Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill says the team is "going to dig in and fight like hell." Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Traverse City — There’s a new wrinkle in the way coach Jeff Blashill has divided the three sets of teams in this training camp.
Normally, the three groups have been evenly divided, with NHL regulars interspersed with minor leaguers and draft picks.
But this time, Blashill has essentially kept the NHL roster together in one group, with the largely Grand Rapids Griffins roster in another group, and draft picks and camp invitees in a third squad.
Blashill wants to get his NHL group as comfortable and familiar with each other as possible.
“You’re limited on practice until the first game of the year,” Blashill said. “That first game is critical. As I’ve been through a number of training camps now, I just felt I wanted to have the group that I see today as our group, give or take a few players, as much (time) as possible.”
Where this time especially helps the Red Wings, is getting familiarity on the power play and penalty kill.
“When you split the guys up, it’s tough to get that special-teams chemistry,” Blashill said. “We wanted to get as much time in the special teams, the chemistry in the special teams, as much chemistry going as we can.”
The quasi-NHL roster is Team Delvecchio in camp, although it’s group that does not have forward Andreas Athanasiou, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign.
Notably, forward PA Parenteau, in camp on a professional tryout, is on Team Delvecchio, as are forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Ben Street (both primarily with Grand Rapids last season) and defenseman Dennis Cholowski (2016 1st-round draft pick).
Forward David Booth (Washington Township/Michigan State), also in camp on a tryout, is listed on Team Howe, which is filled with Grand Rapids Griffins.
Interestingly, forward Evgeny Svechnikov (2015 first-round draft pick), is also listed on Team Howe, likely a sign Svechnikov is starting the season in the AHL.
Training camp message
The Red Wings missed qualifying the playoffs last season after 25 consecutive seasons of reaching the postseason.
Few, if any, analysts nationally are predicting the Red Wings will make the playoffs this season, most expecting a further slide in the standings.
But captain Henrik Zetterberg feels this roster can surprise people.
“There are a lot of guys who didn’t have their best years last year,” said Zetterberg, who at age 36 led the team in scoring and played every game. “Hopefully we have a few bounceback years. We have a lot of talent in the group. We have a young team, so the future looks good.
“But we have to take the steps. If we all take a step together, we are going to be there fighting.”
Blashill is going to deliver a direct message to his roster, given the disappointment of last season.
“You can decide to feel sorry for yourself, place blame and do all those things, or dig in and fight like hell,” Blashill said. “We’re going to dig in and fight like hell.”
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about the absence of forward Andreas Athanasiou because of a contract dispute. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Athanasiou, as expected, was a no-show Thursday given he is not signed.
He and the Red Wings haven’t been able to close the gap on a new contract, with Athanasiou also fielding offers from Russian teams in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Blashill isn’t giving much thought on the matter.
“We’ve got a group of guys here and we’ll have a plan ready for AA and a plan ready if he’s not here,” Blashill said. “Either way, as the coach, my job is to make sure I maximize the guys who are available.
“For me it’s simple. As a coach you worry about the players that are available to you. There are a multitude of reasons why players aren’t available to you – illness, injury, in this case, a contract negotiation. None of those are things I can worry about. I can only worry about guys who are available to us.”
Blashill expects everyone available for Friday’s first practice of the season.
Tomas Tatar (shoulder), Luke Glendening (ankle) and Ryan Sproul (knee) all had off-season surgeries but should be ready to go.
Sproul is the lone player who could be somewhat held back.
“I anticipate him to be on the ice, (but) I don’t know if he’ll be full contact or a little more restricted,” Blashill said. “My gut (feeling) would be a little more restricted.”
Blashill said forward Tyler Bertuzzi had an “illness issue” in August that took away some of Bertuzzi’s training time, but Bertuzzi is healthy now.
Blashill reiterated Dylan Larkin will start the season at center.
... The Red Wings’ prospects team finished fifth in the eight-team tournament last weekend in Traverse City, but Blashill liked what he saw, especially individually from Cholowski.
“He went back under pressure and was able to make a pop pass to the middle of the ice and allow his team to break out,” Blashill said. “He did a good job of skating and gapping; he showed well.
“What does that mean? We’ll see as we continue on (through camp).”
… Blashill wouldn’t name a clear No. 1 goaltender between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
“There’s a battle at every position every day,” Blashill said. “It’s a day-to-day business. We need elite goaltending. We can’t have OK goaltending. I feel both guys can give us elite goaltending.”