Monday, October 3, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: Teams 6-4, The Second Tier Elites

6. Detroit Red Wings

Key Statistics:

Fenwick- 53.6%
Even Strength Shooting%-8.5%
Even Strength Save%-.922

2010-2011 Summary

Once again, Detroit was near the top of the league in both territorial play and in points, all this despite losing 26 games from Pavel Datsyuk, 13 games from Dan Cleary, 19 games from Brian Rafalski, and 15 games from Brad Stuart.  Detroit got decent enough goaltending, as well as good years from all of their supplemental pieces.  They simply ran into a slightly better team in the playoffs.

Offseason Changes

The only major move made this summer was the retirement of Brian Rafalski and his subsequent replacement with Ian White.  As Triumph and I chronicled, this was a definite upgrade for Detroit.  White is a superior player who comes at less than half the price.  The saved cap space didn’t really come into play in further offseason moves, though it also gives Detroit a cushion if they needed to make an in-season move. 

Key Questions for 2011-2012

Is Detroit deep enough along the blueline?    
  • While Detroit features a formidable top 4, I believe there are legitimate concerns past that point, especially in the event of injury.  Jonathan Ericsson took a big step backward last year, and Jakub Kindl has shown little to give the impression that he wouldn’t be overmatched playing heavy minutes.  Other than that, I think forecasting Detroit’s success is pretty straightforward.  This is largely the same team as years past, and every NHL fan can understand what that means.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Statistics

Fenwick- 54.3%
Even Strength Shooting%-6.8%
Even Strength Save%-.929

2010-2011 Summary

In a word: injuries.  Pittsburgh’s two best players spent significant time on Injured Reserve, with Evgeni Malkin missing nearly 40 games with various knee injuries and Sidney Crosby missing 41 games after noted headhunter David Steckel viciously ran Crosby in the Winter Classic.*  The Penguins still managed to put together a good season, even finishing first in the league in Fenwick, but the ability to consistently put pucks in the net was glaringly obvious. Thanks to a great season from Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh was able to remain relevant, finishing with 106 points. 

Offseason Changes

Pittsburgh lost two bottom-6 forwards to division rivals with Mike Rupp’s departure to the Rangers and Max Talbot’s move to Philadelphia. Outside of that, their roster will generally look the same as last year, with the most major addition coming with the signing of veteran winger Steve Sullivan. 

Key Questions for 2011-2012

At what point can we expect Sidney Crosby to return?
  • Crosby has already been ruled out of the season opener, which while not a good sign is still not the end of the world assuming Malkin and Staal remain healthy.  But still, the team needs him in the line-up.  A Crosby-less Penguins team still makes the playoff, but #87 is the difference between an elite team and a team that makes it as a bottom seed before losing in the first round.

Should Evgeni Malkin move to wing?
  • This only happens if Crosby is healthy, but is a move I think should be made (and is a move a few of us on this blog have talked about for a while).  Malkin’s contributions at Even Strength have fallen each of the last few seasons.  He’s never been great at faceoffs, and center depth (again, assuming Crosby’s health) isn’t much of an issue for Pittsburgh, and I believe the lightened responsibility could help bring his game back to where it was in 2008.   

* - Don’t worry, I’m only joking.

4. San Jose Sharks

Key Statistics from 2010-2011

Fenwick- 53.7%
Even Strength Shooting%-7.2%
Even Strength Save%-.942

2010-2011 Summary

The Sharks had a pretty boring year last year (I mean this in a good way), as they won another Pacific Division title and again came within one postseason round of the Stanley Cup Finals.  San Jose’s biggest story last year was the emergence of Logan Couture, who centered what was San Jose’s best line for most of the year, and whose presence ultimately made Devin Setoguchi expendable (more on this later). 

Offseason Changes

Outside of Washington, San Jose had the busiest summer of any of the NHL’s elites.  The offseason bonanza began on Draft Day, with Doug Wilson sending Devin Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle, and a 2011 1st round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Brent Burns.  This was the first of two blockbusters between the Sharks and Wild, as the two teams swapped All-Star wingers, with the Sharks sending Dany Heatley and receiving Martin Havlat.  The Sharks also signed Michal Handzus, ostensibly to play the role of 3rd line center.

Key Questions for 2011-2012

How will Joe Pavelski do on the wing and whom will he play with?
  • Logan Couture’s rise gave Doug Wilson the flexibility to move a top 6 winger in Devin Setoguchi, primarily because he had another top 6 forward who was then being used on the 3rd line.  I think it’ll be interesting to see what (if any) impact this has on Pavelski’s game.  I also think it’ll be interesting to see what line he plays with, though this will obviously change throughout the year.

Were last year’s troubles on the PK just an aberration or a legitimate cause for concern?
  • Known in previous years for having one of the league’s best kills, San Jose had an uncharacteristically bad year on the PK.  Michal Handzus should help up front, and Colin White and Brent Burns should help on the back end, but it still remains to be seen if that is enough, especially with the departure of Jamal Mayers and Scott Nichol.
The final 3 will be posted tomorrow morning.  

Here is a recap of our rankings to date:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. New York Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22. Phoenix
21. Winnipeg
20. Anaheim
19. Carolina
18. Calgary
17. St. Louis
16. Nashville
15. New York Rangers
14. Columbus
13. Buffalo
12. Philadelphia
11. Boston
10. Montreal
9. Tampa Bay
8. New Jersey
7. Los Angeles
6. Detroit
5. Pittsburgh*
4. San Jose

* - With Sidney Crosby

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