The Detroit Red Wings had one of the best teams in hockey in 2008-2009. They had four elite forwards in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and Johan Franzen, along with top defensemen Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. This year, not so much.
The Wings lost Hossa along with other key players to free agency, and they did not have enough salary cap to sign many replacements. Along with that, they lost Johan Franzen to a torn ACL.
Not their year? No way. The Wings intend to dominate with whoever they do have. They signed Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams to help replace the veterans they lost and they have a couple rookies to call on as well.
Anyone heard of Darren Helm, Ville Leino, and Justin Abdelkader? They only played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Final last year as the Wings took on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second year in a row.
But they didn't have much of an effect on the game, right? Wrong! Helm scored the goal that won the Conference Final, and Abdelkader scored the first two goals of the Stanley Cup Final.
As for Leino, he is probably the best of the three. He has potential to be as good as Zetterberg or Datsyuk. He is a reason not to worry. If Leino gets a good amount of playing time, he will be a key player on the team.
So the question is how does this Red Wings team matchup against last year's? Here are last year's lines:
1. Holmstrom - Datsyuk - Hossa
2. Cleary - Zetterberg - Franzen
3. Hudler - Filppula - Samuelsson
4. Maltby - Draper - Kopecky
Mike Babcock enjoyed being able to split up Zetterberg and Datsyuk because it gave him two top lines. Before Franzen got hurt, he was doing things that way again, but now things have changed.
1. Zetterberg - Datsyuk - Holmstrom/Cleary
2. Leino - Filppula - Cleary/Holmstrom
3. Bertuzzi - Helm - Williams
4. Maltby - Abdelkader - Draper
Patrick Eaves and Brad May are mixed in the fourth line as well.
The second line was the third line to start, but moved up when Franzen got hurt. They will be a big part of the team. It shows how much depth the Wings actually have—they had a third line that is as good as a second line.
Mike Babcock thinks that Filppula, who is the center of that line, is a huge part of the team and he has a lot of potential to get better with an expanded role. If everyone does their part, they will still be a dangerous offense.
The defense hasn't changed much except for the addition of rookie Jonathan Ericsson. He played on the top line in the playoffs while there were injuries keeping other players out. The lines look like this:
1. Rafalski - Lidstrom
2. Stuart - Kronwall
3. Lebda - Ericsson
These three lines are solid defensively and they can shoot the puck. There is no reason to think they will be any worse than last year. In fact, they may be better with the addition of Ericsson.
Chris Osgood will still be in goal most of the time, but his No. 2 partner will be different.
Ty Conklin signed with the St. Louis Blues, so Jimmy Howard will finally get his chance. He has not been spectacular when he got chances to play in the NHL, so he will have to prove himself. He may not be great, but there is no reason to think that he will not be good enough.
As for Osgood, he needs to play better than he did for most of last season. He doesn't have to be as good as he was in the playoffs, although that would not hurt. He just cannot be bad like he was during the regular season.
Overall, the Red Wings have a bit of a new look to them. They have lost some key players, but their young kids look to be fine replacements.
There are many who think that the Chicago Blackhawks have already won the division. In my opinion, this is not so. The Wings know how to win in any situation. This will be a fight to the end.
I predict that if all of the Red Wings are able to step up, they will win the division. But if the role players don't do their jobs and leave it to the stars, they may finish behind the Blackhawks or even the quietly dangerous Blues.
Either way, the Wings are in store for a wild, roller coaster season.