TRAVERSE CITY — A year ago there were a lot of questions surrounding the Detroit Red Wings defense.
Those questions arose when longtime captain Nicklas Lidstrom retired after an illustrious career and Brad Stuart was sent to the San Jose Sharks.
A year later, the unknowns about the Wings’ back line appear gone, helped by a young core of defensemen who gained valuable experience and played well when thrown into the fire during the team’s run to a 22nd straight playoff appearance that included a first-round series victory over Anaheim.
In less than a year, Detroit went from asking who was going to fill the open spots in the lineup to wondering how the Red Wings are going to find playing time for all these blue-liners?
Jakob Kindl, Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith are all back in the mix, as is Brian Lashoff. Each player, while under the age of 27, has stabilized a unit that finished last season ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against. They join more experienced veterans in Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey to form a strong and capable group.
“We’re excited about the potential of the defense because last year when our season was on the line the last 11 games of the year I think we gave up something like 14 goals in regulation or overtime,” said Wings general manager Ken Holland. “They really buckled down. Obviously, Kronner is in his 30s and everyone else is in their 20s so we’re hoping it’s a defense that can continue to evolve and get better and better.”
Detroit showed the faith it had in its young group by re-signing Kindl to a 4-year, $9.6M deal and Smith to a 2-year, $2.525M deal.
“I knew I was never going to take Lidstrom’s spot, or Stuey’s spot or Kronwall’s spot,” said Kindl, Detroit’s top pick in the 2005 draft. “All of the sudden the door opened last year, Nick retiring, Stuey moving to San Jose and the next thing you know you look at our back end and we’re such young guys.”