1989-90. That’s the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. The streak was in serious jeopardy last season as Detroit didn’t have a point to spare finishing in a tie for 3rd in the Atlantic but getting in on a tiebreaker; no team in the Eastern Conference made the playoffs with less points. Following the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, the Red Wings are faced with their toughest challenge yet to keep the streak alive. From a fantasy point of view, their roster is loaded with players who have great upside but also a low floor. Let’s take a look!
Entering last season, it wasn’t clear whether Petr Mrazek or Jimmy Howard would be the more valuable of the goaltending platoon. It was suggested in these parts to draft both of them and see how it plays out. Mrazek ended up being the better goalie by a mile finishing as the #12 overall goalie. Even as far as two-thirds of the way into the year, Mrazek was a top 5 goalie. He only ended up starting 49 games due to injury and end of the season struggles. I believe those struggles mostly came from never playing more than 29 games in a season before. Now, he’ll enter the season as the clear #1 in Detroit and as a solid #2 in fantasy. The numbers were solid last season but I’m worried about the defense in front of him. The defensemen on their roster are very poor on the whole and the loss of Datsyuk takes away one of the best defensive forwards ever. It could be a case, similar to Tuukka Rask, where Mrazek plays very well but his goals against average suffers.
Howard fell off a cliff last season with a dreadful 2.8 GAA and .906 sv%. He’s the clear backup at this point and while he may get more starts than the normal backup, those starts aren’t going to carry much value. In deeper leagues, I can see handcuffing Mrazek with Howard but the days of Howard being drafted in 12’ers are over for the time being.
This group might be the worst in the NHL from a fantasy perspective. Mike Green is the only Red Wing defenseman I can see drafting in standard leagues. While he’s nowhere near the defenseman he used to be, Green provides solid STP, assists and PIM. Green will certainly be on the first power play unit because the Red Wings don’t have any alternatives. The bigger concern to me is that his shot rate dropped off quite a bit but I suspect it bounces back to around two per game. He came in as the 47th best D last year and should stay as a D4, although I could see him ending up a #3 defenseman for a RCL team.
I was extremely down on Niklas Kronwall last season and he turned out to be even worse than I expected. The big hitting Swede had only 3 goals and 23 assists in 64 games. The worst thing is he had less than one shot on goal a game. Kronwall simply digs too big of a hole in goals and shots to own in 12’ers. In 16’ers, there is some value in the assists and special teams points that I could see filling out the bottom of your roster with him. The hits and blocks are also above average if you include those categories. I simply prefer somebody with upside instead.
The rest of the Red Wings defensemen are irrelevant outside of the deepest of leagues. Green and Kronwall are the only two who get power play time severely capping the ceiling for the other guys. Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith could be solid if they had the opportunity but they’re simply not going to. Stick to drafting Green or Red Wings forwards, not the defensemen.
After years of being among the league’s elite, Henrik Zetterberg took a massive step back in 2015-16. The 35 year old had only 50 points (13+37) playing all 82 games. He was a -15, the penalty minutes are still below average, and his once elite shot rate is now merely above average. I doubt I’ll have Zetterberg on any of my teams; he’ll be outside of my top 100 as I’d rather get guys in or near their prime instead of on the downside.
While his second half was a bit of a disaster, everyone saw how much talent Dylan Larkin has in his rookie season. The former Michigan star scored 23 goals and 22 assists despite having only 5 special teams points. For a rookie, his shot rate was very strong, approaching 3 per game. Even if he doesn’t improve at even strength, Larkin should approach 60 points in 2016-17. I don’t expect that to be the case though. In fact, I expect Larkin to be the best player on the Red Wings this year. With a minutes increase also on the way, Larkin is one of my favorite targets and will be just outside of the top 50. He’ll be a staple on my teams.
The third member of the first line looks to be Gustav Nyqvist. 2015-16 was very frustrating as Nyqvist bounced around the top 3 lines and saw his goal total fall to a paltry 17. With Zetterberg moving to more of a playmaker role, this will open up more opportunities for Larkin and Nyqvist. He should get back towards where he was two seasons ago where he scored 27+27. Since his shot rate has dropped off and his penalty minutes are poor, Nyqvist will be outside of my top 100 but there’s no doubting he has top 50 upside.
The best forward on the Red Wings based on the player rater actually wasn’t on Detroit last year. To fill the void left by Datsyuk, Detroit signed Frans Nielsen to a 6 year deal. The best value Nielsen possesses is that he’s never injured; he’s missed 7 games total in 5 years. The biggest issue is that he’s used in a shutdown role. If that were to change, I could see Nielsen pushing 65 points but as is, he’ll settle in around 50. Nielsen is very good on special teams and has a solid shot rate but he’s also a blank in PIM; he hasn’t had more than 12 in 5 years. In 12’ers, Nielsen is one of the last guys I’d hold to start the year but I’d also be willing to cut bait early on depending on his usage.
The best Red Wings forward who was actually on their roster last season was Justin Abdelkader. He provided decent points with 19 goals and 23 assists but most of his value came from his 120 PIM. Abdelakder came close to setting career highs across the board which is a bit worrisome. He never had more than 72 penalty minutes before last year; if he dropped down to 72 again, he’s probably on the waiver wire in 12’ers. If you’re short on PIM at the end of your draft, I could see taking a flier on Abdelkader, otherwise I’d leave him to stream.
Tomas Tatar should be the other member of the top six. After a breakout 2014-15, Tatar took a step back last season with 21 goals and 24 assists. Like Nyqvist, the Red Wings constantly juggled the lines leaving Tatar to only average 14:21 TOI a game. As the Red Wings continue their transition, expect the 25 year Tatar to be a focal point getting his minutes up into the 17 range. I expect him to come close to his 29+27 breakout which puts him just outside of the top 100 because of his lack of penalty minutes.
A possible buy low candidate for this season is Thomas Vanek. Vanek was bought out by the Wild and bet on himself having a bounce back in Detroit signing a one year deal. While he might start on the 3rd line, he should get power play time and have the chance to move into the top six. You’ll be able to get him late in your draft so you can safely cut bait with him if he struggles early. He’s only two years removed from 27+41 so the upside is there.
In redrafts, Anthony Mantha must go undrafted but he’s one of my favorite players for dynasties. Mantha crushed juniors for years and had a solid year in the AHL in 2015-16 as a 20 year old. His offensive upside is through the roof but he’ll be stuck in the bottom six this year. Mantha could be a streamer early on or even a hold if he gets the opportunity, I just don’t see how he gets the chance.
To a lesser extent, Andreas Athanasiou could thrive with the opportunity. In deep leagues, I like taking the chance on him since he’ll be off the fourth line and on the third giving him a minutes boost.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
1) Anthony Mantha
2) Evgeny Svechnikov
3) Xavier Ouellet
4) Zach Nastasiuk
That’s all for now guys. As always, feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’ll be back on Wednesday with a preview of the one of the most important fantasy teams, the Lightning. Take care everyone!