Niklas Kronwall finally has a chance to step up and be the leader of what looks to be a thinner, but still solid, blue line. Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
You’d think the Red Wings had suddenly switched places with the Edmonton Oilers for all the criticism their defensemen receive.
Yeah, Nicklas Lidstrom‘s retired. Yeah, Stuart’s gone. But there’s a difference between no longer having the best defense corps in the league and having the worst. While the back end may not be the powerhouse it’s been over the past few years, it still posts seven capable players that can adequately fill all of the roles you’d expect of an NHL-calibre top six.
For the past few seasons, Babcock has shown that he likes to spread the talent throughout the blue line rather than run defined first, second, and third pairings. This is especially evident in the line combinations he brings in to start camp, although this strategy does play to the strengths of this year’s back end.
Line 1: Kronwall – Ericsson
Can this be the year Jonathan Ericsson finally steps up to earn the huge contract he was given two summers ago? Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Analysis: Jonathan Ericsson is the wild card that could make or break the Wings’ defense corps this year. He’s a great skater with loads of potential and size to boot, but he hasn’t broken out and used these to his advantage yet. Nobody expects him to produce points the way Niklas Kronwall or White can, but he should be able to be a solid, second-pairing shutdown defenseman who can cover for Kronwall when he rushes the puck or goes in for the big hit (something Ericsson himself should be doing much more often, too). If Ericsson can accomplish this, and Kronwall shows he can be a definite number one defenseman (which basically means doing the same thing he’s been doing for the past few years), the reported issue on the blue line in Detroit all but disappears. If not…well, maybe Babcock can try asking Lidstrom to come back again.
Kronwall: 48 GP, 8 G, 19 A, 27 P
Ericsson: 48 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 P
Line 2: Smith – Quincey
Brendan Smithlooks to continue his mean streak as well as chip in a good amount of offense this year. Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Analysis: Ahh, Brendan Smith. He showed what he could do in 14 games last season, posting an impressive .5 points per game clip despite being given a minimum amount of ice time. He’s poised for an outstanding rookie season in 2013, and to say he will challenge for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie involves no hyperbole. Being paired next to a steady two-way presence in Kyle Quincey can only help. Quincey did not deserve much of the ire he caught from Wings fans near the end of the season – he was brought in to help when the team was playing its worst hockey, and while he didn’t really overachieve or help turn the team around, he also didn’t underachieve either. The former 5thround pick of Detroit should be able to step in and be a reliable top-4 defenseman, as he proved he could in both Colorado and Los Angeles.
Smith: 48 GP: 6 G, 16 A, 22 P
Quincey: 48 GP: 3 G, 19 A, 12 P
Line 3: Colaiacovo – White
Analysis: Mehh. I get that these guys have chemistry from their days together with the Maple Leafs, but the reliability of this line is suspect at best. Carlo Colaiacovo is well known more for his injuries than anything else and Ian White missed significant time last season as well. Granted, this combination presents a dynamic combination of good positioning and puck movement, but lacks the snarl of the top two pairings. If Babcock somehow works it out where these guys play the softer minutes, they could definitely be an offensive asset. But I don’t see them sticking together for very long, injuries or no.
White: 48 GP: 3 G, 14 A, 17 P
Coliacovo: 35 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 P
Detroit does have a very strong set of offensive defensemen; points from the back end won’t be an issue. Jakub Kindl is ready to step in after Coliacovo inevitably falls, and he carries a good amount of offensive upside as well…if he ever decides to use it. Things are looking a little gloomier in their own end, however – the team will have to rely much more on scoring goals than keeping them out of the net in order to win games. Hopefully Howard can handle backstopping a Lidstrom-less Detroit, although I think expecting anything less from the 2012 All-Star is doing him a disservice.