While the Detroit Red Wings' streak of playoff appearances remained untouched last year (Currently standing at nineteen straight), 2009-10 was the first year since 1999-2000 that the Wings failed to win the Central Division.
Looking up at the Chicago Blackhawks throughout the season, and then sitting back and watching them lay claim to the Stanley Cup, Detroit became an afterthought in May and June—not something they're used to.
This year they'll be looking to reclaim dominance in the NHL, and in adding a few healthy bodies for a full season along with the re-acquisition of Jiri Hudler, the Wings will have all hands on deck as they try to do just that.
So how about a few bold (or not so bold) predictions for the Wings' re-assertion session?
1) Henrik Zetterberg unseats Pavel Datsyuk as Detroit's Selke hopeful
Is there really any doubt that Datsyuk has established himself as the premier defensive forward in the league? With three-straight Selke's there's no doubt about that. Zetterberg gets just as much credit from his teammates for his play in both ends however, and is just as much of an offensive threat. This year, Zetterberg unseats Datsyuk with his second career nomination (The first coming in 2008 when they were both nominated).
2) Rafalski leads the defense in scoring
It'd be fitting if Nik Lidstrom led the defense in scoring once again, something he's done every season since 2003-04, but he won't. Brian Rafalski's contributions have gone nearly unnoticed since he came to Detroit, but his 42 points last year were the fewest he's recorded in Detroit. With 55 points his first year, and a Lidstrom-tying 59 his second year, Rafalski assumes the crown this year.
3) Franzen scores 40
When he entered the league, Franzen was a bit player who came up big during the playoffs. Since then, he's evolved into a goal-scoring threat who could have broken the 40-goal barrier last year if not for a torn ACL he Welker'd (That's a football reference puckheads), coming back from the knee injury in the same season. A 34-goal year two years ago and nine in 24 games after his injury last year, Franzen is in for a big year.
4) The Red Wings make an early move for a backup goalie
Chris Osgood has been showing his age over the past two seasons, and if he deteriorates again this season, that's a lot of pressure on Jimmy Howard, who's already trying to live up to last year's expectations. Sure there's Joey MacDonald, but if there's someone affordable out there with a little more NHL experience, Detroit could make a play if the cap situation works. Otherwise, MacDonald will earn his pay this year.
5) The new digs inspire Modano
Mike Modano is entering his first season ever with a team not named "Stars." That being said, this is the place that Modano was driven to play. It's unrealistic to say he goes off for 20 goals or 60 points (tough totals on a deep Detroit team), but 40 points is in the real of possibilities.
6) Jiri Hudler comes back in a big way
60 points. That's right. He had 54 in 54 games last year in Russia, and was three points shy of it his last year in the NHL. Hudler has the skills, and even if they slipped slightly in the lighter Russian schedule, he'll have the talent to get him back up to speed awfully quick.
7) Detroit "settles" for a top-five power play
This is a team who's been blessed with a top three power play for the past few years, except last year it slipped up. That's what last year seemed to be though, a slip up, and with a healthy Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, things will be clicking again on the man advantage.
8) Tomas Holmstrom slips to 15 goals
This one is off the wall. The 37-year old garbage man has scored at least 20 goals in four of the past five seasons, and he never changes anything: Step one, go to the net. Step two, tap in rebound. The formula stays the same this year, but yields fewer results.
9) Detroit wins seven shootout games
If I were to ask you the question "What has Detroit never done in a regular season?", there aren't many answers you can give. One would be "they've never won more than six games in the shootout." In 2005-06 they were 4-3, 06-07 they finished 2-8, 5-5 the next year, 6-4 in 08-09, and 6-9 last year. This year they step it up in the breakaway challenge and win their lucky seventh.
10) Detroit takes five of six from Chicago
Last year the season series was split right down the middle at three games apiece as Chicago was out for revenge after their Western Conference Finals loss. This year, the Wings bring a little bit extra to the matchups to help ease the sting of last year. Even if this is wrong though, the season series will still be fun to watch: four of the six games happen after the new year starts, three of them after March 20th, and a home and home closes out the season. This is going to be good.
The Stretch: Mike Babcock smiles. Twice.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to e-mail Bryan you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.