The Central division is one of the hardest to predict.
Not only do the two teams that should be at the top have some of the most prolific offenses in the leauge (Detroit and Chicago), but it's almost impossible to discount the St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, or Nashville Predators because they each have the pieces to be competitive.
Then there's also the fact that all they seem to do is sign from each other.
Detroit Red Wings
2008/09 Record: 51-21-10, 112 points, second in West—Lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in Stanley Cup Final.
Additions: Todd Bertuzzi—F (1 year/$1.5 mil), Patrick Eaves—F (1 year/$500K), Jason Williams—F (1 year/$1.5 mil), Andy Delmore—D (FA), Doug Janik—D (FA).
Subtractions: Jiri Hudler—F (Europe), Marian Hossa—F (FA), Ty Conklin—G (FA), Tomas Kopecky—F (FA), Mikael Samuelsson—F (FA).
The Detroit Red Wings are continually a threat.
Every year there are whispers about whether this will be the year that the Wings lose a step and fall toward the realm of the mortal. Although there was no big departure (We’ll get to Marian Hossa) over the offseason, the Wings may simply fall victim to the constantly-improving Chicago Blackhawks.
Another Cup Final, Another Team for Marian Hossa…
Here’s the reason why Marian Hossa isn’t that big of a loss for the Detroit Red Wings: They won the Stanley Cup the year before without him.
Simply put, Hossa was a bonus—an unneeded extremity—last season, much like pecans and peanuts on an ice cream sundae or a female escort that lets you “shake her hand” for no extra charge.
And no, that didn’t cross a line.
The reason why Hossa is such a bonus is because of two of the best two-way forwards in the game: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Datsyuk consistently can put up a 30-goal/60-assist season while staying in contention for the Selke Trophy and Zetterberg has world-class finishing ability that was simply clipped by a stiff back last season.
“The Mule,” Johan Franzen, augments that offensive attack headlined by Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Coming in to last season, Franzen had to prove that his big goal-scoring streak from the 2008 playoffs was no fluke an that it could transfer over into the regular season.
Not only did Franzen carry that scoring streak over, potting his first 30-goal campaign, but his stellar postseason play continued as well.
The big concern around Franzen is going to be his longevity. He’s the kind of guy that’ll push his way through the end boards for the end result, and he suffered through a few minor, yet nagging, injuries last year.
From there, the Wings usually rely on players that pass through the radars of many other teams.
Both Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams were seemingly afterthoughts as free agents this offseason as many teams outright ignored them. The Wings, though, are hoping that both former-Wings can bring their familiarity with the system and the city to the franchise and put it to good use.
Both players have seen their careers go off the tracks just a little bit, but with the way coach Mike Babcock mixes his lines up, each will see some time along a variety of talented players—both aforementioned and those we have yet to get to.
While all the attention was paid to Fabian Brunnstrom last year, Ville Leino went unnoticed when he signed with Detroit, but may pan out better than Brunnstrom. The Finn had nine points in 13 games and can dish the puck anywhere at will, as his skills have proved to be transferable to the Noth American game.
Then you have to consider that the depth at center shrouds Valteri Filppula, but he’s already had a productive goal-scoring season (19 in 2007-'08) and play-making season (28 assists in 2008-'09). If Filppula can combine the potential of both of those seasons (and if he plays alongside Leino, he could) he’ll be a big proponent in replacing the lost offense of Hossa.
While the Wings have the finesse down the sides, they also have grit and sand paper. Both Tomas Holmstrom and Daniel Cleary can produce (especially if Cleary replicates the playoffs: 15 points in 23 games) and agitate, while Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby are still good grinders despite being on the high side of 35.
After that, there are a bunch of low-risk, high-reward players like Patrick Eaves, Jeremy Williams, and Kris Newbury, while Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm have gained outstanding experience with the Wings during their past two Stanley Cup Finals runs and have proven they belong in the NHL.
