The Detroit Red Wings are too old to compete for a Stanley Cup this season. Teams such as the San Jose Sharks and LA Kings got stronger during the offseason, and will be too much for the Wings to handle. The team as a whole is on the downswing, and their best days are behind them.
That's what the haters will tell you to believe. But don't be fooled.
The Wings are just as deep and talented as ever, and have plenty of youthful reinforcements on the way to backup the regulars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
While the core remains intact there are a handful of Red Wings that are primed and ready for breakout seasons. While making a run at the Cup wouldn't be a cakewalk, the odds would increase in a big way if these five players find a higher gear.
Jimmy Howard had a bit of an off-year last season along with Detroit's defense as a whole, and it shows in his saggy numbers. Odds of the not playing solid D thing were somewhere on Mike Babcock's radar, and a new system was probably conceived as two new assistant coaches were added to the fold.
Regardless of how the team is playing in front of him, there is no doubt in my mind that Howard can be better than he has shown. And that isn't to say that he's been bad. It's just that his flashes of brilliance are brighter and more explosive than your favorite Michael Bay flick.
He showed another gear entirely—think Ferrari here—during a remarkably close seven game encounter with the Sharks during the playoffs, and now that we know it's there, Howard is on the hook for it. He doesn't need to shoulder the workload and win hockey games by himself, but the Wings are a much more formidable team if he can play that way.
Howard playing his way into the top 10 netminders in the league would make the Central division very hard to pry away from the Wings.
At one point (well, a lot more than one point) Valtteri Filppula was my favorite Red Wings to curse at. He always seemed to be trying to do just a little too much with the puck, and tended to make bad choices in all three zones.
Perhaps I was being too hard on the guy, but that's how I always felt.
Towards the end of last season and during the playoffs something changed for Filppula though. I'm not over-exaggerating when I say that at times from across a sports bar I would see him make a play with the puck and initially think it was Pavel Datsyuk.
I'm not saying that he's nearly that good that often, but recently it seems like he's become much more capable at hanging onto the puck, beating his defender, and making slick plays. I thought that perhaps it was just a phase he was in—kind of like that juncture some teenagers go through where they paint their nails black and think that Slipknot is the best band on the planet. But he was pretty good in the preseason as well.
Whenever trade rumors start swirling in Detroit, Filppula's name usually comes up—something that never used to bother me. Now all of a sudden the thought of dealing him sits in my stomach about as well as three cans of Skyline chili.
I think he's finally putting all the pieces of his own personal puzzle together and will be an important player for Detroit this season.
This one might be wishful thinking on my part, but if Arrested Development can be brought back for another season and a movie, then anything can happen. There may be no player on the Red Wings roster who needs to step up more than Jonathan Ericsson.
After signing a contract that had more than a few fans shrugging their shoulders, it's paramount that Ericsson starts strong and plays a steady game. The talent is certainly there—if it wasn't Kenny Holland wouldn't have given him the dollar and term that he did.
It wasn't that long ago (2009) that he was impressing and surprising people with his play in all three zones. Since his emergence during the 2009 playoffs, he's been a bit of a let down. But not all defenders age the same way, and Ericsson still could prove to be a valuable member of Detroit's blueline.
I love Darren Helm so much that I recently got a "Darren Helm for President" tattoo on my life bicep. Which I grew to regret when I realized that Helmer was born in Winnipeg, thus automatically making him ineligible to run for office.
But that doesn't mean that he isn't going to have a phenomenal season for the Red Wings. The speedy center increased his point total to 32 last season, and breaking 40 is hardly out of the question given his hands and wheels. If he could approach 50 points it would give Detroit another quality depth scorer and make them that much harder to match up against.
Every time he steps on the ice you know what you're going to get from Helm—road runner-type speed, Hulk Hogan-type work ethic, and Reed Richards-type smarts with the puck. It doesn't get much better than that.
With the retirement of Kris Draper, Helm is the centerpiece to Detroit's top penalty killing unit, and could end up seeing a little bit of time on the power play this season.
I changed my mind. No Red Wing needs to have a big season this year more than Niklas Kronwall. Not Ericsson.
As it stands right now, Kronwall will be Detroit's linchpin defender after the other Nick decides to retire—something that could be the reality at the end of this season. He was very steady last season, and was even better in the playoffs.
Kronwall should continue to grow as a defender both in the offensive zone and defensive zone this year, making all Red Wings fans feel at least just a little bit better if No. 5 hangs up the skates for good at the end of the season.