It’s time again to dissect our Red Wings, and for my contribution to the annual review, I gladly accepted the task of looking at our blue line. There is no Rafalski, nor Lidstrom, no Chelios, or Vladdy to be seen.
This group entering camp has long been the weakness since the departure of our “Perfect Human” and no major changes have been made to address the blue line beyond band aides. Our fan base has expected a lot more from Ken Holland to improve the defense. There has been no trades to bring in a top young blue liner. So this is what we have. Has there been enough addition to make the playoffs again? I guess we will wait and see.
Here is my take on what we can expect from defense this year:
Mike Green – Most know that Green is entering the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $6 million. Our best rear guard has been the only real offensive threat on the back end the past two seasons. If our power play improves, and Green can stay healthy, expect 35-40 points from Green on the season. The reality is that Green will probably be moved prior to the deadline for a package of draft picks and prospects to improve this team over the long haul.
Trevor Daley – Daley is coming to Motown with a fresh three year deal to help improve a glaring weakness: Puck movement. Daley is a great skater and brings some offence to Detroit. He also carries a reasonable cap hit of $3.2 million. Daley will eat minutes and if his smaller frame doesn’t get banged up he will account for 25-30 points. Daley has great vision and has been known to give the fans a little end to end rush excitement in the past, so keep an eye on him at LCA if he’s behind the net. He just may take off and get you on your feet.
Danny DeKeyser – DeKeyser was expected to be a big piece of improving the back end of this team. Let’s all hope that we don’t see a repeat of last year. At $5 million per season, we hope the hometown kid doesn’t turn into an underachiever. Two seasons removed from 31 points, DeKeyser can use a big bounce back season. Is it realistic to expect 20 points of offence? I personally don’t see why not. The key with DeKeyser is he can’t carry a +/- rating of -22 moving forward. I think we should expect a more sound defensive play from DeKeyser and 15-20 points.
Jonathan Ericsson – Probably the most polarizing blue liner on the team, Ericsson returns to the lineup after missing 31 games due to injury. Red Wing faithful scream for his head on a silver platter mostly because of $4.25 million cap hit. Long expected to be a mid-pairing defenceman, Ericsson will play bottom pairing minutes. Expect Ericsson to chip in 10-15 points of offence and be close to even +/-. The hope is that Ericsson stays healthy this season and can cut down on the turnovers.
Niklas Kronwall – Lets face facts: Kronwall’s best days are behind him. Playing with a similar knee injury that Steve Yzerman played with, Kronwall has not been the 40-50 point player we fell in love with. Don’t expect there to be any Kronwalling at LCA after playing only 57 games last year. With two years left at $4.75 million, and a cap crunch to get young Larkin, Mantha, and possibly Mrazek signed, I fully expect that Kronner may well find his way to the LTIR with his fellow countryman Johan Franzen. If he is able to play 50-60 games, I personally wouldn’t be surprised by another 10-15 point season.
Nick Jensen – It may surprise some to see Jensen in the top six of this review. It shouldn’t though. He was protected in the expansion draft, played in 49 games last year with 13 points (4G, 9A.) With some offence found in young Jensen, and a reasonable +/- 7 for the rookie, expect to see him in the line up a fair amount this upcoming season. As long as Jensen doesn’t regress, and stays healthy, he could be another 20-25 point defenceman.
Ryan Sproul – After seeing limited ice time with the Wings last year, Sproul’s ACL injury ended his season. He won’t be ready for the start of the season. Sproul has offensive talent given his lack of ice time. Given the opportunity, he will make it a little easier for fans if/when Green is traded. As long as coach Blashill doesn’t yank him from the line up every time he makes a mistake, Sproul has the upside to help fill the void of Kronwall and Green down the road.
Xavier Ouellet – There is nothing flashy about Ouellet. A steady and stable 66 games from XO last year with 12 points and a +2. Ouellet will draw into the lineup this season a fair amount due to his consistency and solid play. With a fresh two year contract in hand, expect much of the same this year unless there is an injury that allows him to get more ice time and games played.
This group of eight will all need to step up their play this year. Far too often, the goaltenders were left high and dry with no help last season. Joe Hicketts, Dan Renouf, and Robbie Russo will probably be the first call ups when needed, but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen right away. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wings carry seven defencemen into the regular season. Soon enough we will see if someone has lost their job on the blue line though and who is healthy enough to suit up for game one of the 2017-18 regular season. Let’s hope that we see some exciting hockey at the LCA.