Sunday, March 02, 2008

Detroit's AHL Defence

The Detroit Red Wings got off to a good start this season and were clearly the best team in the first half of the NHL season. They played so well that I wrote a post calling them the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup, but things have not gone so well lately. Though they still are in first place, they have only won one of their last eleven games (during that stretch they have two regulation ties giving them a 1-8-2 record). Many pundits are now picking the revamped Anaheim Ducks, who have added Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer as the current cup favorites. While Anaheim has played very well lately with a 10-1 record in their last eleven games, it is too early to count out Detroit because they have an easily explainable short term reason for their problems.

Detroit has not won because their defence is full of injuries and many of the player currently playing large amounts of icetime are AHL players. Currently injured Detroit defencemen include Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios. Niklas Kronwall returned for their last game, but it was his first game played in a month. This has led to Detroit relying on a lacklustre group of defencemen including Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, Andreas Lilja, Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson and Garret Stafford. Many of them are AHL defencemen. This is a far cry from Detroit's normal defence and is arguably the worst defence corps that any team in the NHL is playing.

Obviously, when the normal Detroit players return from injury, things should get better. Detroit also added Brad Stuart from Los Angeles in a trade deadline deal. He gives the Wings another option who is NHL ready. It's hard to compete when the top four defenders on your team (Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall and Chelios) are hurt simultaneously. If Detroit's defence gets healthy again, this team should be as good as they were in the first half of the season. This will allow them to better compete with Anaheim.

It is a rare situation where a team can be in first place overall and have the worst record in the league in recent games. Detroit has achieved both. Their recent problems are due to an injury depleted defence. It is a problem that will likely be solved before long. When that happens, look for Detroit to start to win again.

Meech could be a top 6 or top 4 defenceman in the next few years, I believe, if he is given the chance. However, you are right, there certainly isn't enough depth with Grand Rapids to be able to fill the losses.

Hopefully Stuart can be more helpful then he was to Calgary.
I've said it to anyone that will listen (and annoyed many in the process =P)... Nicklas Lidstrom, assuming he comes back within the next couple of weeks and continues at the level of play he's performed at so far this year, should win the MVP.

It bothers me that you never even hear anyone talk about him for the Hart this year. Exactly how fantastic does a defenseman have to be to at least warrant mention?
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