Key Additions: G Joey MacDonald, D Ruslan Salei, C Mike Modano.
Key Subtractions: D Brett Lebda.
It was perhaps the quietest offseason in recent memory for the Detroit Red Wings, yet an under-the-radar style may have been just what the team needed to return to the finals. The Red Wings failed to reach the finals after two consecutive trips there when they were eliminated by San Jose in the second round of the playoffs.
But unlike several other contenders who made huge moves to try and get that little bit better, the Red Wings stayed the course and assumed that change was the last thing they needed. If anything, Detroit’s biggest move was to give one of the league’s most admired players one last shot at glory.
Detroit returns with the same kind of form that not only won them a Stanley Cup in 2008, but in 2003 as well. The Wings are devastatingly confident with a typically solid balance on both sides of the puck.
Offensively, Detroit’s biggest strength lies with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Datsyuk is without doubt the league’s best defensive forward, able to force a turnover anywhere on the ice and create points with it. Though he lost a step last year for the first time in the last five, he’s still a dominate player at the top of the fleet and can’t be overlooked without the puck.
Zetterberg is in the same boat age and performance-wise, yet he’s still a focal point of the team thanks to incredible speed and skill. He was a slow starter last year but turned it on heavily after a few dozen games. Again, passing on Zetterberg is a mistake that shouldn’t be made a second time (like it was 209 times at the 1999 NHL Draft).
Then of course, there’s “the Mule.” Johan Franzen has gained a reputation for being one of the most clutch playoff performers the NHL has to offer. And while a full season eluded him last year, one has to believe that Franzen is verging on a season ripe with goals (at least 30 of them) and winning plays. Franzen is valuable as a spark plug and a leader.
Age and experience continue to be motivating factors in the Red Wings top lines. With Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper returning for yet another year each in Detroit uniforms, the fans know just what kind of player is synonymous with Red Wings hockey. Holmstrom is still a great screen in front and Draper will agitate as the longest-standing player on the checking line.
Mike Modano and Todd Bertuzzi are two other older players with veteran leadership who know what their roles are. Once superstars, both are nearing the end of their careers and looking for one more Cup. Modano is without a doubt the big story here, leaving a career in Dallas behind to play for a legitimate rival. He still has the skill to score goals and is, in fact, a captain at heart.
One major “acquisition” to watch never technically left the Red Wings for another NHL team. On the contrary, Jiri Hudler spent all of last season with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL. He’s been a big star during the preseason and looks like he’ll match if not exceed expectations with a 30-30 season. His return has been quite low key, which could make him a big surprise if he ignites.
Justin Abdelkader, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, and Dan Cleary round out an offense that seems to have limitless weapons. Though three of them are still in the early stages of their career, Cleary remains a miracle turnaround story that inspires other teammates to play just as dedicated.
Defense still wins championships, so no matter how many players can put the puck in the net, it won’t matter if the defense isn’t solid. Detroit, again, excels.
Nicklas Lidstrom enters the season a 40-year-old who is no longer a shoe-in to win the Norris Trophy. Despite this, Lidstrom is the rare breed of defenseman with over 1,000 points to his name and only three seasons with less than 10 goals. Simply put, Lidstrom can still do it all, even as he gets older.
But the Red Wings recognize the pickle they’ll be in without him on the team, so they’ve been grooming a different crop of players to take over behind him. It may be an older blue line, but it still packs a wallop.
One of the biggest hitters in the league, Niklas Kronwall is a whole lot of fun to watch. The biggest question, however, is not his physical presence, but whether or not his numbers two seasons ago (45 assists and 51 points) were a one-hit wonder.
Teammates like Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart may be taking on more mileage this year as well, but they know how to win and win big. Rafalski is still one of the league’s best at playing two-way, as shown during the Olympics and late last season. Stuart isn’t as old, yet has found a place where he can be productive in Detroit.
One to watch defensively is Jonathan Ericson, who is seeing increased playing time with each passing year. The only issue is that Ericson will need to develop the facets of his game much faster, as a minus-15 rating from last year would be unacceptable this season.
Once believed to be a goalie duel, Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood won’t be splitting time anymore. This is now Howard’s team, and the Red Wings, after nearly two decades of signing someone else to fill the void, have their homegrown blue chipper.
Howard won 37 games last year and played consistently and fantastically throughout the season. He was the rock that helped propel Detroit from an inauspicious start to contention. Questions will linger of whether or not he suffers a sophomore slump, but Howard is out to prove he’s the real deal for years to come.
If, however, Howard turns out to be “just like the rest,” then Red Wings fans will be all too familiar with seeing the switch to backup Chris Osgood. Osgood legitimately lost his starting job this past season and shouldn’t expect to reclaim it. At age 37, and with the signing of Joey MacDonald, the Wings could be attempting to gracefully phase out Osgood.
Let the debate rage on whether or not he’s a Hall of Famer.
Though he was only called up last year in injury situations, defenseman Jakub Kindl could see more time on a roster comprised of aging vets. Kindl is massive and has been a long-term project for the Red Wings.
If Howard is in fact a goaltending stud, the Red Wings will move mountains this season. First in the Central, Second in the Western Conference.