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This is the time of year when a team’s lineup takes shape, as players compete for a roster spot and minutes.
That’s the subject of this Detroit Red Wings mailbag. Reader Marty H. wants to know, “When do you think next season will start and what’s the opening night lineup going to look like?”
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The NHL is targeting a December first start to the 2020-21 season, but that’s a fluid situation because of the pandemic. The league no doubt will observe how the NFL does with limited-capacity attendance and evaluate whether it can do the same. Pushing the start date to Jan. 1 — which commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league is willing to do — means the regular season would end July 5.
Training camps, for now, are slated to start in mid-November; the Wings will hold theirs at Little Caesars Arena, but plan to return to Traverse City in 2021. It will be an interesting time, as there are multiple openings — some of which general manager Steve Yzerman will need to address via free agency or trades.
Jonathan Bernier is the only NHL-caliber goaltender under contract, and he certainly earned the right to start the season as the No. 1 guy after his performance the past season. From Dec. 15 to the last game on March 10, Bernier posted a .915 save percentage in 25 games. He started 23 of those games, coming into to relieve Jimmy Howard in the last two games Howard started.
Yzerman signed Calvin Pickard during the 2019 offseason to have as a reserve in case of injury, but Pickard allowed 15 goals in the three appearances he made with the Wings, and Eric Comrie likewise wasn’t able to grab the backup job when he was afforded the opportunity last December.
On defense, I think Moritz Seider will be in the lineup on opening night. The 19-year-old defenseman is currently with his former team, Adler Mannheim in Germany, part of a group of Wings loaned to European teams until the NHL gives the go-ahead on camps. Seider did well playing for the Griffins last season, and would have been called up to play a few games had the pandemic not interfered. Danny DeKeyser or Patrik Nemeth can serve as his partner, with Filip Hronek completing the top four.
Gustav Lindstrom showed he can play a safe, dependable game. So did veteran Alex Biega, who Yzerman acquired last October in a trade with Vancouver, flipping underachieving prospect David Pope. Those are front-runners to form the third pair, though Madison Bowey, if he is re-signed, should challenge for one of the spots.
Dennis Cholowski started last season with the Wings but he didn’t make a strong impression and finished in the minors. His fate may be partially determined by whether minor leagues are operational, which they aren’t likely to be without fan attendance.
Up front, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi have excellent chemistry to man the top line. Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina can provide offense on the second line, likely with Valtteri Filppula in the center.
Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Adam Erne could form a good shutdown line — Glendening and Helm are two of the fastest skaters on the team, and Erne adds a dose of physicality.
That leaves Frans Nielsen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Dmytro Timashov, Justin Abdelkader, Michael Rasmussen, Christoffer Ehn, Givani Smith and Mathias Brome to battle for the fourth line and reserve spots.
Svechnikov is no longer waiver exempt, so he’ll have a spot on the roster — but he needs to prove he should be in the lineup. Rasmussen’s situation depends on whether he can command a spot at the center position, as that’s where the Wings see him playing longterm. Same with Joe Veleno, and again, the uncertainty regarding the AHL will be a factor.
Abdelkader doesn’t provide much offense any more (19 points in 71 games in 2018-19; three assists in 49 games last season) and he has three years left on his contract, making a buyout prohibitive. Under normal circumstances he’s vulnerable to being placed on waivers (clearing a roster spot and roughly one million in salary cap space), but the pandemic might not make that feasible.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Detroit Red Wings will be published in October by Triumph Books. To preorder, go to Amazon.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings 2020-21 opening lineup: Our predictions