Detroit — On the eve of a new season, Ken Holland, in his 21st season as general manager, is only tentatively confident of the Red Wings’ playoff chances, but he likes some the newer players.
The Wings will have to accomplish a sufficient number of a series of tasks to make the playoffs, Holland said.
“I think it’s a league with a lot of teams that have ifs, ifs, ifs,” Holland said.
“There’s many, many of us.”
Meanwhile, there are some encouraging signs amid the considerable task of developing the next Stanley Cup contender from within.
And that is likely to be the story of the Red Wings’ season. Holland hopes to remain competitive while developing the talent throughout the organization.
Just before most of the prospective NHL regulars on the preseason roster provided a lackluster performance against the young, robustly talented Maple Leafs Friday, Holland responded to a point-blank question about how his team will do this season.
The general manager’s assessment is highly conditional. For the Wings, this season, there are a lot of ifs.
“We start here, Thursday,” he said. “Our goal is to be a playoff team.”
Amid the parity, designed by the NHL and the owners with personnel rules like the hard salary cap and enforced by franchises locking-up their veterans with overly long contracts that are often too rich.
The Wings arguably have more than their fair share.
“I think that certainly we need some people to bounce back,” Holland said. “We also need some young people to take the next step.”
To make the playoffs, he said, the Wings must improve their start of the season, the health of the team and the power play, he said.
Need more from some
And a few players will have to meet expectations for better performances that were dashed last season, when the Wings lost more regular season games than in 26 years.
“We missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years,” Holland said. “We fell way out of it. In November and December, I think we won three games at home out of 15 in regulation.
“Then we got into January and we had to make up a bunch of ground on the road. It’s hard to make up ground on the road.
“You’ve got to stay with it.
“We’ve got to be in the race until U.S. Thanksgiving,” he said. “You’ve got to be within two or three points.
“It’s important that, the first 20, 25 games, we get out of the gate and we’re in the race.”
The roster, little-changed since last season, had trouble scoring then, and looked discombobulated for the second and third periods against Mike Babcock’s young, talented team, Friday.
Holland said some players clearly need to rebound from off seasons.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I believe they can bounce back and play better. Now, are they all going to do it? I don’t think so.”
Certainly, a healthier team should play better.
At the start of last season through about Christmas, the Red Wings were the most-injured team, or among the top few.
Holland said that when Justin Abdelkader returned to the lineup the power play perked up.
“The power play I think from the first of November to the middle of February was like four or five percent,” he said. “Then, from February 17 to the end of the year I believe we were like eighth in the league.
“We were pushing like almost 20 percent.
“I think part of that coincided with somewhere in January Abdelkader came back and we set up with that net front presence.”
Meanwhile, the development from within, delayed in part by two decades of success, has provided Martin Frk. whom Holland said had “an outstanding pre-season” and is likely a member of the regular season roster with Andreas Athanasiou still unsigned.
The Red Wings lost Frk on waivers last season, only to get him back when he was waived by the Hurricanes.
The Wings have now given Frk ample opportunity, and he seized it.
“In Frk’s case, we’re going to give him a real chance to make the team,” Holland said.
“Certainly, he’s had a great training camp.
“He’s got a weapon. He can really shoot the puck.”
Good, young players
Holland said the 2016 first round pick Dennis Cholowski and the 2017 first round pick Michael Rasmussen both looked good in pre-season.
Both will play major junior hockey in the Western Hockey League.
“We were very happy with Cholowski,” said Holland of the 19-year-old puck-moving defenseman, who had a disappointing season at St. Cloud State.
“I think Shawn Horcoff (the Red Wings’ director of player development) did a great job with him. We needed Dennis to understand how much you could improve in the off-season.
“He’s put on 20 pounds of muscle. That’s a lot of hard work.
“We think that based on what we’ve seen here the last month there’s good reason to be excited about Dennis Cholowski and his future, playing for the Detroit Red Wings.”
The 18-year-old Rasmussen tantalized with four goals in the preseason, while skating better than some observers had forecast.
“He moves pretty good for a big man, and I think he’s going to move better for a big man in a year or two,” Holland said.
“He’s got hockey sense. He’s a big man. He’s got skills. And the thing that he does is that he goes to the front of the net.”
Holland then described all three of Rasmussen’s goals and how the always-at-the-net performance contributed to each.
“That is what our scouts saw,” he said, of Rasmussen’s package of attributes. “That is why we drafted him.
“He’s a big part of the Red Wings’ future.”
The 5-foot-8, 20-year-old defenseman Joe Hicketts also impressed, but not enough to stay.
“In the case of any young defenseman, we signed Trevor Daley and we’ve got some young people there, Sproul Ouellet, Jensen,” Holland said.
“So, my take on young players is very simple. It’s not being overripe. It’s if you can be in the top nine forwards or the top five defensemen on an everyday basis, you can play for the Detroit Red Wings.
“We put Dylan Larkin on the team,” two seasons ago, Holland asserted.
“But, if you’re going to be on the fourth line for nine minutes, if you’re going to be the seventh defenseman, you may as well be in Grand Rapids playing in all important situations, playing a lot of minutes.”