Detroit Red Wings: 8 Reasons They Are the Best Franchise in the NHL Right Now
Since joining Bleacher Report a few months back, I've done my best to deliver views, opinions, articles and lists from a centrist point of view. Read: I try pretty hard to stay away from the "homer" point of view when it comes to writing about the Detroit Red Wings.
In fact, there are few things that a reader could say about me that would dent my armor more—and I surrender this information trusting that you, the reader, won't use it against me come playoff time next season.
But this assignment rolled into my email this week, and for the first time in a few months, I'm going to give in to the inner fan and look at a few reasons why I believe the Red Wings could be considered the best franchise currently doing business in the NHL.
That isn't to say that there isn't any competition.
One could argue that teams such as the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins all have a place towards the top of the list. And my calling the Red Wings the best isn't a slight toward any of these teams or any other squad in the NHL.
I just think Detroit has a lot going for it moving forward.
Keep that in mind as you read this list. It's for fun, and any number of teams could be considered top of the tops in the pros. In fact I'd love to generate some discussion about this topic. If Detroit isn't the top franchise the NHL, then who is and why?
Leave your thoughts below and let me know what you think. The next few slides outline why I believe the Red Wings are indeed the premier franchise in the league right now.
Kenny Holland Still Has the Touch
I sincerely thank the Hockey Gods for the day Kenny Holland came on board to manage the roster of the Detroit Red Wings. The brain trust of this team, led by Holland, eases any concerns that I may have about the future. And those concerns may be growing in number.
An aging forward core. Not a whole lot of proven depth in net. And one of the greatest blueliners ever is getting ready to call it a career within the next few seasons.
But I'm not losing any sleep. Not yet. Not until Holland shows that he has lost his touch.
He's guided the yacht that is the Detroit Red Wings through some pretty tricky waters, and I have faith that Holland can continue to do so. You should too.
His overwhelming tendency to hang on to the right players (Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Todd Bertuzzi) while letting go of the wrong ones (Andreas Lilja, Mikael Samuelsson) should give Wings fans a lot of faith for the future. The brass knows the team inside and out and knows the precise moves to make.
Even doing things such as signing Fabian Brunnstrom to a tryout contract make sense for a team that has a tendency of turning average players or underachieving youngsters into regular contributors.
Holland played the free-agency game perfectly this summer, refusing the overpay in a market that wasn't overly friendly to the buyers.
While several players landed contracts that were arguably $1 million or $2 million over their worth, Holland was content in bringing in a guy like Ian White for under $3 million. Not too shabby.
The Forward Core Is Locked Up Long Term and Produces Plenty
Pavel Datsyuk is still a point-per-game player, as is Henrik Zetterberg. With that in mind, I can't help but believe that calls for the demise of the Winged Wheel due to grey in the beard and mucked up joints are exaggerated—borderline wishful thinking even.
Datsyuk only played in 56 contests last season and still managed 59 points. Zetterberg played in all but two regular season games, notching 80 points along the way.
Toss in Johan Franzen's "off year" that saw him net only 28 goals and near 50-point campaigns from Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, and there is plenty of offense to go around from this lineup.
All things considered, putting pucks in the net wasn't an issue at all for this group of forwards. The Cup finalist Canucks were the only team in the league that averaged more goals more game and just barely.
The Complementary Players Are Fast and Hungry
Anyone who watched the first round of the playoffs last year probably got this same feeling. Players like Justin Abdelkader were all over the place and putting plenty of rubber on the net.
It felt like every line had a little something going on in the offensive zone, and mostly everyone in the lineup had a point or two against Phoenix.
Four games later and the Wings were fighting uphill for their playoff lives on a nightly basis. And the team responded well.
Datsyuk continued his magic, and Zetterberg started to come on strong towards the end. But the depth players picked up their play and had just as much to do with the near-comeback as anyone else did.
The fact that players like Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves and even Valtteri Filppula were taking over shifts from time to time is another reason for Wings fans to be confident moving forward.
Abdelkader is heading into his contract year, so I have a hunch that he could be a bit of a breakout candidate for the Wings this upcoming season.
Who could have known? That's what I ask myself after Darren Helm pulls off some redline-in rush, beating two or three opposing players in the process.
