With the Detroit Red Wings set to return to the ice as soon as Wednesday, and games set to begin as early as January 15, questions about the team’s lineup will soon be answered.
On defense, things are pretty well set. Brendan Smith will make the jump from the Grand Rapids and newcomer Carlo Colaiacovo, will battle with Jakub Kindl for a spot on the third pairing when he returns from an injury suffered while playing for Canada in the Spengler Cup. Brian Lashoff may get a look as the seventh defenseman while Colaiacovo is out but that’s really the only question mark.
In the crease, Jimmy Howard is the established starter and Jonas Gustavsson will be his backup. Joey MacDonald is on a one-way contract and not likely bound for Grand Rapids as Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum have things locked down there. In all likelihood, Ken Holland will look to deal MacDonald in what little time he has before the start of the season.
Up front, however, things are much less certain.
The Red Wings will likely carry 14 forwards for the season, though they could go with 15 while Colaiacovo is injured. Patrick Eaves remains sidelined by post-concussion symptoms but even without him, the team has 16 NHL-ready forwards signed.
You can assume that everyone who had a job last year will be back, minus the likely-to-retire Tomas Holmstrom. This means that Justin Abdelkader, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Cory Emmerton, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Jan Mursak, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo and Henrik Zetterberg have the inside track. That’s 13 skaters right there.
Then you’ve got Damien Brunner, who’s never played in North America but developed remarkable chemistry with Zetterberg while the pair played in Switzerland during the lockout. Based on that chemistry alone, you’d have to think he gets a shot in Detroit, which puts the team at the 14 they’re likely to carry but doesn’t account for the possibility of Eaves’ return.
On top of that is Gustav Nyquist, who showed he was NHL-ready last season and currently leads the Griffins in scoring.
My guess, and I hate to say it, is that Nyquist ends up staying in Grand Rapids. Jan Mursak will be the expendable forward if Eaves comes back, waived or traded to make room. We’ll see what happens in the next week.