With Mike Babcock in charge, we know that this will always be a playoff team. It's guaranteed. Oh wait, after a decade of consistency Babcock made a decision that I likely will never understand - leaving Detroit for the circus that is Toronto. That's not a reflection on current Toronto management. They are in better shape than they have been in decades up top. It's just that the Toronto media are completely insane in a way that no other city has to deal with.
It will be very odd for this team to adjust to a coach other than Babcock. The transition is going to be as easy as possible, though. New coach Jeff Blashill was an assistant under Babcock in 2011, and he did so well that he was given the head coaching gig with the AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for the last three years. He was very successful there - winning the Calder Cup the first year as league champions and winning 46 of 76 games each of the next two years. He's only 41, and he's making a big leap up in class, but he gives every indication that he is up to the challenge. It's going to be very interesting to watch, though. Blashill is just 41 - the second-youngest coach in the league. Pavel Datsyuk is 37. Four more core players are 34 or older. Almost all of his roster has much more experience than the one year total he has spent in the league in any capacity. Blashill is worthy of respect, and he has earned it quickly before - he has won championships in his first year with two of the three teams he has coached - but this is his first time coaching veterans. It is very much worth watching.
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Detroit Red Wings Offseason Moves
As is so often the case with this franchise, their changes were not numerous but were impactful. They made two splashes on the first day of free agency. They signed Brad Richards to a one-year contract off of his Stanley Cup win in Chicago. He's 35 but still effective offensively, and he's a clutch performer. The longer-term commitment was to Mike Green, who they grabbed from Washington with a three-year, $18 million pact. As a defenseman he's not much of a defender, but he's got a rocket of a shot and is useful on the power play and at creating offense. His production had fallen off for three years, but last year was a good season and he's still only 29. Washington was right not to pay Green what he wanted, but I can't be too negative about Detroit deciding to do so.
There is one other move or note - or at least there could be. The team drafted Dylan Larkin in the first round of the 2014 draft. He had just enrolled at
the University of Michigan, though, and wasn't expected to be available for a while. After a spectacular freshman year, though, the team surprised many by
being able to lure Larkin away from school and signing him to a contract. He's physically ready, but there isn't a spot on the big club for him yet unless
he forces them to make one. He's the splashiest youngster the team has had in awhile, though, and well worth keeping an eye on.
Detroit Red Wings NHL Outlook
There is relatively little change on this roster, and the additions are positive, so what we can expect, as a best case scenario, is more of the same that we have become so used to - a disciplined, steady team that always makes the playoffs. They are offensively sound and well balanced, and guys like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are poised to be even better than they have been. Mike Green gives the defense what they needed on the right side, and the top two pairings are extremely good. In net they have two viable options - veteran Jimmy Howard and upstart Petr Mrazek. How they will share the load isn't clear, but it doesn't matter - both can do the job fine. There is good reason to believe that the team that always makes the playoffs can do so again.
There are, of course, risks. Most significantly, there is the age factor. Datsyuk is already hurt to start the year, and he's just one of several guys who could be nearing the end of their prime. If this team runs into a series of underachievements caused by age then their ability to adapt and overcome is certainly questionable.
Detroit Red Wings Schedule
The Red Wings get to ease into this new era. Their first four games include one against Toronto and two against Carolina - two of the three worst teams in the league in my eyes. They host Tampa Bay in their third game, and that is dramatically harder, but It's still very reasonable to expect them to start 3-1. That wouldn't ultimately mean much, but it would be a good boost to the Blashill era.
Detroit Red Wings NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Red Wings are +2500 to win the Stanley Cup, which ties them with Boston and Columbus as the 13th choice in the league. They are +1200 to win the Eastern Conference - also tied with Boston and Columbus -- and behind six other teams. They are the fourth choice to win the Atlantic Division at +650.
2015-16 Detroit Red Wings Predictions
I like the moves. I like the coach. I deeply respect what they have done for so long. The East is a serious fight, though - 12 teams are legitimately potential playoff squads. There is too much age on this team and too many young and hungry teams chasing them. They are going to be in the fight until the end, but I will be less surprised if they don't make the playoffs than if they do.
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