Across the internet writers are asking the question “Why won’t anyone sign in Detroit this year?” that questions is pretty easy to answer even from the outside. The problem is getting the answer through to the inside. While Anton Stralman, Brad Richards and the rest of this years UFA class aren’t guys who are going to reshape a franchise, they all have the ability to be difference makers.

One of the other things that all these players are is heady. Whatever Brad Richards might have been seven or eight years ago, he isn’t a who relies on pure athleticism to earn his ice time. Anton Stralman’s game came into its own as he learned to use his body, position it, and read plays at the level of an NHL defenseman expected to contribute for twenty plus minutes a night. Christian Ehrhoff was just bought out, but still took a one year deal with a contender who is going through a makeover with coach, general manage and significant roster turnover rather than go play in the more stable Detroit organization.

The two word answer to why no free agents signed there this year is; Daniel Alfredsson. Not because anyone thinks he’s a bad guy. Not because he’s impossible to play with, or even because they think he’s going to get too much ice time. The reason is simply what he represents. The Red Wings are still acting as if he is still a viable top six forward who can be a nightly difference maker. Alfredsson isn’t the only guy who the front office is seeing a five years younger version of instead of they player they actually have. While admittedly Lidstrom was a different case, anyone who thinks he was close to the pinnacle of his powers in his last three years in Detroit is invited to leave the narcotics alone and enjoy a long, careful detox.

Alfredsson hasn’t cracked 60 points in the last four seasons. In the past five seasons he’s missed 62 regular season games, he’s got tremendous heart, he’s a natural leader but what he isn’t is someone you should be waiting upon to decide the future of your franchise. Mike Ilitch and everyone on down in the organization have their head turned over their shoulder looking back at the past greatness of the the team as a whole, fragile star Henrik Zetterberg, fading superstar Pavel Datsyuk and the rest of the roster are not fit to challenge for the Cup. The current roster is slightly less than half as talented as the last one to win a cup more than half a decade and hundreds of man-games lost to injury ago.

The Red Wings are as myopic is the Buffalo Sabres were three years ago. They should know better, they’ve seen great teams far, far more recently.Why aren’t free agents signing in Detroit? That answer really is simple, they want to win in the future not live in the past.

The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

The San Jose Sharks ended last year the way they do almost every season. They showed lots of flash and polish, but eventually ended up disappointing everyone on the ice and in the corner office. They made the playoffs, and swept the Vancouver Canucks, then went to the mat with the Los Angeles Kings. Patrick Marleau was again smothered, failing to register a single point in the final five games against the Kings. Logan Couture didn’t tally a single goal in the final three games of that second round series, and Niemi did all that could be expected of him giving up more than two goals in the series just once. Per usual, Joe Thornton got too much blame and little to no credit.

Then the off season came, and went. No major changes. The forward additions are Tyler Kennedy and possibly one of the half hundred young and unknown quantities like Tomas Hertl, Freddie Hamitlon, or James Livingston. The long anticipated breakup of the team core never happened. At least part of that is due to the contracts or performances making players unmovable. A new backup goalie will need to emerged as Thomas Greiss has vacated the scene.

The first five games of the Sharks season will be very interesting. They meet up with the Vancouver Canucks and their new coach John Tortorella  twice, Raffi Torres, Thomas Greiss and the Phoenix Coyotes, and then play host to the Daniel Alfredsson-less but Bobby Ryan enriched Ottawa Senators.  With four of their first fist-full at home and no back to backs, they have a good shot at swimming to the front of the division early.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 2

Best opponent: New York Rangers

Weakest opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Home games: 4

Projected points: 7

With three of their opening five games against teams with new head coaches, the Sharks have the chance to jump on teams not quite used to a new system. The team has been in “win now” mode for at least the last half decade, it is time to produce or get off the pot. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle are all on contracts that expire at the end of the season. As things stand today, they are slightly over the salary cap so an early season, or late preseason trade if one or two of the younger players push someone out the door isn’t out of the question. They have the tools to have a good regular season, but that hasn’t been in doubt for many years.

