Realignment likely to help Red Wings claw back to respectability

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
 
| The Detroit News

The Detroit Red Wings should be better this season, no matter what the length of schedule or division they’d be in.

But given the pandemic, the NHL will attempt to play a shortened season (details still to be finalized and announced) with a dramatic division realignment focused on geography and less travel.

Which, all in all, could help the Wings further.

General manager Steve Yzerman added defensemen Marc Staal, Troy Stetcher and Jon Merrill, forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Thomas Greiss in the offseason, greatly strengthening the Wings’ roster.

After having the NHL’s worst record (by far) last season at 17-49-5, the Wings couldn’t be worse.

And they will not be, when you combine the roster overhaul along with the prospective new division.

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The Wings, for one year, get away from the powerhouses such as Boston, Toronto, an improved Montreal team, and Pittsburgh, which was rumored to join the Wings in many divisional models.

Instead, the Wings are reportedly going to be in the same division with Tampa Bay, Florida, Columbus, Carolina, Chicago, Nashville and Dallas.

Any way you analyze it, the Wings should be more competitive while playing a 56 game schedule against these teams.

Granted, there’s still plenty of time to make personnel moves that will affect final rosters. 

But here’s a quick look as to why the Wings should benefit from this realignment. Simply put, there are many question marks surrounding many of these prospective opponents:

►Carolina: The Hurricanes are building toward being a serious Stanley Cup contender, and this could be the season they make a big push (if they can get by Tampa).

The Hurricanes made minor tweaks in the offseason to a roster that is maturing. They’re not perfect, Petr Mrazek is a question mark in net, but they’re good enough in every department.

There are teams here the Wings should feel they can earn some victories from this season, but they aren’t likely to beat Carolina often.

►Chicago: Original Six rivalry aside, the Blackhawks appear to be crumbling.

The core of forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are another year older, and they didn’t re-sign goaltender Corey Crawford (New Jersey).

Goaltending is a huge, huge question mark. There are promising young players on the roster, but not enough. And you wonder how the mood in the locker room will be, given management’s stated desire to rebuild.

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A shorter season could benefit the Blackhawks’ veterans. But in the end, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Wings’ and Blackhawks’ point totals aren’t too far apart.

►Columbus: The Blue Jackets were expected to take a big fall last season after a massive exodus of free agents, but it didn’t happen.

Columbus surprised during the regular season, then defeated Toronto in the qualifying round.

You wonder if the Blue Jackets have done enough to address an offense that ranked 28th. It acquired Max Domi from Montreal, but Gustav Nyquist (shoulder) will miss the start of the season.

The Jackets showed amazing resilience in the face of injuries last season, and coach John Tortorella gets the most out of them.

But it wouldn’t be shocking to see Columbus take a minor step back, considering their offensive questions.

►Dallas: Suddenly, it’s the Stars will be joining the Central, with Minnesota moving on out.

And that might be bad news for everyone else.

The Stars made a great run in the Return To Play, reaching the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Tampa.

There’s enough youth on this roster that a run like that should fuel Dallas this coming shortened season.

The Stars do have injury issues — goaltender Ben Bishop and forward Tyler Seguin aren’t likely to start the season after surgeries — but they have really good depth, and thrive playing for coach Rick Bowness.

If the Wings can catch the Stars early in the schedule, that would help.

►Florida: There’s a lot of unknowns concerning the Panthers.

Sergei Bobrovsky was supposed to cure Florida’s goaltending issues and really didn’t. The Panthers didn’t re-sign goal-scoring forwards Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov (54 goals combined) while signing Anthony Duclair (23 goals), who is a gamble. Patric Hornqvist adds a hard-nosed edge and championship-winning character but doesn’t replace all the offense gone.

The Panthers had 78 points but were swept by the Islanders in the qualifying round. They could be as successful during the regular season this time around — but easy to speculate they may not, either.

►Nashville: Regardless of what realignment model you look at the Predators will be in the Wings’ division — and that could be good news for the Wings.

They’ve played well against Nashville in recent seasons, and that shouldn’t change, given the Predators revamping their roster.

Nashville has a lot of salary cap space left and it might make more moves. But right now, there’s a severe lack of secondary scoring, and this team is a borderline playoff contender.

►Tampa Bay: The defending Stanley Cup champions are going to be very good still — but how good will depend, probably, on who goes and stays from a needed salary cap purge.

You’d have to think with a shorter regular-season schedule, the Lightning should be serious contenders to repeat, as long as they stay healthy.

There’s enough quality talent here to win this division rather easily.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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