If I do end up writing Red Wings report cards, Justin Abdelkader would have to lean hard on my version of a “curve”–throwing out the fact that he’s signed to a ridiculous 4-year deal at $4.25 million per season–to get a passing grade, because there’s just no way that Abdelkader, 31, could possibly earn that salary without becoming a 20-goal-scorer.
All of that being said, I genuinely believe that Abdelkader’s 2017-18 campaign was his best in terms of consistency, effort and positive effects upon the Wings’ game both on and off the ice. He’s adjusted to the weight of the alternate captain’s “A” on his jersey, and more nights than not, he’s the Wings’ only physical presence in front of the net.
When he was placed on a checking line with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm, the trio was competent–and again, ridiculously-compensated–but still competent as a shut-down line.
All in all, I’ve got few complaints with Abdelkader’s play, and as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, for better or worse, Abdelkader is going to form part of the Wings’ leadership core going forward:
Abdelkader rebounded from a disappointing 2016-17 season in which he only played 64 games due to injuries, posting a career-low (for a non-lockout season) 21 points, with only seven goals and 14 assists.
Abdelkader had 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 75 games this season, with four power-play goals (and nine points), and played in a variety of roles.
Always a physical player, Abdelkader was credited with a team-high 174 hits.
“That’s probably his greatest strength, the ability to play in a lot of different situations,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He can play in a shutdown role. He can be a complementary winger. A net-front presence. He brings physicality. He’s got good skill, he can play the power play. He can penalty kill. He definitely has that type of versatility and that’s important to have on a team.”
Going forward, as Blashill and his coaching staff incorporate a more pronounced hard-charging, north-south, forechecking style of play into the Red Wings’ style, a player such as Abelkader will become increasingly valuable.
The Red Wings became that kind of team, gradually, this season, and Abdelkader sensed that from the Red Wings, and many other teams around the NHL.
“The game is changing, for sure,” Abdelkader said. “Most teams are playing that north-south game, so you have to be to be skating, forechecking, and getting pucks back. We’ve done a pretty good job, but you have to make sure you’re being strong at those lines, especially your defensive blue line and their offensive blue line. You have to make sure you’re not turning pucks over.”
Kulfan continues, and again, Abdelkader is one of the Wings’ players for whom compensation is above-market-value, but he is at least trying to give the Wings bang for their buck, and for that, I give him due credit.
Justin Abdelkader has been named as the #RedWings King Clancy Memorial Trophy Nominee for his accomplishments in the community.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 23, 2018