DETROIT — After the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1989-90, one might have expected major changes before the 2017-18 campaign.
Instead, the Wings opted to go with just minor tweaks, insisting that last season was just a blip on the radar and not an indication of an emerging downward trend.
“We definitely feel we have the talent in here,” Detroit forward Frans Nielsen said. “There is some really high-end talent. We just have to all come together.”
When the Wings open the brand new Little Caesars Arena on Thursday playing host to the Minnesota Wild, just three players will be on the roster who didn’t play for the team last season — defenseman Trevor Daley and forward/defenseman Luke Witkowski, both free-agent additions, and forward Martin Frk, who led Detroit’s AHL Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins with 27 goals last season.
“We pretty much have the same team as last year,” Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “There’s not many additions or changes.”
Ericsson believes a turnaround for the Wings will come from changing their approach, as opposed to changing their personnel.
“We’ve got to find that feeling where we know we can win every game, even when we’re down a goal,” Ericsson said.
The Wings were 4-12 last season in one-goal games.
“Last year, it was like you kind of knew in the third period that we were going to lose the lead,” he said.
Missing in action will be restricted free agent forward Andreas Athanasiou, holding out in a contract dispute. He was second on the team last season with 18 goals.
His absence opened the door for Frk. The Wings are hopeful Frk’s booming slapshot will help spark a moribund power play that ended up 27th overall last season at 15.1 percent.
Detroit will also need to adapt quickly to its new rink. The Wings were a mediocre 17-17-7 in their farewell season at Joe Louis Arena.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable for last season and make sure we’re doing the right things to put ourselves in a good spot at the end of the year,” Detroit defenseman Mike Green said.
The Wild will also be coming into the season off a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, but it was another quick postseason exit, a first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues that left a bitter taste, and not the regular season, which saw Minnesota finish second in the Central Division with 106 points.
They will be missing forward Zach Parise, who is recovering from a back injury. He’s expected to be out the first two games of the season. On Wednesday, the Wild signed veteran forward Daniel Winnik, who’d been in camp on a pro tryout.
Other new faces include forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, as well as free agent forward Matt Cullen, signed after winning the Stanley Cup last spring with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau anticipates that the Wings will be a fired-up bunch.
“Anytime you open a new building with the history they have, the team is going to be jacked up pretty high, so we better be ready from the get-go,” Boudreau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They’ll be ready to play, and we better be ready as well.”
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