Much was made over the past offseason about Ken Holland hoarding players, specifically forwards, leading to a claustrophobic forward depth chart. Fast forward two months into the season and it would appear Ken Holland knew exactly what he was doing. The Detroit Red Wings have lost 116 man games so far this season placing them in the top 10 league wide.
Players that have lost games include key players like captain Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm and Danny DeKeyser. As of this writing, only Pavel Datsyuk has returned from that group of players so far and three more have found themselves recently injured, Franzen, Weiss and Abdelkader. All told that makes six forwards who have seen time on the injury list either currently or in the recent past.
These injuries have led to a rash of callups including Patrick Eaves getting a second chance with the big club and players like Petr Mrazek and Tomas Jurco, both of whom would have been in Detroit eventually, but have been rushed to NHL duty thanks to the severe bite of the injury bug. Players like these usually get overseasoned in Grand Rapids and only see action in Detroit when they absolutely have to. See examples like Tatar, Nyquist, Abdelkader, Ericsson etc.
With the younger guys getting NHL time now, it has led coach Babcock to sort out line combinations that could be seen for many years in the future. The Red Wings now have more 20 somethings in the lineup than 30 or 40 somethings, something that goes against the “Old Wings” nickname the franchise has picked up in recent memory.
Those line combinations look a little something like this:
Line 1: Jurco-Datsyuk-Alfredsson
Line 2: Nyquist (newly injured)-Andersson-Tatar
Line 3: Miller-Glendening-Eaves
Line 4: Bertuzzi-Sheahan-Samulesson
Injured Forwards: Zetterberg, Franzen, Helm, Weiss, Abdelkader
For the forwards the likes of Sheahan and Jurco represent the youth movement that will be coming soon for Detroit, when the likes of Cleary, Bertuzzi and Samuelsson either call it quits or are not tendered a new contract with the team. Of those listed forwards injured all five have seen time in the top six.
DeKeyser is set to come off of LTIR in late December, should another injury fall in the Red Wings laps on the blue line though, prospects Xavier Ouellet, and Adam Almqvist have already seen time with Detroit this year, and may get the call.
Goaltenders: Joans Gustavsson (starter), Petr Mrazek (backup)
With Jimmy Howard out with a “lower body injury” for about two weeks Red Wings fans get to see their hot goalie (Monster), and their top rated goalie prospect (Mrazek) for an extended period of time. With Gustavsson’s contract set to expire after 2013-14, and given his play this year, it’s fair to assume he won’t be back to Detroit to be just a backup. So Detroit should enjoy his terrific play while it lasts.
The injury bug has stung hard this year for Detroit, but the upside is that fans have gotten to see the depth this organization truly possesses. While Z and Howie are missed it’s good to see that the long term future still looks bright for the Winged Wheel. Now if that long term future could start producing results in the present (current three game losing streak) all would be right with the world in Hockeytown.
Zak DeBeaussaert is a Grand Rapids Griffins writer for THW. A broadcasting junior at GVSU, he can also be found on thefarmclub.net where he writes for the Detroit Red Wings and Chelsea FC. You can occasionally hear his voice calling club sports games for the Grand Valley State Lakers on WCKS: The Whale Radio (whaleradio.org)