Read View Mirror:
The Red Wings finally got some much needed rest after playing in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. The defending Western Conference champs bowed out in the Western Conference semi-finals to the San Jose Sharks. Injuries took a toll on the team as Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg all missed time during the season. Leading scorers Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk both had 70 points, well below the standards they have set.
The six-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom also had a down offensive year as he failed to score double digit goals (nine goals last season) for the first time in six seasons and wasn`t even invited to the award ceremony. The Red Wings severely missed hard hitting Niklas Kronwall who was limited to only 48 games due to an MCL injury.
The biggest positive to come out of last season was the development of goaltending Jimmy Howard. After four seasons in the AHL, the 25-year-old rookie finally got his chance to shine. Howard responded with a 37-15-10 record and a 2.26 GAA and .924 save percentage, good for a spot on the NHL All-Rookie first team.
Offseason Ins: LW/C Jiri Hudler (KHL: 54 GP, 19G-35A-54P), C Mike Modano (DAL: 59 GP, 14G-16A-30P), D Ruslan Salei (COL: 14GP, 1G-5A-6P)
Offseason Outs: D Brett Lebda (63 GP), C Jason Williams (15 Pts), LW Brad May (66 PIM), D Andreas Lilja (20 GP)
What Makes Them Tick:
Just like the team they are chasing above them the Red Wings field a very talented group of top-six forwards. The Red Wings are going to employ a top line that includes both Datyuk and Zetterberg with Holmstrom on the other wing, this is a combination, according to Frozen Pool, they used only 7.56 percent in even strength situations and 5.36 percent of the time on the power play. Staking their two best offensive players has been successful in the past for the Red Wings and also shows a lot of faith in the second line to produce.
That is where the health of Franzen comes into play. The “Mule” has 93 goals in his five NHL seasons but has only played in 319 of the possible 410 games during that span. When he is healthy the second line of him, Filppula (35 pts in 55 games last season) and Todd Bertuzzi (18G-26A-44P last season) can be one of the most dangerous second units in the league.
What Could Make Them Go Boom:
The oldest team in the NHL (30.78) got older with the signing of 40-year-old Mike Modano and for a team that had 312 man games lost due to injury that is not a good omen. The Red Wings have always prided themselves on being an organization with a lot of depth, but if they consistently are playing without their top guys it will ultimately catch up to them like it did last season versus the Sharks.
Howard’s play will also dictate the way the season plays out. Howard is in the last year of his contract and is playing to show the organization that he is their goalie of the present and future. Will he be a one-year wonder in the likes of Roger Crozier? Is he just there to hold the spot warm until Thomas McCollum develops? Is he worth a big contract if he succeeds two seasons in a row? The Red Wings organization hopes to have the answer to all three questions by the end of this season.
Player to Watch:
Juri Hudler was coming off a season in 2008-09 that saw him score a career high in both goals (23) and points (57). The then 25-year-old was awarded $2.875 million a season for two years in a salary arbitration in which he walked away from to sign a $10 million two-year deal to play for the Dynamo in the KHL. The Dynamo are now-defunct and the Czech center/winger is back in Motown.
Hudler, who only stands 5-10, should bring an immediate boost to the Red Wings power play that was ranked 9th in the NHL last season (19.2 percent). Of his 127 career points 49 of them have come on the man advantage. How Hudler adjust to being back in the NHL will be a big key to the success and depth of this team.
The Red Wings will put up a fight to retain the crown that once was theirs for a decade. This team, when healthy, can match any team skill, size and determination. Ken Holland has always gotten creative to find ways to inject a spark in a team that has had so much success and brining in Modano and brining back Hudler should give this team the right chemistry to flourish.
With that being said, with former first round pick Thomas McCollum still being a couple of years away from the NHL, it is imperative to the organization that Howard not have a sophomore slump. I see head coach Mike Babcock playing the veteran Chris Osgood more to cut his workload. The Red Wings have a Stanley Cup team in place, they have shown that in two of the last three seasons it is just keeping that intact will be the biggest struggle throughout the season.