DETROIT – The Red Wings have a dilemma that needs to be resolved by next Monday afternoon. General manager Ken Holland must find a way to trim three forwards from the roster just to be salary cap compliant.
For a player like Gustav Nyquist this week is his last chance to convince the coaching staff that he should start the season in Detroit, not Grand Rapids.
“One week left until we get down to the final roster,” Nyquist said. “You want to put your best foot forward to make the team and earn as much ice time as possible. You have to be an every-dayer to play here and we all know that, so that’s what we’re going to try to do in the last week.”
Nyquist isn’t alone. The Swedish forward is battling veteran wingers Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo for a role on this team. However, Nyquist is the easiest player to move. He can be sent down to the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate without clearing waivers.
The Red Wings open the regular-season next Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena. It’s expected that the team will carry 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies on the roster.
Holland and the Wings’ coaching staff will have a difficult time deciding who makes this year’s 23-man roster. The team took 17 pro-caliber forwards to training camp knowing that only 14 jobs would exist by the time the season started.
Nyquist has used training camp and the exhibition games to make his case to remain in Detroit.
“Camp is about showing the coaching staff what you have out there and how well you can play,” Nyquist said. “You can’t have one or two good games. You have to keep going and play all of the games; they’re still watching. I mean, this last week is going to be big for a lot of us forwards. We’re still three too many, so we’re all going to try to work as hard as possible and show them that you want to be on this team.”
However, injuries to several key players could create openings for others to break into the opening night roster. Darren Helm, (lower back, groin) remains out indefinitely, Patrick Eaves (MCL, ankle) and Jonas Gustavsson (groin) are 2-4 weeks from returning to the lineup, and Jakub Kindl (hip flexor), Daniel Alfredsson (groin) and Tootoo (bruised shoulder) are day to day.
Nyquist could make the team by default, but his focus remains on preparing for the season and getting in sync with his linemates during the last three preseason games.
“They’re still going to try different combos and watch how you do with the different guys that they put you out there with and in different situations. This is camp,” he said. “We know we have too many forwards and we’re all trying to take a spot. Everyone wants to play, obviously, so I think (the coaches) are going to try different combos this week to see who matches with who.”
The Red Wings still have 29 players in camp and expect to take a look at all of them at least once more in the final three exhibition games against new Eastern Conference opponents Pittsburgh and Toronto.
“I'd like everyone to be healthy and playing but that's not reality,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We're going to get as many guys going at a high enough level as we can.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY – vs. PITTSBURGH (1-2-1): Marc-Andre Fleury will be counted on to carry the load for the Penguins more than ever now that backup goalie Tomas Vokoun underwent surgery over the weekend to remove blood clots from his pelvis. Fleury has been mediocre at best recently, which is evident of his lackluster performance in the playoffs last spring. Detroit native Jeff Zatkoff has moved up the depth chart and will back up Fleury indefinitely as Vokoun’s return is still unknown.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Left winger Jussi Jokinen is making a push to start the season on the second-line alongside center Evgeni Malkin and right winger James Neal. With the uncertainty of Sidney Crosby’s health, the Penguins acquired the versatile forward from Carolina at last season’s trade deadline. A former 30-goal scorer, the Penguins gave the 30-year-old a one-year contract worth $2.1 million in hopes he can kick-start his career and become a valuable asset on Pittsburgh’s second power-play unit. Jokinen collected a natural hat trick in a preseason game last week.
FRIDAY – vs. TORONTO (4-0-1): Not sure if the David Clarkston, Phil Kessel and Jonathan Bernier will be joining the Maple Leafs in Detroit. The three Leafs received misconduct penalties for their involvement in a third-period flash point that ignited a line brawl with the Sabres on Sunday night.
PLAYER TO WATCH: A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks, center David Bolland could play a more prominent role with the Maple Leafs than he did in Chicago. Depending on his line assignment – Bolland could be the Leafs’ second line center replacing Nazem Kadri – he could receive a boost in the statistical categories. Bolland produced back to back 37-point seasons before last year’s Stanley Cup run with the Blackhawks. However, Bolland missed both games against Buffalo over the weekend with a groin injury. He has also seen exhibition time on the third line with Jay McClement and Nikolai Kulemin.
SATURDAY – at TORONTO (4-0-1): The Maple Leafs believe they have a goaltending tandem that can take them on a run playoff run this season. Reflecting on James Reimer's development over the past year and Toronto's acquisition of former Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs’ future looks bright in the crease. The two goalies appear to be in a tight battle for playing time this season, but Reimer wasn’t surprised that the club went out and acquired a veteran to create competition between the pipes. “First and foremost we wear the same jersey, so you're a good guy, you're a good teammate and you look out for your teammates,” Reimer told TSN.ca. “Aside from that, both of us are going to want to be the starter and definitely I want to keep that and want to be the guy for our team and be the guy that wins us a Cup.”
PLAYER TO WATCH: Captain Dion Phaneuf has been a significant part of the Maple Leafs’ defense as a big-minute player for the last 3 ½ seasons. The eight-year veteran is entering the final year of his contract. He can become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. There will be plenty of outside interest in Phaneuf who has tremendous offensive instincts and a booming shot from the point. It also appears that Leafs general manager Dave Nonis is will to listen to offers for any player, including Phaneuf, though both sides seem committed to continuing a long-term relationship. “Obviously Dion is a core part of our team," Nonis told NHL.com. “He's fit well into Toronto and our group and there's no reason to think he won't be here for the long run.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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