Ted Kulfan projects Red Wings' line combinations for next season
When you scanned the Red Wings’ lineup last season, the holes and weaknesses were gaping.
There were too many players who were playing in spots that were above where they should be — and that was compounded by whether they should be playing in the NHL at all.
It all contributed to Detroit's NHL-worst record and a hopeless feeling game in and game out.
But after the recent free-agent signings by general manager Steve Yzerman — and the trade to acquire defenseman Marc Staal — on paper, anyway, you don’t get that hopeless feeling.
Attempting to figure out a Red Wings lineup, and laying out all the possibilities coach Jeff Blashill will have, the Wings should be more competitive.
Along with acquiring Staal and a 2021 second-round draft pick from the salary-cap challenged New York Rangers for future considerations, the Wings signed unrestricted free-agent forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill (Grand Blanc/Michigan) and goalie Thomas Greiss.
It's a lot of new bodies.
So where, and with whom, will the new guys play?
The Detroit News takes a shot at formulating a lineup after all the roster upheaval.
Left wing – center – right wing
►Tyler Bertuzzi – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
This line isn’t expected to be broken apart at this point, and why should it?
It’s been the best unit the Red Wings have had the past two seasons when they’ve been together and they've always seemed to have a productive chemistry that is difficult to develop.
Now, it’s easily possible to see Blashill shuttle the likes of Ryan or Filip Zadina to play with Larkin, and maybe the versatile Bertuzzi shuttles down to play on more of a grinding line.
But it’s easy to put this trio together, and there’s no reason to doubt they can continue to be as good of a line as there is.
►Vladislav Namestnikov – Robby Fabbri – Filip Zadina
A caveat here is the possibility of simply flipping Fabbri and Namestnikov.
Right now, it appears the Wings really want to try Fabbri at center, so this is assuming that scenario.
But Namestnikov, though he can play all three positions up front, is a natural center and might thrive playing with two offensive players such as Fabbri and Zadina on the flanks.
Playing with these two players would also help Zadina.
►Sam Gagner – Valtteri Filppula – Bobby Ryan
It’s easy to see Ryan flipped with Zadina, but let’s assume Ryan stays here.
This is a veteran line that knows how to play and they could create scoring opportunities with their hockey instincts and natural skills.
Ryan did say, however, one of the reasons he signed with the Wings was the opportunity to play with the likes of Larkin, Mantha, Bertuzzi and Fabbri.
You have to expect Ryan will get that opportunity, often.
►Darren Helm – Luke Glendening – Frans Nielsen
Nielsen could be the center here with Glendening on the wing, but, regardless, this is an experienced checking line that could provide sporadic offense.
Nielsen must play better than he did last season, and whether he gets the ice time to do so will be interesting to watch.
Helm and Glendening are both unrestricted free agents next summer and their futures with the Wings will be intriguing to monitor.
►Adam Erne and Dmytro Timashov
Erne could easily replace Nielsen on the wing for that fourth line and give that unit with Glendening and Helm a physical look.
An idea of how much deeper the Wings are is the fact it’s tough to see where Timashov fits in easily in any of the four lines. And there’s little doubt Timashov is a credible NHL forward.
Now, if Timashov stays in Europe next season, which he might, that’ll give the Wings the option to keep Evgeny Svechnikov, who is without options and could be exposed or lost to another team.
If Timashov is with the Wings, it’s difficult to find a roster spot for Svechnikov.
Left defense – right defense
►Danny DeKeyser – Filip Hronek
This is assuming DeKeyser is healthy after missing the majority of last season to a herniated disc.
But the Wings are confident DeKeyser will be able to play, and if he is, it’ll give the Wings a formidable top defensive pairing.
Hronek’s continued development was one of last season’s few bright spots, and he should thrive playing with a steady veteran such as DeKeyser.
►Marc Staal – Troy Stecher
The two offseason additions should help stabilize the defense.
Both Staal and Stecher had good defensive metrics last season and form a competitive shutdown pairing.
Both should also help a penalty killing unit that struggled mightily.
►Patrik Nemeth – Jon Merrill
Nemeth could easily play higher with any of the pairings, and he continues to supply this unit with needed size.
The way this lineup is setting up, Merrill will battle with Alex Biega for ice time. Biega overcame the odds last season to consistently win a spot in the lineup and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him to do it again.
This leaves the future of Dennis Cholowski in doubt, unless you have eight defensemen and 13 forwards (with no Timashov or Svechnikov).
Also, given the likelihood that young defenseman Moritz Seider stays in Sweden for the majority of the winter, Seider was kept off this projection.
There has been preliminary discussions of a likely “taxi” squad, like Major League Baseball, given the uncertainty of the American Hockey League (similar to lack of minor league baseball this past summer).
That would keep the likes of Cholowski as well as maybe Seider, defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and forwards Mathias Brome and Givani Smith busy and involved.
►Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss
Bernier had one of his best personal seasons despite playing behind the Wings’ generous defense last season.
If Bernier can maintain that level, to go along with what’s been the career consistency of Greiss, the Wings’ goaltending should be improved.
How the playing time gets divided will be interesting. In sample sizes, both Greiss and Bernier have played better when seeing the majority of game action.