Or when he turns on the afterburners and breaks up a play on the backcheck when mostly every other player in the league wouldn't be to the blueline before a goal was scored.
Detroit has a lot of players to be excited about in the system—we'll get to them later—but Helmer has already skated and scored his way into the hearts of Detroit fans, and may be one of the cornerstones of the franchise in the years to come.
There are more talented players around the league, on the team, and in the farm system. But the energy and ethic that Helm brings to the ice on a nightly basis is just as necessary as the goals and goaltending.
It's no accident that the Red Wings were at their most successful when they employed three or four grinders who could also score and take some power play time.
Any success that Detroit has on this front will have Helm at the center of it.
Detroit Has Plenty of Talent Coming Up the Pipeline
The Detroit Red Wings are the oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 30. That's almost two years older than the third-placed Anaheim Ducks. This fact surely helps detractors sleep at night, and if you're one of those folks, I'd stop reading now.
Because Detroit has plenty of exciting prospects that will be NHL-ready over the next three years or so.
Hockeysfuture.com, which I pretty much consider gospel, has the Wings ranked 12th for overall prospect depth and potential. That's only one spot behind the vaunted and youthful Chicago Blackhawks and in the same ZIP code as perennial basement-dwellers such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.
Which means the Wings have drafted pretty well without falling off at all in the last decade. They haven't missed the playoffs since I was three years old. And they still have kids like Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar.
They have an abundance of talented players who have the potential to be first-liners at the NHL level, and a quick run through of their top six or seven prospects on YouTube will give any Wings fan plenty to get excited about.
The formula of having a mix of fresh, hungry legs and talented veterans won't be changing in Motor City any time soon.
Stellar Coaching That Refuses to Stand Pat
Since breaking into the NHL as head coach of the Anaheim Ducks in 2002, all Mike Babcock has done is win. His regular-season record is outstanding, with 373 wins and only 188 losses.
He's been to the Stanley Cup Final three times in eight years and is the only coaching member of the highly touted Triple Gold Club.
But that isn't good enough for Babcock, who knows that preaching the same game season in and season out will lose players. His assistants have a tendency to land head coaching jobs elsewhere in the League.
This summer wasn't an exception, and he was forced to piece together a coaching staff in a few short months.
Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters will be flanking Babcock for the 2011-2012 NHL season, and they bring with them new ways to approach the game and a fresh voice and viewpoint for players. They've been top notch coaches no matter where they have been, and that trend should continue in Detroit.
With such a strong foundation of hockey minds on the ice, behind the bench and running things behind the scenes, it's hard to envision a drop-off for the Red Wings any time soon.
A Young, Talented Starting Netminder
Jimmy Howard is heading into his third year as the starting goaltender for the Red Wings, and it could be his breakout season.
Some pundits will stat-surf, and point to his numbers last season to "prove" that he is a bit of a question mark for Detroit. But that couldn't be any further from the truth. When games are on the line, this is a guy you want in your net.
The series against the Sharks is a prime example of that.
He gave the team a chance to win every single game, and lost in Game 7 of the closest playoff series ever.
And before that, Howard kept the team afloat two seasons ago when injuries were mounting at a rate of two-a-game, and it looked like Detroit may actually miss the playoffs as winter pushed on into spring.
But he upped his game to another level and earned himself a Calder Trophy nomination.
He may never be mentioned in the same sentence as Roberto Luongo or Henrik Lundqvist, but he'll continue to keep the Red Wings in games. And that's all you really need to ask of your goaltender when you score at the rate Detroit does.
This season, the Wings will probably be looking to improve on a very poor defensive year in 2010-2011, and that will only help Howard.
A Youthful and Reinvigorated Fanbase
All I can say is keep it up, Detroitians.
For the first time in a long while, I got chills in response to the crowd's noise level while listening to games on the radio during the playoffs. There seems to be an energy in the arena that hadn't been there over the last few seasons.
I'm not sure what the reason for this is—and I'd love some perspective from a Joe Louis Arena regular—but this is only a good thing for a city that has been on the ropes since the recession began.
Keep those chants loud and proud! I want to hear you all the way in Indiana during the home opener against Ottawa.
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