Second-Tier Players Killing Detroit Red Wings

By James Taylor III
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It has been one of the most challenging and frustrating seasons in a long time for the Detroit Red Wings, as injuries and the departure of key players have shaken up the normally-stable franchise.

While the Wings top players like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard have done what is expected from them, the secondary group of players have been killing the Red Wings.

Injuries have slowed down some of the Wings’ second-tier players, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of production for a team that needs all hands on deck to make the playoffs.

Johan Franzen has dealt with consistency issues throughout his career, and this season has been no different. The Mule has been huge for the Wings during their postseason runs, but his regular seasons have been a series of peaks and valleys. Franzen missed seven games this season with a hip flexor injury, but has returned and is playing on a line with Zetterberg and pleasant surprise Damien Brunner.

Franzen has only three goals in 15 games, and his play has been uninspiring to say the least. He has been loafing around the ice and hasn’t been responsible enough in his own end. Franzen is making just under $4 million per season, good for the fourth-highest contract on the Wings.

Thus, considering Franzen is one of the top-paid players on the Wings, he needs to start playing like it. Franzen is viewed as one of the Wings’ top scorers, but his three goals and 8.3 percent shooting percentage aren’t going to cut it.

Like Franzen, Valtteri Filppula was also supposed to step up and be an offensive leader this season. Playing aside the likes of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Brunner, Filppula has been anything but impressive.

Filppula has only 10 points on the season and is now out with an injured shoulder. After career-highs of 66 points and a plus-18 last season, Filppula has regressed this season. Like Franzen, Filppula has scored some big playoff goals, but if he doesn’t find his game soon, there may be no playoffs this season to partake in. Filppula is projected to register a mere 24 points this season, so he needs to step it up as soon as he returns from his shoulder injury.

Another huge culprit for the Wings’ woes is the play of Dan Cleary. After an injury-riddled season last year, Cleary is healthy for the first time in awhile. However, that hasn’t translated into success on the ice, as Cleary has seven points and is a minus-3 in 22 games.

Most alarming about Cleary’s lack of production is that he has received plenty of playing time, and has been put on the second line with Datsyuk. Considering Cleary has been playing with an offensive genius like Datsyuk, his lack of production is very alarming.

Another player who is floundering despite being given a golden opportunity is Justin Abdelkader. Normally a third-line player at best, Abdelkader has been bumped up to the second line after injuries to Franzen, Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi. Nobody expected Abdelkader to lead the team in scoring, but he has only one point in 22 games. This was a huge chance for Abdelkader as he is seeing increased ice time while playing with a talent like Datsyuk for the first time in his career.

He has proceeded to basically waste this opportunity, as his one point and minus-6 indicates. If and when the Wings get healthy, Abdelkader will be relegated to third or fourth line minutes as he hasn’t stepped up when the Wings have needed him the most.

It has been tough for Wings’ fans to watch a player of Datsyuk’s caliber play on a line with hacks like Cleary and Abdelkader. It’s like watching a world-class chef cook with Spam, as Datsyuk’s skill is basically being wasted playing with inferior linemates.

Thus, with so many injuries and underachieving players, the pressure on Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Brunner to shoulder the majority of the scoring continues to be too high. Despite strong performances from the Wings’ offensive leaders, the team is ranked 17th in goals per game, which speaks to the lack of production from the rest of the team.

If the Wings second-tier players don’t find their game in a timely fashion, their impressive playoff streak may come to a screeching halt.


Follow James on Twitter @JT3Sticks

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