Since that fateful June 12th last year, it seems as if the Red Wings have been plagued.
After that catastrophic Game Seven loss, the Wings suffered a brutal offseason much like the one Chicago is now enduring. Over 100 goals departed, and the Wings found themselves scraping for anything they could find. Free agent signings Patrick Eaves and Todd Bertuzzi helped, but the countless injuries were the story of the season, and the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time in 19 years started feeling real.
Then came the Olympic break—the Red Wings became steadily healthy. They boomed from out of the playoffs to the fifth spot in the Western Conference, and to another 100 point season. They still lost in the second round to San Jose in five games. But in three of the games they lost they held a lead in the third period. All they needed was a little extra boost. Jiri Hudler or Mike Modano, anyone?
The two-time defending Western Conference Champions had to sit at home and watch their bitter rival take their place in the Stanley Cup Finals. They also had to listen to the media and countless hockey experts rave and rave over the Blackhawks and how they are the next dynasty.
So what do we know about this Red Wing team? No, they did not win the Stanley Cup. But the only time they were fully healthy they produced a record of 16-3-2 (The BEST in the NHL). People assume professionals will play great all the time, but the truth is that chemistry plays a major part in the game. With chemistry comes consistency, and the Red Wings didn't have enough of that with the constant line and roster changes.
Before I bring up the new additions, let me talk about a few Red Wings who are capable and ready to mold into a star players. Now, health is unpredictable. So lets assume the Red Wings stay reasonably healthy for moment. I have talked about this before. There are so many Red Wings ready to take the next step in their development.
One, for starters, is Valtteri Filppula—a player who is being given a bigger role this year as the 2nd line center. A player with great potential who has been predicted by his coach to have a 65+ point season (is that just two beneath Toews?).
Other players who should see more productive seasons (Either due to past injuries or improvement): FRANZEN, Zetterberg, Eaves, Cleary, and Helm, among others. All these players have a ton to offer, which we did not see last year for various reasons.
Jiri Hudler, a guy who was just finding his way around the NHL when he left for Russia, is now back. He is also capable of having a 60+ point season. Coupled with Modano or Filppula, you should see this guy become a star. The saying "you don't know what you got till it's gone" was true in this scenario. The Red Wings didn't realize how much they would miss him and his energy especially with the aging roster Detroit has. His return brings a massive boost to Detroit's roster.
Now enters Mike Modano, who tops off what will become the best third line in the NHL. He was an outstanding player in his prime, but still has much to offer. On a sub-par team surrounded by sup-par players, you can imagine why Modano was declining. The change of scenery should alone bring a boost to him. He is now surrounded by better players in a winning organization. He has all the tools and motivation necessary to be great this next season. He is home in Hockeytown to finish his already stellar NHL career. If he remains healthy, that third line will be dominant, and his contributions to the power play and in the locker room will go long ways.
Goalie Jimmy Howard had a great rookie season, and should continue his success in the NHL. He was in the top 10 in practically every statistical category last season. He is backed up by Stanley Cup winner Chris Osgood. Those two give Detroit a more than solid showing between the pipes.
Bottom line—Mike Modano makes this team arguably the deepest in the NHL. Lidstrom and Rafalski are still premier defenders who are hungry for more championships. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will lead the pack once again as their unbelievable two-way games should dominate the NHL's other first lines. The extra month off should be great for Detroit's aging stars. Johan Franzen, who exploded in the playoffs, looks to dominate as he is extra fresh from the time he missed last season. Countless reasons combined give me no doubt when I say I see a normal season for Detroit next year—Normal as in winning the division, and later, the Stanley Cup.