1) When should the next captain be announced, if at all?
I've already written extensively and definitively about who the next Red Wings captain will be. The major changes that have happened since I wrote that, in terms of Red Wings personnel, is Brad Stuart left and the Red Wings didn't sign Parise, Suter, Semin or trade for Nash. None of the players the Red Wings signed in the off-season are worthy of challenging any current Red Wings for any leadership role.
So do you stitch the C to Zetterberg's uniform in this partial season, and how soon do you do it? Personally, I don't see any reason why not to make that decision and announce the choice. While you don't need a captain, it's a good thing to have. It creates a focal point of leadership, a source of trust and respect, and hopefully can help elevate the overall team play.
Zetterberg is a talented, dedicated, charismatic and respected player and person. He was involved in some of the meetings during the CBA negotiations and spoke to the media about it. He played stupendously overseas during the lockout and developed a great relationship with Damien Brunner.
When to make the announcement exactly should be determined by what exactly the schedule ends up looking like. If the Wings' first game is at home, make it just before that game. If they're going to be away, make it before games start. Certainly, I think the announcement shouldn't come until the team has come together in total for official meetings and practices.
2) When should Nicklas Lidstrom's number be retired?
It's a foregone conclusion that The Perfect Human's number will join the likes of Yzerman and Howe in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena (and the future homes of the Red Wings). However, prior to the lockout, you had any number of possibilities. You could have a ceremony on the home opener. You could have it on your first home game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team who Nick Lidstrom started his professional NHL career against. You could fold it into the Winter Classic celebrations.
Now you can't exactly do any of that, at least not in the same way. The Winter Classic this year is gone, although the Wings' first home opener scheduled for the 17th, it's against Vancouver. And the first game against the Blackhawks isn't until February 13th. And all of that is based on the assumption that the schedule won't change at all.
All of that feels kind of hallow, anyway. I mean, it won't feel like the start of hockey the same way it would have felt had we had a pre-season, and had the season started back in October. There's also a coin flip of how it'll make fans feel. On the one hand, after a half-season lockout, the fans may need a positive, emotional lift, watching their beloved captain's jersey raise to the rafters with honor and respect. On the other hand, after a half-season lockout, do Red Wings fans really want to be reminded that Lidstrom won't be on our blue line?
So the question becomes: do you wait until next season, so you have a lot more options and let the emotions of lockout subside, or do you raise it soon, to honor the man who gave the Red Wings 20 perfect seasons and use his legacy to help lift this team into the next era?
As the writer of a blog whose namesake is an homage to Lidstrom, I believe it's up to me to answer this question. I say you wait. You let this partial season go by, and you plan an amazing, home opener ceremony for the 2013-2014 season. Doing it this partial season wouldn't be an insult to Lidstrom's legacy, but it wouldn't pay it to proper respect.
3) Which prospects should play, if at all, and how much?
The Grand Rapids Griffins have put together an excellent season, especially in the wake of there being no NHL hockey. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are putting up very solid seasons, Brendan Smith is playing very well on the back end, and Petr Mrazek is living up the hype in net. Damien Brunner, as mentioned, is also tearing it up overseas with Henrik Zetterberg.
Also earning respect and attention, Landon Ferraro, Francis Pare, Joakim Andersson as forwards and Nathan Paetsch and Brian Lashoff on defense.
The Red Wings actually could really benefit from the shortened season. To be honest, as much as I would love to see the streak continue, and as much as I don't want to see the Red Wings miss the playoffs, if they're going to do it, then now is the time to do it. You've got some older players who are starting to decline (or will soon), you've got a shortened season where hockey is going to be sloppy and sub-par, and you've got a lot of prospects who are in desperate need of NHL experience in order to become the next group of talented Red Wings.
Now is the time to play a lot of these guys. If we miss the playoffs in this shortened season while getting these guys time in the NHL, when everyone is misfiring because of the lockout, then I will be unhappily comfortable with that. The Red Wings won't necessarily feel the pressure of a full season to keep aging veterans in. Although they may instead feel the pressure of a shortened season to play aging veterans because they're "better"
Gustav Nyquist has to get the call. He's a restricted free agent, has had a great year in Grand Rapids, and has already demonstrated great ability and compatability with the Red Wings in the NHL. You have to find out right now if he's going to be a future Red Wing, or if you're going to let him go for draft picks due to RFA. Brendan Smith also has to get the call, for a lot of the same reasons, but also because you are thin at defense and are desperately in need of new talent. With Carlos Colaiacovo out with an injury, Smith has to get his debut now.
Damien Brunner was already tapped by Mike Babcock to be a top 6 forward, and his play with Zetterberg overseas seals that deal.
Those three players have to be full time Red Wings this season. Tomas Tatar has to be the first guy you call in the event that anyone is even slightly injured or ill. I don't know if I would completely pillage the Griffins roster, because they are a hockey team themselves and they need their talent to win hockey games, too. However, if the injury bug hits, or if the Red Wings decide that this is going to be the Year of the Prospect, I'll be interested to see guys like Tatar, Ferraro, Paetsch and Lashoff in the NHL.