The Detroit Red Wings' preseason is fully underway. They have played over half of their exhibition schedule and inch closer to their regular-season start on October 2.
After a busy offseason, what are five questions leading into this season?
Can Daniel Alfredsson continue to play at a high level?
Daniel Alfredsson signed with the team over the summer. It was the most shocking free-agent move in the NHL. It was assumed that the longtime captain of the Ottawa Senators would either retire or re-sign with them.
When he came to Detroit he admitted it was in an effort to chase the Stanley Cup that he has yet to win.
Alfredsson will turn 41 during the season. While the Red Wings do have a history of having players this old still be productive, it is still a risk.
While Alfredsson has been able to play at a high level over the past couple of seasons, the end is near. When players at this age start to decline, it usually happens very quickly. Alfredsson has set the bar pretty high in his career; the team hopes that he still has another year in him.
He and the team are betting their Stanley Cup dreams on each other.
Can Darren Helm stay healthy and shine?
The past couple of seasons, Darren Helm is often picked as a potential breakout player. He has improved but still does not score up to his potential.
He only played one game last season due to injury and is still battling nagging injuries. His absence allowed for players such as Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson to shine.
While his position is safe to start the season, he will need to show that he can live up to his potential. The team really missed him on the penalty kill last season. There are younger players who, if given the chance, could take over his playing time.
Does Jimmy Howard join the elite goalies?
Jimmy Howard has been among the league leaders in several goalie stats for a few seasons. Yet, when it comes time to talk about the best goalies in the game, he just misses that elite list.
There is no doubt that he is a very good goalie. But it does not ever seem like he is looked at as someone who is expected to really shut down an opponent. He tends to be a goalie who is looked at as one who will keep his team in the game but not really steal one.
He signed a contract extension last year that shows the team believes that he can be an elite goalie. While he is close, taking that next small step will only help this team get better. It will relieve the pressure on the rest of the team if the players know that their goalie can stop it all.
How will the East move affect them?
The biggest change this season will be the move to the Eastern Conference. They will now reside in the Atlantic Division along with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The team will still play Western Conference teams as the NHL will be going to a balanced schedule. Much to the relief of Red Wings fans, this will mean less late night games.
There tends to be a belief that there is a difference between the two conferences, but that is more mental than anything. Over the past 10 seasons, each conference has had five Stanley Cup wins. This is not like baseball where the rules are different between the two sides.
Also with as many players that move around, the idea of there being a major difference between the two just is not there. Instead, it is just who happens to have the better team(s) that year.
With that said, there will be one difference. The Eastern Conference has two more teams than the Western Conference, which means it will be harder for Eastern Conference teams to make the playoffs. This will affect the bottom-tier teams fighting for a spot and really should not bother the Wings.
Will they win it all?
Of course the biggest question entering every season is if the team can win the Stanley Cup? Unlike last year, where it was obvious that the team was not close, there is hope for this season.
The team made great strides last season and shocked most by falling only one game short of the conference final.
They should be able to build on that success, and the addition of Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss should greatly help.
They still should not be the favorites on anyone’s list; however, they should be among the main contenders.