Ready For More: Veteran Red Wings Far From Being Considered Done

Justin ColmanContributor IMay 29, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 08:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings skates off the ice after losing to the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 8, 2010 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Believe me, I understand what the future holds.

The Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, and Colorado Avalanche, to name a few, are teams on the rise.

With them on the rise, that means there have to be teams going on the decline. Most people look at what happened with Detroit this season and say, "the beginning of the end is approaching for the Wings."

To all of those who believe the Red Wings are done as a dominant team in the NHL, I have one thing to say.

Keep dreaming.

While the finish to the 2010 playoffs was far from what anybody expected out of a Detroit Red Wings team that heralds champions such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg, this team was gassed.

They finished a seven game series with a Phoenix Coyotes team that they underestimated, and never got the benefit of resting from that series. They only had one day between games to rest and then their series with San Jose began.

Just jot this down somewhere if you could: Detroit has played more games, in the regular season and playoffs than any other NHL team since the 2006-2007 season. That was when they were in the Western Conference Finals against Anaheim.

Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland has said that they will not negotiate contracts with pending free agents Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, and Darren Helm among the short list on the Red Wings' wish list of players to be kept.

Not until Lidstrom decides if he will play another season or retire.

If he does retire, it opens more cap space for the Red Wings, but they lose an invaluable defenseman in Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner, four-time Stanley Cup champion, 2002 Conn Smythe winner, and 11-time all-star.

They would have to acquire a free agent defenseman, but the question is then: who do they get and for how much.

They could move Nicklas Kronwall up to the first line and find a shut down defenseman for Brad Stuart. That would be considered the cap-friendly plan. Or they could go out and sign a top-tier defenseman for Rafalski to play with and keep Kronwall and Stuart together.

The only defenseman that is considered top-tier and would fit with the Red Wings is Sergei Gonchar, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Another top-tier defenseman is Scott Niedermayer, who would be considered an odd fit in Detroit.

But he won two Stanley Cups in New Jersey with Rafalski, and could work out well as a replacement.

The list for defensive free agents that could pair with Brad Stuart if they choose to go with moving Kronwall with Rafalski is larger than the top-tier.

Joe Corvo could be added to the team, he's around the same age as the core of the defensemen on the Red Wings, can hit hard, as well as get the puck to the back of the net from the point.

That is what the Red Wings like to see from all their D-men, and that is the kind of partner Stuart would need (sorry if you don't like the music, just turn it down ).

I've mentioned his name so many times, I'm starting to get tired of him. But this is how good Dan Hamhuis is , he can provide defense on big, bulky players and then get back to the other side of the ice. He's a bit younger than the core of Red Wings defensemen, but he would be a most welcome addition for any team.

These are all possible scenarios if  Lidstrom retires, and it seems unlikely. He's said that he feels like he's playing the same as two years ago.

"I don't think I'm that far away from where I was two years ago," Lidstrom told reporters after the game five loss to San Jose.

The Red Wings are put in a good position, whether their captain returns or not.

If he returns, they have one of the top defensemen in the league returning for at least one more year. If not, they can look for a new player with the money they would have spent on Lidstrom, and still have some left over.

Still, they would prefer to have Lidstrom back. Any Red Wings fan would want to have him back.

The offense, which was a highlighting point of concern for Detroit this past year after losing key scorers in Jiri Hudler (KHL), Mikael Samuelsson (Vancouver), and Marian Hossa (Chicago) should be much better.

The injury bug found its way to Detroit and bit almost every single one of them, but it also allowed players who would have had with less ice time to develop, and there were a few that benefited from this.

One of them was Patrick Eaves, who the Red Wings acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes. Eaves, infamously known for his shootout blooper  is actually smart when it comes to shooting . He's displayed that he has a good shot selection and can use other players to create the goal.

Darren Helm also benefited from more playing time this season. Helm showed in last year's Western Conference Finals that he is all about hard work and effort. He capped game five and the series off with the overtime winning goal to send Detroit back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

This year Helm continued to prove that he is all about hard work and effort. He plays on both sides of the ice surprising everyone, offensively and defensively . He's one of the players who can get away with having a small amount of points because he defines what it means to be clutch.

He makes important defensive contributions and has incredible speed that helps on offense and can beat goaltenders.

The player who benefited the most this season, but coincidentally could have had a career year if not for an injury was Valtteri Filppula. The Finnish forward was on pace to break his career high in points in a single season, but fell five short because of a wrist injury.

Don't worry though, he finished quite well, posting 35 points in about 55 games, a point shy of tying his season point total in the 2007-2008 season where he played 78 games. So don't say progress hasn't been made in Filppula's career.

If he finished the season without the injury we could have seen a 50-plus point season from him.

There's a lot of things that we can discuss that he's improved on, but one of the things he's improved on is decision making. He's made better decisions on what to do with the puck this year in terms of pass vs shoot.

On occasions last year he would have a linemate to the left or right and pass it to him when he could have made a backhand-to-fronthand deke and beat the goalie, or shoot it off the pads and create potential for a rebound assist.

That problem looks to be over. He's made smart decisions, using that backhand-to-fronthand deke on goalies, including Antti Niemi, and holding onto the puck, waiting for the right moment to shoot.

