Toronto Maple Leafs Eastern Conference Preview: A Look at the Detroit Red Wings


Detroit’s first season in the Eastern Conference last year was one of ups-and-downs, as the Red Wings battled for a playoff spot throughout much of the season, before eventually falling to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

Jan 22, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) skates with the puck up ice during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena. Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

During the regular season, the Red Wings suffered a slew of injuries to both their star players and supporting cast. Superstars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk missed 37 games each, Johan Franzen missed 28 games, Darren Helm missed 40 games, goalie Jimmy Howard missed time with a knee injury and top free agent signing Stephen Weiss missed a whopping 56 games with groin issues. Add in the retirement of legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and you can clearly see why the Red Wings struggled at times last season.

As the Red Wings limped out of the Olympic break last year, the team was in serious danger of having their 22 year consecutive playoff streak come to an end. But head coach Mike Babcock vowed his Red Wings would right the ship and make the playoffs. Of course in true Detroit fashion, the Red Wings did exactly that, making the playoffs for their 23rd consecutive season.

While the playoff appearance isn’t much of a surprise, the way the Red Wings got to the playoffs is. Usually it is the Red Wings superstars like Pavel Datstyuk and Henrik Zetterberg that are responsible for the teams late season surge. But those players were plagued by injuries last season, forcing the Red Wings to make their run with most of their top players from their AHL team Grand Rapids.

Well, to the surprise of nobody, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock found a way to get the most out of his players, as young guns like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Danny DeKeyser carried the Red Wings to the playoffs.

Last season’s late charge reminded the hockey world of many things. Whether it was a testament to Mike Babock’s coaching ability, or the Red Wings depth in their system, or the fact that no matter what year it is, the Red Wings tradition of “never giving up” seems to carry on from generation-to-generation; we were all reminded that you just can’t rule out the Detroit Red Wings.

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Red Wings infusion of youth and veteran players should have the Eastern Conference on notice – particularly the Atlantic Division. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Red Wings are consistent fixture on their schedule, as the two Original Six rivals face off regularly in the Atlantic Division.

The Maple Leafs struggled against the Red Wings last season, going 1-3 overall. While that record looks bad on the surface, it is even worse when you consider that the Red Wings were decimated by injuries. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the Eastern Conference can’t expect Detroit to lose as many key players as they did last season. When healthy, the Red Wings are one of the Eastern Conference’s most talented teams.

Detroit Red Wings Team Stats:

2013-14 Record: 39-28-15 (93 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)
Record against Divisional Opponents: 17-8-5

Red Wings were 17-13 in back-to-back games (no days off)
Red Wings were 7-8 in the 2nd game of a back-to-back (no days off)
Red Wings lost 21 games by one goal last season
Red Wings were 23-22-13 with Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup
Red Wings were 19-26-15 with Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup

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Red Wings Stats versus the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Red Wings went 3-1 versus the Maple Leafs last season; average goals for versus Maple Leafs: 3.5; average goals against versus Maple Leafs: 2.75

Red Wings are 5-5 against the Maple Leafs in their last 10 meetings
6 of the last 10 meetings between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs have been decided by 1 goal

Red Wings Player Stats versus the Toronto Maple Leafs last season:

Daniel Alfredsson: 4 GP, 2 G, 2 A, +4, 10 SOG, 17:00 ATOI
Gustav Nyquist: 3 GP, 3 G, 1 A, +3, 13 SOG, 16:11 ATOI
Darren Helm: 1 GP, 3 G, 0 A, +1, 6 SOG, 11:56 ATOI
Niklas Kronwall: 4 GP, 0 G, 2 A, +4, 1 SOG, 25:04 ATOI
Danny DeKeyser: 4 GP, 0 G, 2 A, +/- 0, 7 SOG, 22:13 ATOI
Henrik Zetterberg: 1 GP, 0 G, 1 A, +1, 6 SOG, 23:29 ATOI
Pavel Datsyuk: 2 GP, 1 G, 0 A, -1, 8 SOG, 23:48 ATOI

Jimmy Howard is 3-2 versus the Maple Leafs
Jonathan Bernier is 1-1 versus the Red Wings
James Reimer is 0-3 versus the Red Wings

Schedule Against the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Friday October 17th at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Saturday October 18th at Detroit – 7:30 PM
Saturday November 22nd at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Wednesday December 10th at Detroit – 7:30 PM
Saturday December 13th at Toronto – 7:30 PM

Potential Good

Mar 29, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (65) warms up before playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As we have harped on many times already, the Red Wings health issues last season led to many young players being called up and relied upon down the stretch. But the Wings reliance on those young players may actually turn out to be one of the teams strongest assets this season.

