The Detroit Red Wings look to be poised to be among the top Stanley Cup Contenders yet again this upcoming season. While the retirement of Brian Rafalski shook things up a little, the free agents that have been brought in along with the players that are improving and rookies that will get a shot at playing look to erase to fears Hockeytown had in the days following Rafalski’s announcement.
So as we look ahead to the season here are 13 Predictions.
Fans in Detroit have long known how special of a player Datsyuk is. Really the only possible knock against him is that he is often to unselfish with the puck. With his ability, he could easily be among the leading goal scorers every year. Instead, he chooses to share the wealth.
During the Wings playoff this season, many around the league started to develop a deeper appreciation for what Datsyuk brings to the ice. Before this season, he had won the last three Selke trophies and if not for missing 26 games due to injury, he likely would have added a fourth trophy win.
This season not only will regain the Selke, which would tie him with Bob Gainey for most Selke wins, but he will also add the Hart Trophy to his legacy.
In doubling up he would be only the second player to capture both trophies in the same season. The other player also happened to be a Red Wing. Sergei Fedorov pulled off the double in 1993-94.
A trade that will rock Hockeytown will happen this year. The Wings have plenty of cap room left for the coming season. As of now they believe that they have made moves to shore up their defense after the retirement of Brian Rafalski, however should the changes not work then GM Kenny Holland will not be afraid to make a move.
In addition to having cap space to make any needed roster adjustments, Holland also has money for next year’s free agent class. While this season’s free agent roster was rather weak, next year’s is shaping up to be a very good class. The Wings will need to resign Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall.
In addition players such as Johnny Boychuck, Zach Parise, Patrick Sharp, Shea Weber, Ryan Sutter, Pekka Rinne, RJ Umberger and Shane Doan are scheduled to be free agents. Rather than waiting until free agency, if it doesn’t appear that any of those players are interested in signing with the current team, Holland can swoop in and make a trade.
The shocking part to the Red Wing faithful is not who will be coming via the trade but who might leave.
Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi are on the wrong side of 35, and while there are plenty of players who still excel after 35, there is always a tipping point in every career. Both of them will be free agents after the season so there would be no long term cap benefit in moving them, but players with their experience that can still play may draw interest.
In addition, as younger players are getting a chance to shine, players such as Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen could be used as trade bait to entice a team to make a move on one of their better players.
Suffice to say at this points it is difficult to predict which player it will be, but someone will be getting traded before the season comes to an end.
During the playoffs Kronwall took a major step into the leading role on defense with the team. While Nicklas Lidstrom is still here and will be the unquestionable leader, Kronwall will continue his rise this season. He will push Lidstrom as the top defender for the team.
By the end of the season he will be mentioned as a possible Norris Trophy finalist. He will just miss being in the top three but will surely cement his place on Detroit’s blue line. It will also make for good timing as he will be a free agent following the season.
Jiri Hudler just hasn’t lived up to his potential. His head scratching move to go play in Russia for a year didn’t win him any points with the team or fans. His return this past season showed that his play had regressed while he was away.
While there is no doubting the Hudler has talent, it is also apparent that he just does not fit with this team.
His contract could be a bit difficult to trade but several teams will need to spend money in order to meet the salary cap floor. In order to meet that floor teams would not be able to trade back current players so any Hudler trade likely means draft picks or prospects in return, which is fine.
Moving him will clear up more cap space and free up playing time for some of the younger players who are starting to prove themselves.
Brandon Smith is the much talked about defensemen that Wings fans cannot wait to see make the team. He has played well at every level and has that rare combination of skills that has people dreaming big.
He will get his chance to make the team this year and while he may bounce back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids to start the season, by the end of the year he will be a regular top six defensemen. Lidstrom, Kronwall, Stuart and new comer Ian White should be the top four defenders on the team.
By the end of the year Smith will have secured that fifth spot while gaining valuable experience and confidence.
Darren Helm is one of the fastest skaters in the game today. His emergence this past season and the steps he will take in the upcoming season is part of the reason why Holland will be able to look for the types of trades mentioned earlier.
Helm has scored 11 and 12 goals over his first two full seasons in the NHL, all of which came with low and inconsistent ice time. As this past season progressed he saw his time increase and even earned penalty kill minutes where his speed was a tremendous asset.
Next season Helm will make a huge jump as his play will force Babcock to keep him on the top two lines. He will respond by earning 50 points and should top 20 goals while getting very close to 25. In addition, he will be among the league leaders in shorthanded goals.
The Wing currently hold the longest active playoff streak in sports with 20 straight playoff appearances. This trend will continue as they will reach the playoffs for the 21st straight seasons and 26th out of the past 28.
This will tie them for the fourth longest streak in NHL history
A two for one prediction here.
The Red Wings will top 100 points yet again this season. It is a number that they have reached every season since the 1998-99 season.
This will not be easy as Columbus has made several moves this season to improve their team.
These teams will challenge them, but the Wings but will extend their NHL record of consecutive 100 point seasons. In doing so they will also capture the division crown.
Howard is fully entrenched as the Red Wings goaltender. His great rookie season was followed by a slight lapse in his second year. While he still posted solid numbers, they were not quite what the team and fans expected. He did bounce back in the playoffs and performed very well.
Now with two full, battle tested seasons under his belt Howard will make the climb up the ladder of elite goaltenders.
While he will not be a Vezina Trophy finalist, he will find himself ranked among the top six goaltenders in several categories.
Howard will rank in the top 5 goalies for wins and Goals Against Average. He will not however be a Vezina finalist
The Red Wings have had a historically great defenses, usually ranking among the league’s best every year. This past season saw injuries and inconsistent play takes its toll as they plummeted to 23rd in the league.
This season they will rise up and retake their place among the top five defensive teams in the league. With the improved play of Kronwall and Howard as well as the addition of Ian White and Brandon Smith the Wings will be a much improved unit.
Let’s see so far we have a Selke and Hart trophy, yet another 100 point season as well as a division crown. Kronwall will be a top level defensemen and of course Lidstrom will still be on the ice. Howard will take a big step forward and the defense as a whole will return to its usual elite status.
It all seems to add up to yet another Stanley Cup championship. I think people should reserve their spot on Woodward Ave for the parade right now.
Boston had a miracle run this year. On paper, most people would not have had them anywhere near the finals. Yet they showed that a great goaltender and strong team play at the right time can take a team all the way. They will not be able to repeat that.
Detroit will add to its legacy and take home thier 12th cup.
Nicklas Lidstrom has already earned his place in the greatest defender of all time conversation. Next season he will go out on top by winning his fifth Stanley Cup while also securing his record tying eighth Norris Trophy.
There are not enough superlatives to describe how great Lidstrom has been over the years. The day he retires the NHL should waive the Hall of Fame wait time.