What a difference a year makes, eh?
Last season around this time, the Detroit Red Wings were still suffering from the shock of not only losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on home ice, but, several important parts of their roster to boot.
Forwards Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson, and Tomas Kopecky along with able back-up goalie Ty Conklin had all left town for greener pastures.
GM Ken Holland was forced to fill some of the holes created by these departures by scraping the bottom of the free-agent barrel signing forwards Jason Williams, Todd Bertuzzi, and Patrick Eaves, to safe, one-year deals.
Fortunately, the latter two worked out well enough to earn an extended stay in Detroit this summer and figure to be valuable assets to the 2010-11 roster.
Additionally, the Wings were very pleasantly surprised in June upon hearing that former defector, Jiri Hudler (who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with Moscow Dynamo in the 2009 off-season) would be returning to Detroit due to the dissolve of the iconic KHL team for which he played in 2009-10.
After that, the Wings used a bit of inside information to land Finnish Elite League player, and older brother of Valtteri Filppula, Ilari, to a two-year, two-way deal.
Then came the biggest surprise of the summer in Detroit.
After being informed his services were no longer needed in Dallas, American hockey icon and future Hall of Famer, Mike Modano, contemplated retirement. In fact, he was all but convinced his career was over until the Red Wings called to inquire about his services.
A one-month courtship ensued shortly thereafter and, in early August, Modano accepted a one-year, $1.5 million contract to play one more season (most likely his last) for his home-state Detroit Red Wings.
As the result of all of these developments, the Red Wings went from a team depleted of quality forwards one year, to a squad bursting with enough talent to ice six quality forward lines the next.
What follows is a breakdown of the forwards that will start camp in Detroit, a listing of who is sure to stay, a discussion about who will be fighting for spots, a prediction of who will be left out, and, finally a preview of the lines that could start the 2010-11 season.
With 15 forwards under one-way contracts, 14 permanent spots available and only 12 available spots on any given night, the Red Wings are facing the high-quality problem of trading or waiving one player out of camp, and rotating at least two others in and out of the line-up during the season.
Not a bad spot to be in, especially considering where off-season departures and injuries left them in 2009-10.
Though there will be intense competition within camp among several of Detroit's forwards, most will have a secured spot on the roster for the upcoming season, namely: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Mike Modano, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm, Kris Draper, and Justin Abdelkader.
However, this will leave five other forwards left to battle each other for two part-time roster spots: Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Ilari Filppula, Mattias Ritola, and Kirk Maltby.
Now, with regards to Kirk Maltby, all reports indicate that he will begin the season in Grand Rapids as he was signed earlier this week to a two-way deal (the best feature of which is the ability to call a player up to the NHL and/or send him down to the AHL without having to expose him on waivers).
Ilari Filppula is also on a two-way contract.
So, barring monumental training camp performances from both players, it is all but certain that Maltby and Filppula will begin the season as Grand Rapids Griffins.
This leaves Eaves, Miller, and Ritola battling for two spots.
Aside from the desire to make the team, these three players are similar inasmuch as none of them can be sent to the AHL without first clearing waivers.
On the face of it, considering their performance from last season, it seems as though Eaves and Miller should be shoo-ins.
Both played important defensive roles on the fourth line and penalty kill in 2009-10 and both have valuable NHL experience.
Mattias Ritola, on the other hand, has appeared in only seven NHL games since 2007-08.
The 2005, fourth-round pick has played the past three seasons with Griffins, appearing in 211 games, amassing 41 goals, 65 assists and a minus-six rating.
While these aren't exactly eye-popping numbers, the Red Wings are confident that the 23-year-old Swede is ready for a shot at the NHL where he could emerge as a strong, secondary offensive winger.
He will be given every opportunity to make the big club once camp begins next week. However, if he falls short of the challenge, the Red Wings will be forced to send him to the AHL, and in so doing, face the risk of losing him to another team via waivers.
As promising as Ritola looks, it's tough to imagine him legitimately beating out NHL players like Eaves and Miller for a roster spot.
As such, my guess is Ritola will be the odd man out come the close of camp. Hopefully, he can be safely demoted to the AHL where he can continue to develop his game and remain available should an injury require him to step into a roster spot. Still, given the depth above him, he may not see much NHL action in 2010-11 unless another team picks him up before landing in Grand Rapids.
So, with the numbers sufficiently crunched, I present to you my prediction of the 2010-11 Detroit Red Wings forward lines:
Top Line: Zetterberg - Datsyuk - Holmstrom
Second Line: Franzen - Filppula - Bertuzzi
Third Line: Hudler - Modano - Cleary
Energy Line: Draper - Helm - Eaves
Alternates: Abdelkader - Miller
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