NHL season preview: Detroit Red Wings best-case, worst-case, and likeliest scenarios

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Detroit Red Wings, once thought to be impervious to missing the playoffs, hit the ground last season … hard. Beset by aging stars, a goaltending dip and a seemingly endless string of bad loyalty contracts for role players, it may be some time before we see them make the postseason again. Here’s a quick reminder of what the Atlantic Division probabilities look like for this upcoming year.

Yes, the Wings have some nice, young pieces on the wings in the top-nine and Zetterberg is Zetterberg, but the rest is just yikes. Let’s take a look at a projected lineup with numbers from last season.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: You know what … I’m not even going to indulge this.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The Red Wings goaltending completely fails them this season – a distinct possibility – the defence continues to struggle and the team finishes in a lottery position (only to lose?).

LIKELY SCENARIO: This team, in this division, isn’t making the playoffs, and even expecting a bubble wild card threat is probably asking too much at this point. While the top-six has potential, assuming old man Zetterberg can stay healthy for the full season, the defence is pretty much irredeemable and likely to drag the rest of the group down. Outside of Mike Green, there’s almost nobody on the back end who carries the puck all that well and contributes in a meaningful way to the offence, and, unfortunately, Green’s possession numbers are fairly trashy.

What’ll likely separate this season from being a total embarrassment to just a garden variety disappointment is the goaltending, and here’s where things get really interesting. Both netminders had an out-of-character performance last year. When Jimmy Howard wasn’t injured, he posted sparkling numbers, but how likely is that to continue? Unless you believe he suddenly joined the league’s elite at age 33 with a .927 save percentage in a small sample size, you might be inclined to believe this season will see a return to the kinds of numbers he posted the previous three years: .910, .910, .906.

If that happens, everything will come down to Petr Mrazek, who had just an atrocious year and earned himself unprotected status in the expansion draft this summer. Unlike Howard, Mrazek’s numbers, if they’re to return to career norms, should inch their way back toward league average or above. The grumbling out of Detroit that Mrazek wasn’t much of a team player or willing to do the work last season are a continual cause for concern, however.

Regardless, this is going to be a long season in the Motor City.

(File photo of Henrik Zetterberg by Adam Glanzman, Wikimedia Commons)

James Gordon is publisher of HockeyMarkets.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/James_J_Gordon or befriend him on Facebook here.