Forward lines start the year with such promise. Coaches dream of having a dominant line of three players that they can look to all year to produce for them when the need arises. However, as soon as one of those guys goes down with an injury, or the line stops producing, the coaches are forced to change those lines.
Since there is no chance that even Babs himself could predict the Red Wings four lines this year, I’m simply going to list the players that often play these forward positions and discuss who they will be battling with for said positions. We’ll start with our top 6.
Zetterberg – Datysuk – Abdelkader
We haven’t even gotten to the first positional battle and I’m already scratching my head with who to put here. Zetterberg is the easy pick to play first line LW when Datsyuk plays centre with Abdelkader on the right side. In a perfect world, Zetterberg and Datsyuk would play together on the first line and they would each score 40 goals. However, I am a bit of a realist when it comes to hockey. I think it’s safe to say that Zetterberg will play a significant portion of the season as Detroit’s first line LW, but we know that Babcock isn’t opposed to splitting them up.
Datsyuk will almost undoubtedly stay as the team’s number one center all season as well. The magician is far too talented to be demoted at this point in his career. The question will be who plays on the right side of the dynamic duo. So many coaches are going for constant pairs in their lines, while cycling the third man to find someone that works. We know that Abdelkader works well with these two, but there’s a good chance we see Franzen, Nyquist, Jurco and even Tatar on this wing at some point during the season. We’ll leave Abdelkader there for now, for the space he creates for Z and Dats to create plays.
Nyquist – Weiss – Franzen
Not only is Gustav Nyquist a fantastic player for the Wings, he is also incredibly versatile. He is listed as playing both wings, and played a fair amount of center for the Wings last season as well. Nyquist put up 48 points in 57 games last year, good for 3rd in team scoring with, only 1 point behind Kronwall and Alfredsson. Nyquist also scored those points in 11 less games than Alfredsson and is 17 years his junior. I imagine that Nyquist will start at the LW2 position this season.
The Stephen Weiss hasn’t exactly gotten off to a hot start for the Wings. With a $4.9 million cap hit, Wings fan expected a lot more than 26 games for the 31 year old center. On top of that, they definitely expected more than four points out of the former Florida Panther. There is a chance that he rebounds this season and puts up at least 40 points, something that he has done every season except for one (in which he played only 17 games) since 2006. If Weiss continues to struggle this season, I would expect Babcock to shuffle this line once again, and possibly demote Weiss to the 4th line as he did in the 2013-2014 season. If that is the case, there is a good chance that Nyquist moves to center and Tatar or (less likely) Andersson moves into the LW2 spot.
On the right side, the Mule will hold down the fort. Franzen had 41 points in an injury shortened 54 game season, and showed that he can still hang in the Top 6. As a net crasher, Franzen creates opportunities for guys like Nyquist to look incredible. It would make lots of sense for Babcock to keep Franzen with some younger players, especially a countryman like Nyquist. Should Franzen move up a line, and Abdelkader moves down past the second line, consider Tatar the man to move up.
I’m Osgood’s Bucket. Keep your stick on the ice.