DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs this past spring for the first time in 25 seasons.
They finished the season with a 33-36-13 record and just 79 points. There are several areas of the team's game to blame, but perhaps their biggest problem was simply scoring goals due to a lack of shots on goal. The Red Wings finished the season 26th overall in goals for and 5th overall in goals against. They averaged just 28.5 shots on goal a game, which was 25th in the NHL.
Detroit will enter the 2017-18 season with its corps group still in tact. General Manager Ken Holland is reluctant to tear it all down and is opting to continue using a build-on-the-fly strategy.
If the Red Wings want any chance at a better record this season, these five players absolutely need to improve their game:
Abdelkader, 30, is a leader on this team. He was injured this past season and never seemed to recover, scoring just 7 goals and 14 assists through 64 games played. That's a significant production decrease from the previous two seasons in which he scored 44 and 42 points.
Abdelkader is most effective as a physical two-way forward who can wear-down some of the opposition's top talent and go to the net hard. If he's healthy, expect a 20-goal season from him. He's now heading into his 10th professional season, and the Red Wings cannot afford to have him not producing at a high level.
DeKeyser, 27, played his 4th full season with the Red Wings last year and statistically speaking it was his worst to date. He finished the season with 4 goals, 8 assists and a forgettable -22 rating.
He likely will pair up with Mike Green or Trevor Daley this season who both like to rush the puck. If DeKeyser isn't going to be an offensive threat from the blue line, then he absolutely needs to lock it down and become much tougher to beat in his own end. He averaged about 22 minutes of ice time this past season, second only to Green. The Red Wings can't afford to have a top pairing defenseman post a -22 rating and just 12 points through 82 games.
DeKeyser signed a six-year deal worth $30 million with the Red Wings last year. He needs to work out.
After a stellar rookie season with 23 goals and 22 assists, Larkin regressed to 17 goals and 15 assists this past season. More alarming was his -28 rating. He cannot be a defensive liability, especially if he's going to be lining up at center this season.
Nyquist, 27, had a better season than the other four players listed here. He had 48 points in 76 games, which isn't terrible on a team that struggled so much to score. However, Nyquist needs to score at least 20 goals a season and post somewhere in the range of 60-70 points if the Red Wings consider him a top-line winger.
Remember, two years ago he had back-to-back seasons in which he scored 28 and 27 goals. While his vision for the game has him racking up the assists, Nyquist's goal scoring problem has hit the Red Wings hard as the team overall suffers from a lack of pucks in the opposition's net.
He's still a strong forward who plays both ends of the ice, but he needs to hit another level and help dig this team out of its goal-scoring rut.
Sheahan, 25, nearly went the entire season without scoring a goal. He finished the year with 2 goals and 11 assists in 80 games. He may not be on this team to score a ton of goals, but if he's a real 3rd-line center he needs to at least be getting into the double digits in both goals and assists.
Again, the Red Wings can't afford to be dishing out ice time to guys who aren't a scoring threat when given the opportunity. Sheahan had 109 shots on goal -- that's a 1.8 shooting percentage.
Meanwhile, it's Sheahan's lack of strong two-way play that's really frustrating. His -29 rating was the worst on the team. That's unacceptable for a center who is supposed to be more defensive-minded.
At this point, Sheahan has not performed close to the expectations the Red Wings had for him when he was picked 21st overall in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Maybe his role needs to change.
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