1. Q: Can the Red Wings make the playoffs for the 22nd straight season?
A: This is probably the question a lot of fans are asking. And given the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, it's hard to blame them. Lidstrom's absence won't be easy to overcome, more so on the blue line than in the locker room (more on that later). The Red Wings still have plenty of talent on the team to make the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been together on the team since 2002. Johan Franzen can still score goals (though he will need to remain consistent), and Valtteri Filppula is coming off of a career year. If Mikael Samuelsson can recapture his success from a 30-goal season he had in Vancouver, and if Damien Brunner can do in the NHL what he did in Switzerland, the offense could be very explosive. The blue line remains a work to be seen, but Jimmy Howard is becoming one of the best goaltenders in the league. So yes, the Red Wings can make the playoffs.
2. Q: How much of a concern is the blue line?
A: Anytime you lose someone who has won seven Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman, finding a replacement is never easy. The entire defense corps has been given the task of replacing Lidstrom. Everyone knows that Niklas Kronwall is the best defenseman on the team, and that his trademark is delivering hard, clean hits. What they don't realize is that Kronwall has watched Lidstrom play for the last eight seasons, so he has basically learned from the best. He might not be a Norris contender, but stuffing the stat sheet and making smart plays will keep everyone happy. Brendan Smith is another stat sheet stuffer, but a lot remains to be seen if Jonathan Ericsson can be a top pair defenseman, if Carlo Colaiacovo can stay healthy, and if Ian White and Kyle Quincey can remain consistent.
While not much has been said about signing someone or making a trade, a tweet from George Malik suggests that the Red Wings should make a deal with the New York Islanders for Lubomir Visnovsky.
3 Q: Where will the Red Wings finish in the Central Division and Western Conference?
A: Most fans expect the Red Wings to finish at or near the top of the Western Conference every year. Hockey Prospectus (subscription required) has them projected to finish sixth overall in the West and third in the Central Division behind the Blackhawks and Blues. I predicted that they will finish fourth in the west. The Blues won the Central last season, and are my pick to repeat. The Predators will likely be neck-and-neck with the Red Wings similar to last season, but the losses of Ryan Suter, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Alexander Radulov will drop the Preds down a couple notches. The Blackhawks had little trouble scoring goals, but struggled in goals against last season, and were a disaster on special teams. The Blue Jackets are…well, the Blue Jackets.
The Central is the toughest division in the west. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red Wings win it, but given the depth of the division, it won't be easy.
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