NHL Central Preview: Detroit Red Wings

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NHL Central Preview: Detroit Red Wings
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings are mad. They did not win the Stanley Cup and failed to fulfill Marian Hossa's wish, which lead to his departure. Teams in the Central should take notice that this team will be hungry once again and has only reloaded once again.


Previous Season:

The Red Wings finished last season with a record of 51-21-10, which was good for 112 points and the second seed in the Western Conference behind the regular season juggernaut of San Jose.

The Wings made it back to the Stanley Cup Finals and once again faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, only this time the Wings had Hossa. But the Pens had learned from the year before and took it to the Wings. While the series went seven games it seemed like destiny that Pittsburgh would win. 

Marian Hossa lead Detroit with 40 goals, six ahead of Johan "The Mule" Franzen. Pavel Datsyuk continued his mastery of the puck by putting up 97 points (32 goals and 65 assists).


Offseason:

With the re-signings of Franzen and Filppula the Wings did not have much money to throw around at free agents. Therefore it was inevitable that Marian Hossa would look for greener pastures. Hossa signed a 12-year deal in Chicago and he wasn't the only one to leave Hockeytown.

Ty Conklin jetted for division rival St. Louis, Tomas Kopecky joined Hossa in Chicago, and Mikael Samuelsson left for Vancouver.

The Wings did bring back Todd Bertuzzi, as well as adding depth at froward by bringing in Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves. Veteran goaltender Dan Cloutier was invited to training camp to push youngster Jimmy Howard into the backup spot.

What was surprising was the inability to bring in another defenseman to help the aging Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski.


Key Games:

Detroit has three different sets of five-game road trips this season. The most important will be January 31 through February 9. The trip will take them to Pittsburgh for a Cup rematch, through a West Coast trip and will wrap up in St. Louis.

The longest homestand will only be four games (November 12-November 20) which will not help the Wings better their home record from last year of 27-9-5. The travel that this team will have to endure could really affect the play of their young players.

Three of the first four games of the season are very noteworthy games if not very important.

October 2 and 3 Detroit and St. Louis square off in Stockholm for NHL Opening Weekend. With eight players from Sweeden on their roster it should be like two home games for Detroit.

October 10 the Wings welcome Alex Ovechkin to the Joe in what most people hope is a Stanley Cup preview. Even early in the season this game should be really exciting and have almost a playoff atmosphere.

December 23 could be the game in which Detroit fans get to "welcome" back Marian Hossa. It will be very interesting to see if Hossa gets the same reaction he got when he went back to Pittsburgh this past year.

Detroit wraps up the regular season with seven of the last 10 games against interdivisonal opponents. These games could determine seeding and playoff spots for the entire division.


Players to Watch:

Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk was three points away from a 100 point season. Can he break through and reach that almost impossible barrier? Also will he be able to stay injury-free the whole season?

Ville Leino: After the success of internal players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Franzen, can Leino be the next surprise? In 13 games last season Leino had five goals and four assists while recording a +5 rating.

Johnathon Ericsson, Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja: These three will be fighting for the final defensemen spot for much of the season. With aging vets headlining this team they may get more playing time if injuries crop up.

Jimmy Howard: Will this year finally be the year Howard cracks the top two? After many years of looking up at Chris Osgood, Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, and Ty Conklin Howard should be the backup this season. Can he handle it, though, is the main question.


Prediction:

With the only significant loss being Hossa, the Red Wings are poised to make another run this season. While it is only logical for them to take a step back, it also is logical for it not to be a big step. With the amped up competition in the Central it looks like it could be a shootout all the way to the end.

With Chicago occupying the top spot in the division the Wings will fall right in line behind them finishing with a 44-26-12 record and another 100 point season.

Do not be surprised to see this team in the Finals once again this year. This team is fighting mad and they will not take rejection for an answer again.

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