Preface: Today is the day we finish up the Central Division.
Now normally I'd work my way over to the Atlantic Division, as to alternate between Western and Eastern Conference teams, but because Alan Bass is taking care of the Atlantic Division this week, we'll save them for a bit later.
I guess it's time to give the champions their due.
I don't want to talk about the Detroit Red Wings anymore; I've probably mentioned them in some way, shape, or form in Nashville's, St Louis', Chicago's, and Columbus' preview, they're the defending champs, and they're ridiculously stacked, and dominant during the regular season. Enough of this.
Roster Additions: Marian Hossa, RW (Free Agent), Ty Conklin, G (Free Agent)
Roster Subtractions: Dominik Hasek, G(Retired)
How did 2007-08 go? 54-21-7, President’s Trophy, Western Conference Champions, Stanley Cup Champions
2008-09 Goal: Repeat as Stanley Cup Champions
Let's break 'er down...
In the NHL, repetition is discouraged through attempted parity.
The Detroit Red Wings have chosen to spit directly into the face of that theory. Who needs parity anyways? It's much more fun to win all the time.
So naturally the Detroit Red Wings have the best oppportunity to repeat since...the Detroit Red Wings did in in the late 90's.
Defensive Responsibility, Offensive Ability, and Plugging Holes…
The almost unnatural thing about the Detroit Red Wings is that they almost encourage the players to seek other employment, just so they can flex their organizational depth.
It seems that no matter who leaves, the Wings will either fill in that spot with younger options from within the organization, or they grab a low-budget free agent who seems to over-perform.
When Steve Yzerman left, the expectations to lead Detroit into the future fell to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Both Henrik and Pavel have aptly grown into their leadership roles for this team, ensuring that their will always be a stable presence at the head of the ship alongside Head Coach Mike Babcock.
The one strategy that the Red Wings have preached since the Scotty Bowman coaching regime, is defensive responsibility from their forwards. Not only are Henrik and Pavel two of the premier defensive forwards in the league, but their teammates also pattern their own style of play after the scruffy Swede and the clean-shave Russian—executing the team concept of defense perfectly.
That’s not to say that the Red Wings don’t have offensive firepower—it’s quite the contrary, but the Red Wings may be one of the most perfectly balanced teams in recent memory.
Aside from the 97 and 92-point seasons of Datsyuk and Zetterberg respectively, the Red Wings also feature the emerging Johan Franzen and Valterri Filppula, while the signing of Marian Hossa (one year removed from a 100-point season) will only strengthen this team’s offensive prowess.
Wingin’ It While Wheelin’ Around the Blue Line…
The bread and butter of the Detroit Red Wings though, is their blue line, anchored by one of the All-Time greats.
The defense remains under the leadership of Nik Lidstrom—a man with four Stanley Cup Rings, six Norris trophies, and a Conn Smythe to boot—and he certainly doesn’t seem like he’s about to slow down any time soon if last season and the Stanley Cup playoffs were any indication.
Following up Nik on the blue line will be second-year Red Wing, Brian Rafalski, who has won himself a very quiet three Stanley Cups, and has also put up some solid numbers on defense and offense (back to back 50 point seasons, two seasons with a +/- over +20) and Brad Stuart—a guy who went from the bottom (Los Angeles) to being a league champion with Detroit—who can be a very good, consistent defenseman in the right environment.
Meanwhile Nik Kronwall will look to build upon a stellar year last season (including 15 assists and a plus 16 during the playoffs), while Andreas Lilja will look to recapture the magic from his 2004-05 season—his best in the NHL to date.
With the recent signing of Kyle Quincey to a two-year contract, the Red Wings are also insured in the event of injury, while Quincey can also push Lilja and Kronwall for a little bit of rotation on the back end.
Blue in the Baby-Face?
The only problem this team might face is in net. There’s no doubt that Chris Osgood was outstanding during the regular season (27-9-4, .914 save-percentage, 2.09 goals-against-average) and even better during the playoffs (14-4, .930 save-percentage, 1.44 goals-against-average), but he’s also 35.
Granted Dominik Hasek was 43 last year and he won 27 games, but whenever a goalie starts getting up there in years, you have to wonder how long they can last.
I’m also wondering about Ty Conklin. In a lot of ways, Ty was the down-and-out, claw-your-way-back-in story of the NHL this season, as (following a playoff-gaffe in the finals with the Oilers a few years ago) Conklin had bounced from club to club in the NHL and AHL, but was able to turn it around and post a near-identical season to that of starter Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins in Fleury’s absence.
If either (or both) Osgood or Conklin run into trouble however, expect 24 year-old Jimmy Howard to start seeing more than the four games he’s seen each of the past two years in Detroit. After a respectable AHL career, Howard’s well-deserved shot is just around the corner (Especially with Conklin on a one-year deal).
So what does it all mean?
Red Wings fans have nothing to worry about. The same team that won the championship is returning from last season, but they've also added a dynamic forward in Marian Hossa. Besides, if the Wings run into trouble, it's not like they don't have the ability to heal what ails them.
I don't think anyone doubts however, that this team will challenge for the top spot in the league once again. The Central still isn't quite strong enough to deal directly with the Red Wings at full force, so expect the Wings to have a strong season, and don't look for this team to fold come playoff time.
First in the Central Division
And now, with The View from the Community Leader Pressbox with Henry Dyck:
The Wings' success is built from the blue line out. With the addition of Hossa and the continued development of Franzen and Filpulla, the Wings will have more depth up front than last year.
Well that's it for the Central division folks. Hope you enjoyed it. See you soon with the Pacific Division.