Top story lines for a unique Red Wings training camp
Detroit – Get ready for a training camp unlike any the Detroit Red Wings have had in many years.
When they were winning Stanley Cups, the Red Wings’ roster was pretty much known before they headed to camp. Even last fall, coming off their first missed postseason after 25 consecutive appearances, the Wings had just a couple roster spots open.
But as they take the ice Friday in Traverse City – physicals and the annual charity golf tournament take place Thursday – there are many jobs available on the roster, ice time to be doled out and lines to be reconfigured.
All without Henrik Zetterberg.
The venerable captain hasn’t been able to train all summer because of persistent back pain and isn’t going to be ready to begin the regular season.
So Zetterberg’s spot in the lineup, his place on the power play, how his line will now be constructed – all those things will begin to be worked out the five days the Wings will be skating in Traverse City.
With an expanding list of young players looking for jobs in the NHL – and the Wings having missed the playoffs the last two seasons – a shifting roster is going to continue to change.
“This is going to be a competitive camp for a variety of reasons,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We want the young kids to push for a spot on the team. I’m holding a spot on the back end and I’m holding a spot or two, maybe three, up front.
“But they have to earn it. I just can’t throw out a Kiddie Corps out there. I’m hoping some of these kids we have to send back, that they’re ready, and they’re going to be up here as the year wears on.”
Holland also sees plenty of competition among returning veterans.
“There’s internal competition,” Holland said. “We’re in rebuild mode and there’s going to be more opportunity. I’m hoping for young people (to claim some jobs) but if they don’t, the veterans who are here will have to.
“Some of these veterans maybe haven’t been doing these jobs (special teams, scoring lines) and maybe they pick up the responsibility because the kids haven’t grabbed it.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 story lines for Red Wings camp.
'Hank is not replaceable'
Captain Henrik Zetterberg’s back issues have been well documented. Zetterberg’s not going to begin the regular season – and his career could be over – after back pain forced him out of training this summer.
Zetterberg was scheduled to see a specialist in New York later this week, so it’s unclear if he’ll make an appearance in Traverse City.
His loss to the Red Wings is huge.
“He’s been the face of this franchise for quite a while,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “Everything can’t last forever but we’ll see how it goes. If he’s not going to be playing, it’s going to be a big hole. We have some guys who’ve been here a long time, but Hank is not replaceable.”
Jobs are available
Positions on the roster, but also spots in the lineup (lines, power play, penalty kill, ice time) will be up for grabs more so than any recent Wings training camp.
The loss of Zetterberg creates an available roster spot, and depending on how the rookies look, there could several more positions available.
And after missing the playoffs the last two seasons, coach Jeff Blashill is trumpeting the competition for playing time.
“It has to be (competitive) – we haven’t been good enough the last two years,” Blashill said. “That certainly doesn’t mean a player who has been part of this team is on the outside at all. It means we all have to be better, and part of being better is different guys taking jobs. So let’s be ready to compete for our jobs every day.”
How will the rookies look?
The Red Wings’ team in the Prospects Tournament reached the championship game before losing to Columbus.
Forwards Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina, Givani Smith and Joe Veleno, and defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Jared McIsaac and Vili Saarijarvi, all played well.
Not all of those young players, obviously, will make the Wings' opening night roster, but some (Rasmussen? Zadina?) could be tabbed early.
Many of these youngsters will be given ample playing time during the exhibition season to see how they match up against NHL-quality competition.
How will the defense shake out?
GM Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill have made it clear there’s one spot available, but two could be kept as long as they beat veterans out.
The way Cholowski played in the tournament signifies he could be closer than had been thought. Cholowski, Filip Hronek, Libor Sulak and Joe Hicketts are all the mix.
What about the line combinations?
We’ll get a first look this weekend after Blashill releases his three rosters for this camp.
Who will play with Thomas Vanek, who had productive chemistry with several different linemates in Vanek’s first go-around with the Wings? Where do Rasmussen and Zadina fit in? Does Tyler Bertuzzi playing on a scoring or checking line? Where does Gustav Nyquist play, without Zetterberg in the lineup?
Opportunity for Athanasiou
Andreas Athanasiou held out of training camp last season and didn’t sign until the first month of the regular season.
There are no issues this year.
Athanasiou signed a two-year contract during the summer, he’ll be in camp, and given Zetterberg’s inability to play, Athanasiou could be one of the Wings’ centers once the season begins.
Everything appears to be in place for Athanasiou to begin reaching his ample offensive potential.
"Some of these kids have been on the team, but on secondary roles," said Holland, noting players such as Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Bertuzzi, among others. "Some of them are going to be given an opportunity and we need them to grab primary roles."
Is Green healthy enough to play?
Mike Green said during the informal workouts at Little Caesars Arena he anticipates to be cleared for contact and ready to practice Friday.
Green had neck surgery late last season, and was re-signed to a two-year contract July 1, foregoing unrestricted free agency.
Many fans wanted the Wings to cut ties with Green, 33 on Oct. 12, but the lineup desperately needs the offense he brings.
“There’s a lot of nights where he was one of our best defensemen,” Blashill said. “He’s a big-time winner who is a great example for our younger guys in the locker room.”
Kronwall's swan song?
With all the talk regarding Zetterberg, there hasn’t been as much discussion about Niklas Kronwall.
The defenseman will be 38 in January and given his significant knee injuries, he has admitted this could be his final season. It is also the final year of his contract.
Kronwall said he had a productive, pain-free summer and was able to train and get ready for this camp. Given the state of the Wings’ defense, Kronwall still remains a vital piece of the lineup.
Special teams work
The Red Wings ranked 24th among 31 teams on the power play last season – and tied for 23rd on the penalty kill. There will be plenty of practice time during training camp devoted to the special teams.
Dan Bylsma was brought in as an assistant coach in June, with improving the power play one of the tasks on his to-do list.
Dylan Larkin’s place in the organization has never looked more clearer after signing a five-year contract in August.
Larkin is only 22 but he began to slowly take on a more visible leadership role last season, and now without Zetterberg, is destined to take on even more responsibility.
On the ice, Larkin took a major step toward becoming one of the NHL’s best players last year and the Wings need him to continue that trek this season.
Wings training camp
When: Friday through Tuesday, practices and scrimmages from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, except for Sunday, when there will be the Red and White Game at noon.
Where: City Centre ICE Arena, Traverse City
Sept. 19: Pittsburgh, 7:30
Sept. 20: Chicago, 7:30
Sept. 22: Boston, 7
Sept. 23: at Pittsburgh, 3
Sept. 25: at Chicago, 8:30
Sept. 26: at Boston, 7
Sept. 28: at Toronto, 7:30
Sept. 29: Toronto, 7