Os-Good as it gets?
Many are wondering who is going to be splitting time with Chris Osgood this season.
Dan Cloutier was invited to training camp, but you have to wonder how good he could be as he hasn’t played in the NHL since an injury-plagued 2007-'08, while Jimmy Howard has just nine games of NHL experience.
That means that Osgood could be seeing his largest load of games since 2003, when he played in 67 games for the St Louis Blues.
While Osgood was outstanding in the playoffs for Detroit the past two seasons, the 2008-'09 regular season had fans less-than-convinced on him heading in to the playoffs as he posted the worst regular season stats of his career.
The Wings were fortunate enough last year to have Ty Conklin to rely on as Conklin provided the Wings with a great tandem option. This year, I’m not convinced that Dan Cloutier can provide that.
I do have high hopes for Jimmy Howard—I'm simply tentative to put two feet firmly on a boat with just nine games of NHL experience.
Try Keeping a Lid on This…
To say that you think of anyone other than Nik Lidstrom when you think of post-Steve Yzerman Detroit might be sheer lunacy. A consistent contender for the Norris Trophy and one of just a few defensemen in the league who would be worthy of a Hart Memorial nomination, Lidstrom is the most consistent and intelligent defenseman money can buy.
The two men after him on the depth chart have learned from two of the best, but get lost in the shuffle when you look at big threes and fours in the NHL.
While Brian Rafalski played alongside Hall-of-Famer and heavy hitter Scott Stevens in New Jersey, his offensive game really opened up in Detroit (he had 44 goals in seven seasons in New Jersey, but 23 in just two Detroit seasons).
His skating ability and intelligence on the ice (due in large part to the smart, responsible systems he learned from in Jersey) are second to none, making him an ideal number two defenseman.
Then you have Niklas Kronwall, who learned from Lidstrom himself. In his time in Detroit, Kronwall’s positioning and instincts have vastly improved, while it’ll be interesting to see if Kronwall’s offensive explosion last year (a 16-point improvement) is for real or not.
While the three aforementioned defenders rely on intelligence and mobility to effectively dodge and dismantle the opposition’s offensive attacks, there is a little size as well in Brad Stuart. Although he doesn’t use it consistently, Stuart does bring a little bit of everything to the game, as he’s also put up a few points during his time.
Following that top four, you get in to the simple strength that the Wings displayed with their forwards: depth.
Wings fans will have their eyes on Andreas Lilja to start the season, gauging to see if the 34-year-old will be at full strength and effectiveness after missing the remainder of last year with a concussion. After that, super rookie Jonathan Ericsson slid in seamlessly during the playoffs last year, and could very well snag a spot from veteran journeymen Doug Janik and Andy Delmore or Brett Lebda.
Speaking of scratching and clawing for a spot, the same can be said for Derek Meech and Jakub Kindl, who have the abilities to play in the NHL, they just have to squeeze out the time, while many have very high hopes for Kindl as soon as this year.
Thenagain, if Meech, Kindl, and Ericsson can prove that they’re the more talented options that the Wings should be going with, Babcock has proven that he has no problem going with effectiveness over experience.
So What’s It All Mean…
Scoring? Bah. The Red Wings won’t have scoring trouble.
Sure, losing the 71 points of Marian Hossa hurts, while the absences of Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, and Jiri Hudler will be noticeable at first, but the replacements that the Red Wings are looking at deploying have the talent and smarts that this franchise covets.
The big question this season is in the crease. There’s no reliable option (unless Jimmy Howard proves otherwise) behind Chris Osgood, and Osgood is going to have to prove that he isn’t just reserved to turning it on for just the playoffs.
If Osgood can turn in a solid effort for 60 games or Howard and Cloutier do in fact surprise, the Wings should have a handle on first place.
That’s the key, however, because if Osgood turns in a year like last year and there's no additional help, the Wings will slide a bit.
Predicted Finish: Second in Central.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.