Although the Detroit Red Wings were unable to break the Chicago Blackhawks’ impressive winning streak on Sunday, the Wings continued to play consistent and competitive hockey. The standings may not show it, but the Wings have finally looked competent on the blue line and are getting contributions from role players on the third and fourth lines. The most notable contributions have been from Tomas Tatar, Brian Lashoff and Joakim Andersson, rookies that are only getting playing time in Detroit because of the rash of injuries that have taken place over the first two months of the season.
In professional sports, fringe players often have only one or two chances to prove themselves worthy of sticking on a roster. Anderssson, Lashoff and Tatar are making their cases that they deserve to stay in Hockeytown. The problem facing head coach Mike Babcock will be: Who will get left off the starting roster when injured players start getting healthy?
It’s pretty obvious that Lashoff isn’t going anywhere. At times this season, he has looked like the Wings’ best defensive option. He has been solid with the puck by limiting turnovers and has even seen more than 20 minutes of ice time in a few games last month. Upper management have taken notice by rewarding Lashoff with a three-year contract. What happens up front is a bit more cloudy as we approach the homestretch of this season. Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Valteri Filppula and Darren Helm are all too good to get left off the roster, and all are expected back before the end of the regular season.
So which players are in danger of losing a spot on this team? Filppula and Helm appear to be between one and two weeks away from returning barring any setbacks, so for the sake of argument, let’s try and figure out the two players currently on the roster that will lose their spots.
These are the players that would be in danger of losing their spot: Tatar, Andersson, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Justin Abdelkader, Jordin Tootoo and Cory Emmerton.
To me, Tatar is the safest of all of these players. His flashes of skill and his new found role on the secondary power play unit have solidified his spot on the roster.
Here’s an example of Tatar’s skill on display in a game against Saint Louis last month.
Andersson hasn’t been as impressive as Tatar, but his size and chemistry with Tatar would make it difficult for him to get sent back to Grand Rapids. Emmerton has been effective as a penalty killer but may be expendable if Helm returns to form.
I believe the player that’s in the most trouble of losing his spot is Abdelkader. He has made several critical turnovers, taken some questionable penalties and hasn’t been able to find the net, even when paired with play-maker extraordinaire Pavel Datsyuk. In fact, Abdelkader has a team-worst -6 in +/-, and has zero goals and only one assist in 22 games. His run in Detroit may be approaching an end.
The Red Wings have a chance to make a move in the standings over the next two weeks. Their next six games are against the four worst teams in the Western Conference. It will be interesting to see if the rookies continue to make their case to stay in Hockeytown as the Wings try and position themselves to make a 22nd consecutive playoffs.