Entering the 2014-15 season, the next generation of Red Wings regulars look to take centre stage, as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar lead the charge up front, while quickly maturing Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith look to give the Red Wings a promising backend.

If last year’s series against Boston was any indication, the Red Wings youth were catching on very quickly through their experiences and could make life tough for Eastern Conference opponents this season.

On top of the Red Wings youth, their veterans are very adaptable to any style of play, creating a very versatile roster. Add in the fact that head coach Mike Babcock remains one of the games best tacticians and you can see why the Red Wings remain one of the league’s toughest teams to play against.

Potential Bad

Hate to sound like a broken record here, but it really is the Red Wings health. The Red Wings have 10 players at age 30 or older, so you could see right away where the health concerns come in to play with the aging bodies.

But aside from hammering home the obvious concerns, the Red Wings backend could be a potential problem as well. The backend has endured some growing pains recently, as the Red Wings have been patient with their young trio of Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl. While all three players took great strides forward last season, the Red Wings were beat down the boards far too often last year, creating a lot of problems for themselves in their own end. If the Red Wings are going to take another step forward this season, they need to clean up their board play on opposing teams zone entries and play in their own zone.

One other issue to make note of is that the Red Wings are not a very strong or physical team up front. They are more of speedy, finesse type team that beats opponents with their dominate puck possession type play. We all witnessed what the opposite side of that game can be during last years playoffs, when the Bruins dismantled the Red Wings in the second half of the series.

Prospect Watch: 

Sep 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) carries the puck up ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Detroit Red Wings won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Mantha is one of the most highly touted prospects in the NHL. The young 20-year old sniper scored 57 goals in 57 games last season for the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL, earning himself the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year award.

Mantha looked well on his way to getting a chance at cracking the Red Wings roster this season before a fractured tibia in training camp derailed that idea. So while Red Wings fans wait for Mantha to recover, the idea of Mantha making his presence felt on this year’s roster is not a farfetched idea. Given that Mantha recovers well, he could make his NHL debut in early 2015 when the Red Wings will more than likely be dealing with some sort of mid-season injury.

Outside of Mantha, defenseman Ryan Sproul is an interesting prospect to watch. Sproul has a hard, right-handed shot that the Red Wings could desperately use on their blue line and at 6-foot-3, Sproul would give the Red Wings a big body on the back-end of their D. If Sproul can impress the Red Wings brass during training camp, he might be able to push his way onto the NHL roster. But in all likelihood, Sproul will start the season in Grand Rapids and be one of the first names called up once the inevitable Red Wings injury strikes.


The Red Wings hovered near the top of the Atlantic Division last year before injuries got the better of them. Aside from Pavel Datsyuk’s recent injury, if this team can stay healthy, there is no reason to believe that they won’t compete for top spot in not only the Atlantic Division, but the Eastern Conference overall.

Aside from the Red Wings health issues last season, consider that the Red Wings lost a staggering 15 games in overtime last season. That high number tends to progress back to the mean over time, meaning that a few of the Red Wings unlucky overtime losses should turn into wins this season. Let’s say at the very least six of last year’s overtime losses turn into wins, the Red Wings are 100 point team right there.

If Detroit can stay healthy and a few young players like Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco can continue to develop at an accelerated rate, the Red Wings could make some noise in a wide open Eastern Conference.

Although the team could use another offensive defenseman, head coach Mike Babcock is equipped with a solid roster that should be able to finish second in the Atlantic Division. I’ll pencil the Red Wings in at second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference.

Click here to read the series introduction, which includes links to the rest of the series.