The 2012-13 season had highs, lows and surprising blows. Sidney Crosby jumped out of the gate and pounced on the scoring lead. Then out of no where a puck breaks his jaw and puts him on the shelf. Elder statesmen Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz led the way appearing in all 48 games while Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all missed extended stretches. When all was said and done, with their backup goaltender turning in better stats, the Penguins were the eastern conference champions when the final regular season game was played.

The playoffs saw the Penguins escape the New York Islanders in the first round, no thanks to Marc-Andre Fluery who allowed 17 goals in 5 games and turned in his second worst playoff performance. Thankfully, there was Tomas Vokoun. In eleven games, and making his first playoff appearance since his long ago days with the Nashville Predators, Vokoun won six games, carrying the team through the second round against a depleted Ottawa Senators squad and holding the fort in what would prove to be Daniel Alfredsson’s last game in a Senators jersey. Against the Boston Bruins, Vokoun was the most blameless of the teams top players as they were swept out.

Of the core components to start last season, all are returning. None of the playoff reinforcements remain, and a mistake that was made in years past was corrected, Rob Scuderi is back in Pittsburgh. The opening five games of the season represent a chance to jump out on top of their division against not very stiff competition. Not one of their first five games is against a team that made the playoffs last year. The only set of back to backs is the last pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. All five of their opening games are also in the eastern time zone.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7+

There are several big questions looming over the team despite their undeniable collective talent. Will the Sochi Olympics cost the team any players lost to injury or fatigue? How much of a distraction will head coach Dan Bylsma’s Olympic coaching duties distract from his job as behind the bench in Pittsburgh? Will the teams official player leaders develop their leadership to a point where Ray Shero won’t feel the urge to bring in two other teams captains to help right the ship for the playoffs? And of course, when the playoffs start, will the team remember how to play in both ends of the ice? Getting to the playoffs is almost a given, even with two more playoff quality teams in the East is almost a given, but recent playoff failures raise the question of their exact nature of their mental fortitude.

Injuries were the definition and demise of the Ottawa Senators season 2012-13 season. Players who made it through the regular season healthy were as rare as honest politicians. Scoring was perhaps even rarer with only three players crossing the ten goal mark and a 27th place finish in goal for. As bright spots go, aside from unexpected depth at goaltending, there wasn’t much to speak of. Certainly, when you consider that half the games were played not by starter Craig Anderson but by two backups it is safe to say none of the shine on this season would require you to shade your eyes.

The off season saw the aging face of the Senators Daniel Alfredsson leave in a huff for a team just across the border.  General Manager Bryan Murray brought in the long scapegoated Bobby Ryan in exchange for depth. Arguably if the Senators had managed to massage Alfredsson’s ego enough to get him to stay the team would have had the most offensive depth it had seen in at least half a decade. But for now, this team belongs to Craig Anderson, Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Cory Conacher, and whomever else can carve themselves a piece of the pie. Among the most curious moves of the NHL off season was the signing of Joe Corvo, even at the rate he’s signed for, there are better uses for money.

The regular season opens with the Senators on a six game road trip. The Buffalo Sabres are the first team they will try to beat on the road, then fellow Ontario team the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that a tour of California, facing the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and finally a home coming for Bobby Ryan in Anaheim to drop the puck against the Ducks. Four out of five made the playoffs last year, and two back to backs will keep things lively for Paul MacLean and company.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 0

Projected points: 4+

October does not have a pretty schedule in store for the Ottawa Senators. That said, many coaches like early road trips as both a bonding aid, and a way of eliminating home life distractions. Paul MacLean is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and while most of the team is the same as last year, the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership will make a difference. If the team manages to find time to sign Jared Cowen and return him to the line up, Cowen, Eric Gryba, and Patrick Weircioch can apply those hard earned lessons from last season and go about making up for the defensive deficiencies of the offense only Erik Karlsson.

