Sunday, April 22, 2012

Looking Ahead: Where do Wings Go from Here?

"Please Kenny bring shooter, we have good time."
It's that time if year again, but this year it has come painfully early.  The Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, dropping their 1st Round series with the Nashville Predators.  It is the first time since 2006 VS the Edmonton Oilers that the Red Wings have exited the playoffs in the opening round.  This loss is exceptionally painful to deal with.  Detroit's play looked stagnant and uninspired, scoring only 9 goals over the course of the 5-game series, at some points barely making Pekka Rinne break a sweat.

There is, however, no single reason for Detroit's failure this postseason.  To me, it was mainly one part coaching, one part lack of team cohesion and one part inconsistency.  Injuries made life difficult for Mike Babcock and his attempts to find some line chemistry.  Many of those same injuries came at the worst possible time, giving guys on the mend little to no time to get back into form for the playoffs.  Team communication in the last stretch of the season and into the playoffs just  This is again something that gets affected by guys coming in and out of lineups from injury, but a general awareness of your teammates is hockey 101, and as The Geek, I have to give them a failing grade in that regard.

So, what does Detroit do from here?  With a long offseason to ponder options and potentially around $20 million to spend, my thought is that GM Ken Holland best get on the phone early and start finding out exactly what all those options are. Obviously a lot rides on that looming decision that comes every year now, I don't even have to name the guy and you know who I'm talking about.  Yes, Nick Lidstrom will make another choice whether to push ahead for another season or skate off into the sunset.  To be honest, if I were Nick, one of the first things I'd be telling Holland is that if I were coming back, I expect some big moves to upgrade this team.  If I knew Kenny was going to do the same thing he did at the deadline, I'd call it right then and there, it wouldn't be worth my time and another year of disappointment.

Three things are needed, in my eyes, to get Detroit past the 2nd Round again: A big grinder to compliment Justin Abdelkader's line, someone more defensively responsible than Brad Stuart, and a certified get-it-done shooter.  By the hockey gods, do we need a sniper.  We have far too many play-makers who can get the play started, but no one who can consistently finish the rush with a puck in the back of the enemy net.

Zach Parise seems an obvious choice for that shooter role.  Let's compare him to our biggest shooter, Henrik Zetterberg:

Zetterberg - GP: 82/G: 22/A: 47/PTS: 69/PIMs: 47/SOG: 267/SHOT%: .082
Parise        - GP: 82/G: 31/A: 38/PTS: 69/PIMs: 32/SOG: 293/SHOT%: .106

That's a HUGE difference in success rate, and Parise doesn't even get penalized as much.  Detroit doesn't have a dedicated shooter like this and it showed how much that hurts them in the series against Nashville when nobody could seem to solve Pekka Rinne.

Ryan Suter is the name most everyone is bandying around for a defensive plug supposing Lidstrom does retire.  I say go for him anyway, Brad Stuart seems like he's making no attempt to hide the fact he wants out of Detroit.  Even without Stuart's gaffes, the Wings needs more solidity in their D-men out side of Lidstrom-Kronwall.  Ian White is serviceable but a second Brian Rafalski he is not.

As for grit, the question becomes: How far to the side of grit do you want to go?  You could always bring a guy like Zenon Konopka in to center Abdelkader's line.  The guy doesn't score, but he's no fun to play against and is willing to drop the gloves for his team.  Oh, and there's also the fact that the guy is a BEAST in the face-off dot.  Take a look at these numbers:

Pavel Datsyuk: FO% - 56.2
Paul Gaustad:  FO% - 57.3
Zenon Konopka: FO% 58.9

Now remember of course that I'm only throwing Konopka's name out there for the grit hole that needs filled, but isn't that an interesting bonus? This guy, although he takes far fewer draws than the other two mentioned above, wins as high a percentage of his draws as they do.  Detroit prides itself on puck possession, why not have a guy that can win the draw, or if not, knock a guy's block off?  I joke, of course, but the fact remains. If Konopka doesn't suit your fancy, there are many other options for grit that come with a more balanced grit-to-offense ratio.

All I know is Kenny H needs to do something significant this offseason, because this team is lacking in a few respects.  We can't keep Lidstrom around forever, much as we want to, and that window closes faster every year. It may even close this summer.  Until Nick speaks, though, we can only hope for the best and push for a deep playoff run next season.