Only two more months (ugh) before October.
July is almost entirely in the rear-view mirror, and while there are still a lot of questions surrounding some teams in the NHL (*coughDoughtyandWebercough*) it's never too early to start wondering about next season.
Detroit is one of the luckier teams in the League, and hasn't had any large story lines running this offseason.
Outside of Brian Rafalski retiring, veterans Chris Osgood and Kris Draper both being denied contracts for one more kick at the can, a failed attempt to sign free agents Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Vokoun, Jonathan Ericsson being signed to an eyebrow raising three year extension, and Mike Babcock needing to find not one but two coaches to fill in his sudden skeleton crew behind the bench... things have been pretty normal and steady.
Ok, so it's been a pretty hectic five or six weeks for fans of the Winged Wheel.
But much of the squad's talented core is intact, and Kenny Holland (as usual) performed with grace under a fair amount of pressure.
So with all the behind us—and lets hope that the dramatic stuff is in the past now—we can start to look to the future a bit.
I've been thinking about this for the last few days. I asked myself a simple questions a couple mornings ago over coffee and Time magazine: what are a couple of things you want to see out of the Red Wings next season?
These were my answers.
And add to the conversation by posting anything you'd like to see from the Wings over the next year down below in the comments section
Every time Sidney Crosby decides to get into a fight it lands a Sportscenter mention. But he isn't the only star that is willing to drop the gloves. Just look at Datsyuk go in this scrap from October of last year.
In that early season brawl Pav tossed aside his reputation as one of the most gentlemanly players in the game today and channeled his inner Joe Kocur. He didn't land any bombs, but he didn't get taken advantage of either.
Corey Perry is one of the tougher forwards in the League and is more than capable of handling himself when the need arises. But apparently so is Datsyuk. In this particular game No. 13 earned himself a Gordie Howe hat trick and further endeared himself to the Detroit faithful.
This was his second pro scrap, and I don't think we've seen the last of Datsyuk's fists. I'd love to see him go at it once more sometime this season. It's always excellent to see the "soft Europeans" stick up for themselves in this manner.
My bet is that the now tougher Blackhawks manage to goad Pav into a fight at some point during the upcoming year.
The Mule has the touch. You've got to give him that.
Combining his large frame and soft hands, few players in the League can do what Franzen does around the net mouth. When he's "on", that is.
I made this prediction in a slideshow I wrote in early July, and I'm going to stick to it. If this guy can find his goalscoring touch more than one month at a time then the Red Wings will have one of the most dangerous top-sixes in the League.
Franzen skated in 72 contests last season and potted 28 goals. Not too shabby for a guy who went on three week long cold streaks—and he did do this. Trust me. I was a mildly disgruntled owner in more than one fantasy league.
Mule is typically known as an explosive playoff performer. And if it stays that way I think I can remain pretty content with him as a player.
But I would love to see him reach his full potential this year during the regular season. We've seen what he can do in bursts in both the regular season and the post season. If Franzen can figure out a way to find some consistency then I don't think 40 goals is out of reach for the Swede.
As it stands currently, the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks don't like each other very much.
But I view it more as a competitive rivalry between two squads that figure to be contenders for the next half-decade or so, and will have their fair share of playoff battles over that span. You can't give an inch during these contests, because you're going to be playing the same guys in a few weeks.
Such is the nature of playing in the same division.
But in the opening weeks of July the 'Hawks went out and acquired all the grit and personality they had to trade away following their Cup win two years ago. And by personality, I mean they picked up some sandpaper-ish jerk players that aren't easy to skate against.
Look no further than Dan Carcillo as the guy who could turn this rivalry from distaste into "I can't believe I shook this guys hand" territory.
The retirement of Kris Draper has me a little reminiscent lately, and my hoping for this kind of battle could be a nostalgic grab for a Wings-Avalanche type feud.
But I think the ingredients are there for these two Central Division foes to take this thing to a whole new level. And I'd pay to watch ever single second of it.
Some of you may want to have me committed for this hope, but Jimmy Howard has shown flashes of brilliance during his short tenure as a netminder for the Red Wings.
His outbursts don't tend to come one or two saves at a time, but across periods of the time when Detroit absolutely must win.
Howard was phenomenal in his play against San Jose during the second round of the playoffs last year, and was the principal reason that Detroit pushed that wonderful series to 7 games. In 2009-2010, when the team was ravaged with injuries and slowly sliding down the standings it was Howard who elevated his game and willed the team back into the playoff picture.
He has the big-game ability that you can't teach, and that guys like Roberto Luongo can't seem to figure out.
Yet this 27 year old New York native seems to have that aspect of the game under his thumb.
Like Franzen, if he finds a way to channel this ability across more games then we could have some fireworks on our hands. Howard is heading into his third season as a pro at the NHL level, and is coming off of back-to-back 63 start seasons.
(Human) goalies have a tendency to really pop in their late-20s and early 30s, and Howard could very well fall into that for the 2011-2012 season. He's capable of pushing a .930 save percentage, and can carry a GAA towards 2.20.
His numbers were dinged quite a bit last season by a sagging Detroit defense, but hopefully that will change this year. The blueline has been bolstered a bit by Ian White and Mike Commodore, and a few youngsters will be pushing for roster spots.
That could mean the best statistical season yet for Howard—a top 10 goaltender on the brink of being a very special player.
I don't think the Wings can afford a huge move. They have Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Tomas Holmstrom to to resign at the end of this season. According to capgeek, Holland has around $5.8 million to play around with this season.
I have no idea what the cap will be next year, but one has to assume that it will continue to rise at a ridiculous rate, giving the Wings a little more space to maintain the future of the franchise. So taking on a salary like that of Drew Doughty is probably out of the question.
But a guy like Zach Bogosian I could get on board with.
That rumor feels more like a message board (bored) type deal, but the aspects of this trade I agree with. This is a young player who has never quite found his groove on his current squad. A highly touted, underachieving type guy who could step in, impress, and earn another contract (and perhaps make a guy like Stuart expendable?).
Or a guy who doesn't end up fitting in, and doesn't cost the team a whole lot of long term assets.
After two straight playoff exits against the same team I just can't see Holland standing totally pat with this current lineup. The Wings need a little bit more toughness in the lineup, and while that was mildly addressed with the addition of Commodore, I don't think that will be quite enough to get this team over the top.
The time as come.
At least as close to "the time" as the Wings will ever be. The perfect player in Nicklas Lidstrom needs to recede a bit in importance, and guys like Niklas Kronwall need to begin to fill the un-fallible gap.
If I'm Holland I want to make sure that my defensive core will be able to withstand the loss of one of the best defenders that has ever played the game. That's a long order to be sure. But the team must begin to count on No. 5 less and No. 55 more.
After all, it will be the fellow Swede that succeeds Lidstrom as the center of Detroit's defenders.
We saw a little bit of this taking place during the playoffs last year, where Kronwall logged noticeably more minutes than Lidstrom, and was highly effective in the role. But what happens across an 82 game season where this is the case? We may not know following the 2011-2012 season, but I for one would sleep a helluva lot better if I knew that the transplant was going to take within the next year or two.
Lidstrom can only continue for so long. And I hope this group can prove that they can handle life in the NHL without him.
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