Last season’s Red Wings had to live with the reality of a Lidstrom-less existence. It showed more in their finishing 21st in goals for than other parts of their game. Datsyuk and Zetterberg put in heroic efforts over the shortened season that the two aging stars may or may not be able to duplicate in a full season. Jimmy Howard turned in a career year for GAA and nearly matching his previous best sv% as well. The Red Wing’s in the standings swung back and forth like a pendulum, bringing them back and forth from 11th to 4th and finally coming to rest with them in 7th place. In the opening round of the playoffs they squared off against the Anaheim Ducks, and quickly fell behind. The Ducks proved unable to put them away and then take the eventual Cup winners to seven games.

In the off season they added the soon to be 41 year old Daniel Alfredsson and former Florida Panther Stephen Weiss. They’ve also gotten their wish to shift from the west to the east. The travel schedule may be more brutal in the west, but the physicality of hockey isn’t quite the same. The Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will all happily throw the body at a prodigious rate and there are other teams not far behind. To open the season, the Wings make themselves known to their new conference rivals interrupted only by a clash with the Coyotes. Opening night will have them hosting the Buffalo Sabres before packing up for Raleigh and a date with the Carolina Hurricanes. On the backend of a Friday/Saturday set on the road they face the new look Boston Bruins, before going home to the Coyotes and Flyers.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

Alfredsson is quoted as saying going to Detroit was a selfish move because he wanted to win. Given the lack of difference overall in quality between his old franchise and new one, we’ll have to see how well that works out. The Olympics could also trip this team up. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will undoubtedly get tapped for their national teams, and Ericsson and Kronwall would be unsurprising choices as well, there is even a chance Alfredsson gets to pull on the national jersey one more time. What that means is almost all their best player could have extra strain, wear and tear, injuries and travel time or illness before the second half.

Realignment has stirred the pot and the results in this division are curious at best. The big idea is clearly to draw fans into the arenas of all of the NHL’s second and third tier teams. In this case however, six of the teams are sorta close to each other, and the other two are at the other end of the continent. The shattering of the leagues second worst division brings the Florida Panthers and their Sunshine State companions the Tampa Bay Lightning into a division with all five members of the old Northeast division and a escapee of the former central division the Detroit Red Wings.

Boston: We know the Bruins would not have moved on from Tyler Seguin if they’d won the Cup this season, or if he’d actually shown up in games on a consistent basis. We know Iginla and Chiarelli are going to feel the heat if former Flames captain starts off with his usual October anemic start. We know who plays on the teams third line, and for that matter where Daniel Paille plays are questions that will be asked again and again all season long.

Buffalo: We know the first post Lindy Ruff season will not be same old same old. We know the team still hasn’t named a captain. We know that at least on paper it is hard to call this a better roster than last years. We know the hope that Tallinder will help turn Myers around might just be all that has kept Darcy Regier employed. We know that any 23 man roster that can find room for John Scott isn’t likely to be playing in May.

Detroit: We know that with their move east and the alleviated travel burden some of the older players might have better than expected seasons. We know that its likely Daniel Alfredsson will not get warm second, third and fourth visits to his old team. We know this team isn’t significantly better than it was last season, and that it is playing in a tougher division and conference than last year. We know that Lidstrom’s jersey retirement is likely to be nearly as lengthy and mind numbing as if the Habs were retiring a number.

Florida: We know that adding Steven Pinizzotto, Jesse Winchester, Scott Gomez, Bobby Butler, and Joey Crabb to a team does not constitute a significant upgrade of NHL talent regardless of where you finished in the NHL standings the previous year. We know they are hoping one or two prospects surprise the this year by earning a roster spot in camp. We know that with this roster we’re as likely to hear loud, boisterous fans of the visiting team in Sunrise as we are fans of the Panthers.

