Today we’re taking a look at the position battles at defence for the Red Wings. For possibly the first time in recent history, the Wings are very young on the back end. This could work wonders for them, or it could be disastrous.
Kronwall and Ericsson will probably start camp together on the first pairing. They played a good amount together last season, and are, amazingly, the two most veteran players in Detroit’s D corps at 33 and 30 years old, respectively.
Kronwall is the Wings’ number one guy, averaging 24 minutes a game on ice this season, but he ended the season with an even plus/minus rating. Normally that would be a little scary for Wings fans, but given how banged up the team was last year, how poorly the team did (by Red Wings standards) and given that his partner Ericsson and Danny Dekeyser were the only d-men to finish in the plus side of things, we can give him a pass (that was a run-on sentence if I’ve ever seen one). We can expect another steady season from Kronwall.
Ericsson has taken a lot of heat from Wings fans in the past, myself included. He always seemed like he was the odd man out when it came to defensive prospects. He was playing over 20 minutes a game (21:24 TOI average) and playing against the best in the league when it came to facing the Wings. We have to give him some credit for ending with a plus two rating. Props for that. Ericsson has developed into a steady defensive stalwart for the Wings, and for that, we have to give him credit as well. At $4.25 million a year, it may seem like a bit of an overpayment for someone who isn’t as flashy, nor carries league-wide credibility as we would like. However, if Ericsson is going to continue on the first pairing, that salary isn’t exactly terrifying.
Even though Danny Dekeyser is currently an RFA, I think it’s safe to say that the Wings will make a deal with him happen. The (basically) first year pro put up 23 points in 65 games which is slightly better than Smith’s production of 19 in 71 (0.35 PPG for Dekeyser, 0.26 for Smith). Dekeyser also plays 21:38 average per game, which is second on the team, behind only Kronwall. It’s tough to think that the Wings would let this kind of talent slide.
Quincey and Dekeyser played together for 18.88% of games this season (via leftwinglock) which is actually the most consistent out of all of Detroit’s defensive pairings. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Quincy get the 3-4 spot again this season with Dekeyser. Quincey has gained trust from management as evidenced by his 2-year extension for $4.25 million a season. Much like Ericsson, Quincey is not a flashy player by any standards. The 29 year old only put up 13 points and went minus 5, but has the confidence of Holland and (presumably) Babcock as well to be a veteran presence for our young defensive corps. I think it is a little naïve to think the Wings would/could trade Quincey to make room for our younger defencemen, as Quincy is only one of 3 players nearing 30 years of age on Detroit’s back end. Quincey suited up for all 82 games for the Wings last year, as well, so he’s consistent if nothing else.
This is where things start to get tricky.
Brendan Smith has played with Kindly, Lashoff, Quincey, Kronwall and Dekeyser last season as the team’s easily movable piece. Not only does this speak to Smith’s mobility and diversity but it also speaks to how dependable he is. Babcock clearly trusts the 25 year old with a heavy workload, in many different situations. On top of his defensive prowess, Smith put up 19 points in 71 games last season. He’s no PK Subban, but Smith is living up to his first round pick pedigree. Keep in mind that this past season was his second full season in the NHL, having only played 48 games total prior to this season. He had a decent sophmore season, and it isn’t farfetched to think that he’ll continue growing as a player. He needs experience, and pairing him with a veteran would be best.
The Red Wings have a decision to make for the sixth spot on this team. This battle comes down to Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff.
Lashoff is only 24 years old, but he saw 75 games for the Wings this past season without even a sniff of the minors. Holland gave Lashoff a 3-year extension before last season, so he carries a meager cap hit of $750k this season, making it easy to keep him on the roster, even if he doesn’t play. Lashoff had only 6 points last season, and boasts a minus 2 rating, but he is quite a good sixth defenceman. His average time on ice dropped by 3 minutes from the 31 games he played two seasons ago, but there is a good chance he plays significant time with the Wings this season.
In my mind, the tip of the cap goes to Kindl for the 6 spot. Kindl has three years on Lashoff, along with 19 points last season compared to Lashoff’s six; in nine less games, too. Kindl and Lashoff are almost identical physically, and in the Wings’ world, age almost always takes priority in a split decision. That would be especially true when Detroit’s average age of their defencemen is 27. Kindl was playing 17:14 average during games this season, which is nothing to shake a stick at, especially as a third pairing guy. Look for the third pairing to start as Smith-Kindl.
As far as younger guys, it would be tough to believe that anyone would push one of these seven men out of a spot simply by outplaying them. As mentioned before, the Red Wings would default to experience over youth, so the only way for someone to play their way onto the roster would be due to injury. The three players that I assume would first make the jump would be:
I’m Osgood’s Bucket. Keep your stick on the ice.