It's official that Jiri Hudler will be part of the Detroit Red Wings starting next year. Back from the KHL, he will be expected to have a breakout season in the eyes of coach Mike Babcock

He's going to be a welcome addition to the team, bolstering whichever line (second or third) he is placed on with the chance to move up.

Babcock truly believes that Hudler will contribute the 70 points he projected that he would have produced with Detroit this past year, but 70 might be stretching it.

I'd say that Hudler is aiming at a 35-40 point season because I'm not sure all the things Hudler did in the KHL would equate to 70 points. It just seems to large of a number and he will have to adapt to a smaller rink again and players that might have not been a challenge for him before could be a challenge now.

There are a lot of variables that aren't stats to factor in that make me believe 70, even 50 points is out of his range for this year.

He'll be a welcome addition though, because the Red Wings could have used him last year, and they'll be glad (and disgusted) to have the Jiri Hudler Cluck back. Jimmy Howard will not know what is coming for him.

Another welcome addition to the team will be Johan Franzen, who missed a major part of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). When he returned, "The Mule" was alive and kicking, ending the regular season on a scoring tear, posting 21 points in 27 games, as well as 18 points in the postseason, ending in epic fashion .

If there is any player to watch out for in the entire NHL next year, it's Johan Franzen. He makes tough plays look simple with his body, has an incredible shot, and can provide an effective. With time to rest his legs, Franzen will be ready for the 2010-2011 season.

Ready for next season as well will be two thirds of Babcock's Flying Circus (I love that name for the line), better known as the Euro Twins, better known as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. They're going to be the leaders on the offensive front, leading the first and second lines, working together at times, and on the power play.

Datsyuk was on a scoring tear after the Winter Olympic break and it happened right off the gate. He's the player that Filppula wants to be like, and this is why . He has incredible control with the puck and knows where to shoot it, and when to pass it.

Players all around the NHL wish they had a man like Datsyuk as their teammate.

Zetterberg is not too shabby either. He's an all-around talent that plays exceptionally well on both sides of the ice. He has a good backhand shot , wrist shot, plays good defense with his stick, and feeds the puck to other players well. 

He'll be surrounded with quality weapons that have the potential to have breakout seasons, and Zetterberg by all means is a good player to be with if you are looking to have a breakout season.

He should post up 70 points again, continuing his trend of collecting a minimum of 70 points for four seasons.

And where would this Red Wings team have been without their impressive rookie goaltender, Jimmy Howard? He's up for the Calder Trophy and for good reason. He was the sole reason why Detroit made it into the playoffs as a number five seed and not an eighth seed or not even making it at all.

I've heard it before somewhere, but the two most insecure jobs in the city of Detroit are as follows:

1. Quarterback of the Detroit Lions

2. Starting Goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings

Since 2005, there have been five goaltenders for the Red Wings that have been considered starters. Manny Legace, Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek, Ty Conklin, and Jimmy Howard. All five have been considered starting goaltenders for the Red Wings and starting next year, the job insecurity should come to an end.

Howard started his rookie campaign with some bumps, letting in quick goals followed by a second quick goal, but with Osgood as his mentor, he's been helped, being told what to do in net and to shake things off.

With Osgood entering the final year of his contract, we will likely be saying this is his farewell season and he will be spending it teaching Howard what to do to keep his job.

Of all the recent goaltenders in Red Wings history, Osgood knows about what it takes to make it as a goaltender for this franchise, and his advice will be valuable for Howard.

There's talk that if Howard wins the Calder Trophy, he will fall under the "Calder Trophy curse."

Yeah right.

That's as real as the supposed "Hossa Curse." What last year's Calder Trophy winner and Blue Jackets netminder Steve Mason had problems with was that he doesn't have as good of a defense surrounding him as Howard will.

I'm not trying to sound cocky or have confidence that Howard will break this curse, but you tell me who is better...Jan Hedja or Brad Stuart? Rotislav Klesla or Nicklas Kronwall? Tyutin or Lidstrom? Stralman or Rafalski? 

I'd go with the second choice on every single one. That's a combined... ten Stanley Cup championships versus... none.

The Red Wings' defense is vastly superior to what Columbus has up front for Mason, so Howard should have an easier Sophomore season than his Blue Jacket counterpart did.

It will be interesting to see how many starts Howard gets. He'll obviously be the starter, but I'm looking at how many consecutive games he will play before Babcock will throw in Osgood for a game to give Howard rest. He started 25 consecutive games towards the end of the regular season, when Detroit needed the wins.

The Red Wings might start off on a slump because Howard was pushed to a seven game series with Phoenix and the 25 games could have done a number on him, but he should be fine as far as the entire regular season goes. It was his first year and he performed very well, and he should only do better.

Next season Detroit will enter with brand new expectations. They won't be called champions. Not of the Western conference, not even the Central division. Chicago took that away from them. They won't be predicted to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Chicago and San Jose took that from them too.

But if anybody had a train of thought that this Detroit team is done for...

They won't take kindly to that thought. This team has far too much talent to be considered done as a dominant team.


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