Expect the Red Wings playoff streak to end this season, especially if they don't start giving more ice time to their best players.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 5th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 32-1
Key additions: Frans Nielsen, C; Thomas Vanek, LW; Steve Ott, C
Key departures: Pavel Datsyuk, C; Brad Richards, C; Kyle Quincey, D; Joakim Andersson, C
-Does the playoff streak end this year? Yes, 25 years will be the capper. The Red Wings have simply lost too much top-end talent the past few years, and Pavel Datsyuk’s Russian retirement surely seals their fate. Without Datsyuk, Detroit returns just one player who tallied more than 45 points last year: captain Henrik Zetterberg (a team-leading 50 points). Thomas Vanek sure isn’t going to move mountains, and Frans Nielsen’s impact will be more in the two-way department. Plus, Tomas Jurco may start the season on the shelf while recovering from a back injury – and he was a guy they needed to make a leap this year.
-Who will be the most effective defenseman? With Niklas Kronwall’s career on the wrong side of a tipping point, it might be Danny DeKeyser. The Red Wings had incredibly stratified usage when it came to their blueline last year, and DeKeyser played the toughest minutes of all. Second place went to Kyle Quincey, but he’s gone. At least one more salvageable season from Kronwall would go a very long way, but he already has a knee problem that kept him from the World Cup.
-What can we expect from Dylan Larkin? Continued ascent, for sure. Larkin labored in the second half of his rookie campaign, and coming off one year in college (where the game schedule is light) may have been a factor. But now the splendid young center knows what to expect, and the speed he used as jet fuel during all-star weekend festivities will be used even more effectively thanks to a full summer of training. Once Larkin really takes hold, he’s the offensive heir apparent to the outgoing Zetterberg/Datsyuk alliance.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
This team was once the model franchise, but they’ve been in a serious tailspin over the past few seasons, and with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, continuing their playoff streak will be a tall order.
The biggest issue in Detroit is minute distribution. Too much ice-time is given to guys who don’t really help the team and not enough is given to their best players.
Last season, Luke Glendening averaged 14:34 minutes per game while Tomas Tatar averaged 14:21. Some might argue that Tatar wasn’t producing enough to earn more minutes (what’s Glendening’s excuse?), but his 5-on-5 points per 60 stayed constant from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 season and his primary points per 60 actually increased. He’s also one of the team’s best play drivers. Glendening doesn’t produce or drive play, but somehow earned more ice-time. That simply shouldn’t be happening.
That’s not all. Gustav Nyquist, one of the team’s best offensive threats, was getting middle-six ice-time while Justin Abdelkader, a third-liner on any other team, got first line minutes. On defense, Brendan Smith was the team’s 6th or 7th D-man on most nights, despite being the team’s best play-driving D-man. That possession ability translated into the team’s highest 5-on-5 goals percentage, but who cares about goals, right?
Here’s a simple experiment showcasing just how inefficient Detroit’s lineup structuring is. Let’s pretend every team gave their best players (according to this model) the most ice-time and their worst the least. Their best player would get an average No. 1 forward ice-time, their second best an average No. 2 and so on. This would create an “optimal” lineup according to Game Score, with the difference between their actual lineup showing how efficient it is.
Here are the results of that (which don’t factor if a 13th forward or 7th D-man are better than someone else in the lineup). Detroit is last. By a lot.
This model is by no means perfect, but if you’ve been tracking each of these previews you’d see it generally does a decent job of valuing the best players on each team. That’s not to say this is how every lineup should be constructed, there’s other things to consider like chemistry, fatigue and effort level. But when a team is as inefficient as the Red Wings, it’s definitely a problem worth looking into.
Detroit likely doesn’t make the playoffs this year, and if their ice-time deployment is anything like last year’s they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Up next: Nashville Predators
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