With the Detroit Red Wings finally knowing their 2013-14 season schedule after the NHL released it on Friday afternoon, it is time to take a look at some must-see games and put out a few predictions for the upcoming year.
Detroit is in the Eastern Conference and (what will be a little bit of a culture shock for some) will play just 28 games against Western Conference teams in the regular season in 2013-14.
Red Wings' fans will have quite a few highlighted games on the schedule. Here are some must-see games as well as season predictions.
October 2 vs. Buffalo Sabres: The Red Wings open up their standing in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the latest NHL team expansion in the late 1990s. No better team to get it started against than a new division rival in the Buffalo Sabres.
November 4 at Winnipeg Jets: The Red Wings visit the Winnipeg Jets for the first time since Winnipeg got their hockey team back. Detroit hosted Winnipeg last year, but never played last season due to the inter-conference schedule.
November 7 vs. Dallas Stars: The Red Wings welcome back former Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill's Dallas Stars to Detroit for the only Stars visit of the season. Nill did not hesitate in his quest to make Dallas into a contender, making a flurry of moves in the offseason.
November 9 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Red Wings welcome back Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman to the Joe Louis Arena for the first time in two hockey seasons. Detroit will also be looking to make an example out of Valtteri Filppula who signed in Tampa Bay for a bigger paycheck.
December 1 at Ottawa Senators: No one in the hockey world would have blinked an eye at this game before Daniel Alfredsson signed with Detroit during free agency. Now this game should be circled on everyone's calendars as the first time Alfredsson will play against the Sens in his career.
January 1 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: The 2014 NHL Winter Classic features not only Original Six teams, but now division rivals as well. If Original Six teams and division rivals playing outside doesn't mean anything to fans, perhaps the fact that the game is being played outside at Michigan Stadium (with more than 110,000 in attendance) will draw attention.
January 12 vs. Chicago Blackhawks: The Red Wings were the only team to take the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks past six games in a playoff series, putting the champs on the ropes, forcing them to win three straight elimination games. This will be their first game since that series and first game as non-rivals.
The Red Wings have seven new division rivals to contend with next season.
To sum it up, as NHL.com does in their 2013-14 season summary, the Red Wings are now playing in what was the "Northeast division" last year. Those five teams will be added to Detroit, Tampa Bay and the Florida Panthers to form the new "Atlantic" division, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com.
The Bruins represented the Eastern Conference in the 2013 NHL playoffs, but their road to the Finals wasn't easy, as the Toronto Maple Leafs gave them everything they could handle in the first round.
The Montreal Canadiens had the best record in the Northeast division last year, finishing as the No. 2 seed before losing in the first round to the Ottawa Senators.
The Ottawa Senators could creep into the playoff picture as they added Bobby Ryan in the offseason, but will still need to find more offense before consistently challenging the Red Wings, Bruins, Leafs and Canadiens for a playoff spot in the updated conference.
The Red Wings will face a far less travel intense schedule than this past season's inter-conference schedule, but they will still have their fare share of tough stretches of games this season.
December 21 - January 16: Detroit plays a tough stretch of 10 games where they play two "home games" but just one of those games is actually at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit plays at Toronto, home to New York Islanders, on the road against Florida and Nashville, at home against Toronto (although that game is at Michigan Stadium) and then a five-game road trip with games in Dallas, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and against the New York Rangers.
Detroit plays seven of their next eight at home after that, but the long road trip combined with the Winter Classic and a trip back across the continental USA from Anaheim to New York and the Red Wings are going to be a tired bunch after that January 16 game at Madison Square Garden.
Projected Eastern Conference Finish: Fourth place.
Despite finishing just seventh in the Western Conference, the Red Wings showed that they are a better than average team with their playoff run last season.
This offseason Detroit added some key pieces in Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. While it is yet to be seen how these two players will impact the team, the focus for the Red Wings will be on adjusting to Eastern Conference hockey.
Detroit will also be trying out some more younger players in more prominent roles this season if Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar all make Detroit's NHL roster.
While the Red Wings avoided playing in the same division as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and other potentially bruising or high-scoring teams, the Red Wings still have to play against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs several times a year.
This year will not be a walk in the park, but the Red Wings should see their playoff streak extended to 23 seasons, barring massive long-term, catastrophic injuries to key players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall or Jimmy Howard.