Blashill will dive right into Red Wings' problems

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Starting about now, the honeymoon likely is over for Jeff Blashill.

The Red Wings coach has a long list of issues to deal with before next season — rebuilding a roster and aging veterans are at the top of his list.

While the Red Wings roster isn't lacking for talent, and the team is coming off a 24th consecutive playoff berth, Blashill knows next season isn't going to be easy. It never is.

With that in mind, here are some top issues facing the first-year coach.

Who starts in goal?

Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek? That's the biggest question Blashill, a former goaltender, faces.

He won the 2013 Calder Cup in Grand Rapids with Mrazek in net. And Mrazek was handed the spot by Mike Babcock during the playoffs — and performed well.

But it would be a mistake to forget how good Howard was before he was hurt Jan. 10. He was named an All-Star that night.

Many within the organization believe Howard will be motivated to win back his job, and he doesn't have to worry about being traded — general manager Ken Holland said that won't happen anytime soon.

Aging core

Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall aren't getting any younger.

Datsyuk struggled with his health the latter part of the season, Zetterberg had a dismal second half and postseason, and Kronwall wasn't consistent.

But their leadership is unquestionable.

"They come every single day with an unbelievable work ethic," Blashill said. "They're extremely competitive and selfless. They care about team success more than their own success.

"You can only win at the highest level and win championships with great character and talent; you have to have both. As a new coach, you're hoping the group has great character. I don't have to hope. I know. I've experienced it. This group oozes character."

Young defensemen

Defensemen Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet saw playing time during the season and showed they could be ready to contribute. Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul showed promise during camp but struggled at times in Grand Rapids.

Marchenko and Ouellet would appear to be closest to contributing on a full-time basis.

With Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl having inconsistent seasons, having Marchenko or Ouellet make a contribution could be necessary.

Moving forward

How good will the forwards need to be?

Better than they were for the Red Wings to make a deeper postseason run.

Tomas Tatar (29 goals) and Gustav Nyquist (27) might have to surpass 30 goals next season, and Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkkinen need to take next step in their progression.

Justin Abdelkader had a career-best 23 goals, but his contributions in other areas are just as important. And Darren Helm showed an ability to play with Pavel Datsyuk and do a lot of the grunt work needed.

One forward who needs to rebound is Tomas Jurco, who had 18 points (three goals) in 63 games.

NHL parity

The Red Wings can't stand still because the teams in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference are getting better.

Tampa Bay and Montreal would appear to be set in the division, especially the Lightning, with a young roster capable of contending for a few seasons.

Ottawa and Boston finished behind Detroit.

Ottawa could be a dangerous given its youth, deep goaltending and confidence from a blazing second half in which it reached the playoffs.

And then there's Florida, Columbus and Philadelphia, all teams that missed the playoffs largely because of key injuries, inexperience or sub-par performances.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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