A noteworthy milestone and an era came to an end in April for the Detroit Red Wings, who will open the 2017-18 season — and Little Caesars Arena — against the visiting Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. The new venue could be the main attraction this season for the Red Wings, who had their 25-season playoff run halted in April.
“The new arena looks amazing, even on the ice, from the players’ view,” forward Tomas Tatar told the Detroit Free Press. “I think people will enjoy it a lot. It’s great to be here. We can’t be more happy.” The Red Wings, who played nearly 40 years at venerable Joe Louis Arena, struggled in all areas last season and barely avoiding finishing in last place in the Atlantic Division. Conversely, the Wild set a franchise record for wins (49) last season but were drummed out of the playoffs in the first round for the third time in five years, prompting coach Bruce Boudreau’s “Good Isn’t Good Enough” mantra. “Because we’re always good,” said Boudreau. “We want to strive to be better than good. We want to be great. ... We have a team that’s built to win.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. NBC Sports Network
ABOUT THE WILD (2016-17: 49-25-8, 2nd in Central Division): Minnesota possesses a solid blend of strong veteran leadership and young emerging talent, with nine players producing at least 40 points last season and five collecting between 56 and 69 points. Leading scorer Mikael Granland established career bests with 26 goals and 43 assists and is part of a No. 2 line featuring captain Mikko Koivu (58 points) and Jason Zucker (47 points). Zach Parise’s back woes are a concern on the top unit, which received a combined 53 goals from Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter, while offseason acquisitions Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Matt Cullen add depth to the lineup. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon head a defensive corps that lost Marco Scandella to a trade while goaltender Devan Dubnyk is coming off a career-best 40-win campaign.
ABOUT THE RED WINGS (2016-17: 33-36-13, 7th in Atlantic Division): One obvious trouble spot for Detroit is an offense that ranked 26th in the league last season, with captain Henrik Zetterberg (68) the only player to surpass 50 points and Tatar (25) the only 20-goal scorer. The punchless attack was exacerbated by the woes at the other end of the ice — Petr Mrazek stumbled badly with an 18-21-9 record and woeful 3.04 goals-against average and has fallen behind 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, who posted a 2.10 GAA during an injury-plagued campaign. Defenseman Trevor Daley was the lone offseason addition of note and joins a blue-line corps that includes longtime stalwart Niklas Kronwall, who’s playing on creaky knees. Detroit needs to get third-year center Dylan Larkin to show the offensive promise of his 2015-16 rookie season.
1. Parise will miss at least the first two games of the season, general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
2. Red Wings F Andreas Athanasiou, an 18-goal scorer last season, remains unsigned and is mulling playing in Europe.
3. Minnesota signed F Daniel Winnik to a one-year contract on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Wild 3, Red Wings 2