games, Nyquist hasn’t exactly been a clutch playoff performer throughout his career. However, he was a part of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 2013 Calder Cup championship. Championship experience is championship experience, no matter what level it comes at. He’s a necessary veteran presence on a team whose brightest stars are still on the right side of 30 years old.
Andreas Athanasiou – Edmonton Oilers
The Red Wings’ best trading chip this season was Andreas Athanasiou, whose game is built on his offensive instincts and blazing speed. General manager Steve Yzerman eventually found a trading partner in Ken Holland’s Edmonton Oilers, resulting in a deadline trade that yielded two second-round picks for the Red Wings.
Due to the shortened season, “Double-A” only played in nine games with his new club. He recorded two points, both in his first game with the team. Given his speed and scoring ability, he seems like a natural fit to play alongside Connor McDavid, also known for his speed and offense.
Given that the Oilers heavily rely on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to produce offense for their team, Athanasiou could give them an element of depth-scoring that they have sorely missed over the last couple of seasons. That being said, if he does not improve his inefficiency in the defensive end, that could spell trouble for the speedy forward’s future in Edmonton.
For the Love of Hockey
Even though the Red Wings’ season is over, the return of NHL hockey is too good to ignore. However, any sport is a lot more fun to follow if you have somebody to cheer for. Since 2017, fans of the Red Wings have had to adapt.
Nyquist and the Blue Jackets represent an upset opportunity against the Toronto Maple Leafs. For any fans still sour on the Penguins after the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Tatar and the Canadiens have a chance to send them packing. Mrazek and the Hurricanes have Stanley Cup aspirations. Athanasiou and the Oilers are playing against the Chicago Blackhawks – need I say more?
No matter what rooting interests you have, it’s time to enjoy a fascinating moment in NHL history. There are plenty of former Red Wings capable of making their mark on this special tournament. So take this opportunity to slip on a Red Wings jersey and enjoy meaningful hockey games once again.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.