With a veteran core of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, young talent like Tomas Jurco and Justin Abdelkader, and a solid defensive unit led by Niklas Kronwall, the Detroit Red Wings look like a Stanley Cup playoff contending team once again next season. Despite a consistently good team, the Red Wings haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since the 2008-09 season when they were a member of the Western Conference and fell in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom they had defeated the previous year. So while Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall and company have been good enough to continue Detroit’s run of consecutive playoff appearances, they haven’t been able to bring them back to the Stanley Cup in over seven years.
In order for the Red Wings to go from simply being a playoff team to a Cup contender, a few players on the roster need to step up their games. Here are three in particular whose improved play could really benefit the Red Wings down the stretch.
The Red Wings had high hopes for Stephen Weiss when he was signed to a five-year, $24.5 million deal before the start of the 2013-14 season. In his eight previous seasons with the Florida Panthers, Weiss was a 20-goal scorer five times and was a 60-point scorer twice. Adding another goal-scoring force down the middle to go along with Datsyuk meant trouble for the rest of the Eastern Conference and could have given Detroit one of the best four-center units in the league.
Unfortunately for the Wings, that has yet to be the case. Weiss only managed to play 26 games with Detroit in 2013-14, scoring only four points when hernia surgery on Dec. 10 of 2013 sidelined him for the rest of the year. This past season, Weiss was healthy at training camp but was unable to secure a roster spot with talented young players from Detroit’s farm system pushing him to the sidelines.
Not wanting to leave so much money on the bench, the Wings decided to move Weiss to the wing, where he would play for much of the rest of the season. He ended up scoring nine goals and putting up 25 points in 52 regular season games, but had his fair share of struggles handling the puck. He spent some time as a healthy scratch throughout the season. Weiss ended up playing in only two of the Red Wings’ first round playoff games before being scratched once again.
Three years remain on Weiss’ deal, and he has certainly not delivered the way Detroit had hoped. There is the option of simply buying Weiss out and eating the cap hit, but with staying under the salary cap being an issue for so many teams in the league, the Red Wings might be better off holding onto the veteran centre.
There’s no question that Weiss can perform better than his numbers have indicated in his first two years with the Red Wings. If he still has those abilities, if healthy, he can be a valuable asset. If Weiss proves himself in camp and is able to take back a roster spot in his natural position at center, he will need to show the Red Wings 20-goal-scorer caliber talent. If he does, Detroit will be even more dangerous offensively.
Moving to the other end of the ice, many scratched their heads when Kyle Quincey was signed to a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. Since coming over to Detroit from the Colorado Avalanche, Quincey had not put up the offensive numbers he had earlier in his career. He had a career-best 34 assists and 38 points with the Los Angeles Kings in 2008-09. He followed it up the next season with a then career-best six goals with the Avalanche. When he was acquired by the Red Wings in the middle of the 2011-12 season, Quincey added two goals and an assist in 18 games with Detroit to his five goals and 23 points he had with Colorado in 54 games to mark the best season of his career.
The Red Wings liked what they had seen from Quincey and gave him a two-year extension before the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. In that year, Quincey only scored one goal and three points in 36 games. The next season he only had four goals, 13 points and his lowest +/- rating since 2010-11 with the Avalanche.
Despite a dip in numbers, the Red Wings resigned Quincey again, and he had one of his best years with Detroit. He scored three goals and had 18 points, but posted a career-best +10 and dropped his penalty minutes from 88 in the previous year to 77.
A defenseman with offensive upside, Quincey will need to have another strong season if he hopes to earn another contract extension with the Red Wings. His $4.25 million-a-year deal is expiring this upcoming summer, and if he wants to earn similar money again, he has to continue to improve defensively and pick up where he left off offensively this past season.
It’s hard to believe, but Howard is going to have a battle on his hands for the Red Wings goaltending job this season. That is in large part due to Petr Mrazek.
When Howard suffered a groin injury on Jan. 10 that caused him to miss five weeks of the season, Mrazek stepped in and filled the role of starter fairly well. In 29 games with the Wings, Mrazek posted a 16-9-2 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average. Howard, meanwhile, compiled a 23-13-11 record with a .910 save percentage and 2.44 GAA (and was 7-6-4 with a .896 save percentage and 2.99 GAA after his return from the injury).
Given Howard’s drop in play, the Red Wings decided to go with Mrazek in their first-round playoff series with Tampa Bay. He posted a 3-4 record with a .925 save percentage, 2.11 GAA and recorded two shutouts. Howard came on in relief of Mrazek for one game, stopping 11 of 12 shots. Mrazek is on the last year of his rookie deal, while Howard still has four years remaining on his contract worth $5.3 million per year.
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Despite the decision to go with Mrazek in the post season, it doesn’t appear that Howard is going anywhere this offseason. That means he and Mrazek will be the tandem in net for Detroit come the Fall. Having two solid goaltenders is a problem every team would love to have, but if Mrazek continues to outplay Howard next season can the Red Wings justify benching Howard with so much money left on a contract?
Rather than put Detroit in that position, Howard needs to come out next season and show that he still has what it takes to be the Red Wings’ starter and rebound from a rough finish to this season. If he can’t, it might be Mrazek’s time to shine in the Motor City.