Montreal: We know the core of this roster should be better than it was last year in the playoffs, even allowing for injuries. We know that whatever tension there is in the locker room, most notably between a certain pair of long time forwards and an unnamed defenseman carries over to the ice and hurts the team. We know this team would be much better with a backup goalie who can be expected to play well in twenty or even twenty five games a year. We know Briere as a part of the package is probably the best improvement for the teams playoff chances they could have added. We know Emelin should go back to hitting and playing physically in exactly the manner he made a name for himself in, perhaps with one or two exceptions.

Ottawa: We know that Daniel Alfredsson will likely be cheered when he first takes the ice as a member of the Red Wings, and soundly booed after that. We know that if Jason Spezza ever wants to build a legacy for himself in Ottawa now is the time. We know that the team is better than it was last year by adding Ryan’s health, allowing for maturation of Zibanejad, Cowen, and Weircioch, even if they did bring back Joe Corvo. We know that Anderson is likely off to the Olympics in Sochi.

Tampa Bay: We know someone other than Steve Yzerman knows what he is doing, what we don’t is if anyone understands what he is doing. We know the best way to describe the teams defense would be Hedman, aging, aged, fragile and unknown. We know there are 157 inches of question mark in net, those inches answer to the names of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. We know that even with 5 NHL seasons to his name, including a run to the eastern conference finals, there are only four younger forwards on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster than Steven Stamkos.

Toronto: We know the off season deck chair shuffling didn’t address the teams major issues; resiliency, defensive coherence. We know Joe Colborne is unlikely to contribute as much in any zone as Grabovski, and certainly won’t be as much of an impact player overall. We know Phil Kessel will probably continue to light up Tuukka Rask as he couldn’t Tim Thomas. We that someday Leafs fans will get a general manager who can build a winner, won’t they?

 This is a feature that will run about every two weeks (during the regular season)with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
The off season’s changes restack the decks for teams and make forecasting each season equal parts intriguing and infuriating. With the NHL draft and the bulk of NHL free agent signings done, we have a passable idea who 15 or more of the names penciled into the opening night lineup of each team will be.
Players:
  • … that Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Senators, and not go to one of the top contenders at the deadline but to the once again division rival Detroit Red Wings in free agency, even knowing Bobby Ryan was being traded to the Sens.
  • … that of Simon Gagne, Nathan Horton, and Rick Dipietro, right winger Nathan Horton would be the one set to begin their season late due to major injury.
  • … over two weeks into free agency Thomas Hickey and Dustin Penner would be signed to NHL deals and Mikhail Grabovski would not.
  • Matt Duchene who has won nothing, would sign a contract for more than Dustin Brown who has his name on the Cup.
  • … Tuukka Rask who coughed up a lead in the dying minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game seven would sign a contract making him the highest paid goalie in the NHL.
  • … Seth Jones would actually get passed on by three different general managers at the NHL entry draft.
  • Tyler Seguin‘s twitter problems and eviction from the Boston Bruins locker room to the Dallas Star’s would be eclipsed so quickly by the exit of Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • … Sam Gagner would be headed towards arbitration with the Edmonton Oilers who has only been their best center the last four seasons.

Teams:

  • … on July 22nd the Columbus Blue Jackets would have the 8th highest cap hit of an NHL team.
  • … after years of saying that Jonathan Bernier was a big part of their team for years and years the Los Angeles Kings would trade him for an unproven Ben Scrivens, and a fringe NHL’er in Matt Frattin.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would be retaining portions of two salaries, and have bought out two new players in addition to the ones they entered the year having b
  • ought out recently and the general manager who did all four of those things would still have a job.
  • … the Colorado Avalanche’s off season accomplishments would include, passing on a consensus franchise defenseman at the draft, waiving the defenseman who lead their team in TOI last season, and only ‘improving’ their defense with the importation of Cory Sarich.
  • … The Winnipeg Jets, a Canadian team, who have the most cap space would also have the most players elect arbitration.
  • … that with the additions of Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov and the addition by subtraction of others the Edmonton Oilers would have the NHL’s most improved blueline.