Wings' Smith promoted to power play; Ouellet in for Kronwall
Detroit — The Red Wings will start their season Thursday in Tampa, against Steve Yzerman’s reassembled Lightning team, with Brendan Smith playing on the power play and Xavier Ouellet, whose long labors in Grand Rapids are finally rewarded, replacing the injured Niklas Kronwall.
Kronwall did not skate in practice today. But Jeff Blashill said that is merely part of the routine aimed at getting the 35-year-old defenseman quality time on ice this season after he struggled last season with knee problems.
Of Smith, Jeff Blashill said, “Going into game one he’s going to get a chance to play on the power play.
“He had little chances last year. He hasn’t had tons of opportunity, so he’ll get that opportunity and hopefully he does great with it.
“With Kronwall out, we’re losing a power-play guy,” said Blashill, who enters his second season as head coach. “'Sproulie’ is out, and that’s another power-play guy on the back end.”
Ryan Sproul, who had a bounce-back year in Grand Rapids last season and has offensive skills, made the roster out of training camp, as the Wings carry seven defensemen and Kronwall on injured reserve.
Sproul is not in the lineup Thursday, Blashill said, “but he’ll get his chance.”
The Lightning eliminated the Red Wings in five playoff games, last season. Three of the losses were by one goal.
In the offseason, Yzerman drew rave reviews for managing to keep his lineup largely intact, despite the salary cap and a significant group of free agents seeking more money and longer term.
Steven Stamkos remained with the team, and the highly skilled forward Nikita Kucherov returned this week, signing a “bridge contract” for four years that is reportedly the longest, most lucrative deal in the NHL — three years, $14.4 million — that ends with the player still a restricted free agent.
Both Stamkos and Kucherov said they realized they could do better, financially, elsewhere, but wanted to stay and play on what they believe is one of the best teams in the NHL, with a good chance at a Stanley Cup run this season and perhaps seasons going forward.