Key issues facing Red Wings as season looms
Detroit — There's a certain crispness in the air.
Football season has begun. The baseball season is winding down.
And hockey isn't too far away.
In fact, for the Red Wings, training camp begins today, with their first exhibition set for Monday.
As the Red Wings look to reach the postseason for a record 24th consecutive season, here's a look at some key issues as they hit the ice in Traverse City.
Health is wealth
The Red Wings lost more than 418 man games to injuries last season, which proved to be too much to overcome.
After the season, general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock stressed the need for a summer of training, getting physically fit and returning refreshed and healthy.
Players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Henrik Zetterberg, all of whom missed substantial time with injuries, say they're feeling well.
But those three key offensive players aren't alone.
Daniel Alfredsson (if he returns), Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary and Jonathan Ericsson all missed time and need to stay healthy for the Red Wings to be successful.
But there's bad news already.
The Red Wings learned Thursday that forward Anthony Mantha will be out six to eight weeks with a fractured right tibia, suffered during last weekend's prospects tournament.
Return or retire
Alfredsson, 41, has told the Red Wings he will play only for them — if at all — after back problems were an issue last season.
Unfortunately for Alfredsson, that issue has flared, and he will skate during camp.
Alfredsson, who had 18 goals last season, still has one of the hardest shots in the NHL and is a steady leader.
Now that Holland has signed a four-year extension, will Babcock be far behind?
Babcock, entering the final year of his contract, said he will not talk about his future once the season begins.
The coach maintained Holland's new contract would have to be worked out before the Red Wings would get around to his.
Holland's done. Is Babcock next?
Young no more
Gustav Nyquist scored a team-leading 28 goals in 57 games.
Tomas Tatar had 19 goals.
Riley Sheahan had 24 points in 42 games.
Tomas Jurco had 15 points in 36 games.
If the Red Wings are going to have a playoff-caliber season, the young players can't take a step backward.
Mantha's on the shelf
Mantha, a 2013 first-round pick, didn't look out of place during camp last season, then went out and scored 81 goals in 81 games in junior hockey.
During last week's prospects tournament, he had three goals.
Out six to eight weeks with a fractured tibia, Mantha will start his pro career in Grand Rapids.
Twice as nice
As Datsyuk and Zetterberg go, so go the Red Wings.
Too often they were stalled last season, mostly because of injuries.
Yet Zetterberg finished with 48 points, Datsyuk with 37. And when they were on the ice, neither appeared to be slowing down (Datsyuk is 36, Zetterberg will be 34 in October).
The Red Wings may not have made a splash during the offseason, but there were some departures.
■Todd Bertuzzi: A free agent, the 39-year-old was going to have a hard time with all the young forwards in camp.
■David Legwand: Like Bertuzzi, Legwand would have been crowded by youth and signed with the Senators.
■Mikael Samuelsson: After two injury-marred seasons, he returned to Sweden.
■Jordin Tootoo: He provided a physical presence and energy, but was bought out.
Keep an eye on ...
There are some veterans who could play a key role for the Red Wings:
■Daniel Cleary: Fans weren't happy when he was re-signed, but Cleary said his knee problems are in the past and he's ready.
■Jonas Gustavsson: A valuable backup to Jimmy Howard, Gustavsson must avoid his persistent groin problems.
■Darren Helm: Finally healthy, he stabilizes the third line.
■Stephen Weiss: After missing basically all of last season, he's back — and any production is a plus.
... and some young ones:
■Landon Ferraro: A defensive forward, he's out of minor league options.
■Petr Mrazek: The goaltender is ticketed for Grand Rapids, where he'll start, but pushing Howard and Gustavsson in training camp would be a good thing.
■Xavier Ouellet: A steady, all-around defenseman who made his debut and didn't disappoint. Ouellet could push for a roster spot.
■Alexey Marchenko: The defenseman could be the most NHL ready, but coming off ankle surgery, Marchenko could use more seasoning.
■Ryan Sproul: A strong skater with size (6-foot-3), the defenseman will push for a roster spot.
Red Wings training camp
When: Today-Tuesday, Centre Ice Arena, Traverse City
9:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m.: Practice
11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.: Intrasquad scrimmages
7 p.m. Saturday: Red Wings alumni and celebrity game
Noon: Red-White scrimmage
10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: Practice for players not in exhibition
7 p.m. Monday: at Pittsburgh
8:30 p.m. Tuesday: at Chicago