We're about halfway done with our season preview and are a little ahead of schedule. Hopefully we can get this kicked out well before September ends and the teams start their travel season in lovely Europe. Pre-season hockey rules so go check it out in a town near you!
And now, the Detroit Red Wings.
Team M.O.: Perennial winners, the Detroit Red Wings are the envy of other sports franchises, let alone hockey teams. With great ownership and a smart blend of development, trades, and free agents; GM Ken Holland has managed to put together a team which is a Number 5 playoff seed at worst and a Stanley Cup Champion at best. People in Toronto and Edmonton wish this was their hockey club.
Last Season: Fifth overall in the Western Conference and eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals. To some in Northern California, it was the passing of the torch as the student (Sharks coach/former Red Wings assistant coach Todd McLellan) beat the master (Red Wings coach/Best Hair In Hockey Mike Babcock). To the rest of the hockey world, the Red Wings were in a "rebuild" year of sorts and had to wait for a few extra pieces to be made available...
Offense: Babcock has said he's going to reunite the ZDH Line and I can't wait to see it. Pavel Datsyuk remains one of the league's best one-on-one forwards and though a little behind on the offense last season, he still remained Selke-worthy to the point where they may as well just name it the Datsyuk award. Hendrik Zetterberg remains and elite forward with an astounding sense of intelligence. Tomas Holmstrom's starting to be in the infirmary more often than not nowadays, but when healthy he's still one of the best shot-deflecting crease-crashers with a sense of nastiness that 29 other teams would love to have on their club. This means that Valteri Filppula will center a line with power forward/goal scorer Johan Franzan and the all-offensive big man Todd Bertuzzi. Filppula's battled injuries throughout his young career so the Wings did what you'd expect them to: They signed his older brother Ilari for forward depth (though Ilari will go to Grand Rapids; he won't be subject to re-entry waivers and they play the same type of game.) Former Dallas Star and Livonia-native Mike Modano has come home and will center a line with the always versatile Dan Cleary (who's versatility makes him the best Number 7 forward in the league) and the small yet skilled Jiri Hudler (who comes back after spending a year in the Kontinental Hockey League.) Darren Helm and Kris Draper will alternate as the team's speedy defensive centerman while Patrick Eaves will take over as the jack-of-all trades forward that endears him to the Red Wings staff. The team needed toughness; so Justin Abdelkader took matters into his own hands and learned how to fight in the off-season.
There's one more forward spot left on the team. Though the team is looking to either have the defensively sound Drew Miller (who was the Red Wings first waiver claim in over a decade) or the offensively-minded Mattias Riolta round out the forward corps. Aaron Downey will receive a professional tryout after spending last season in semi-retirement (he took the autumn off after being cut from the Phoenix Coyotes and spend the winter in Phoenix playing Senior A hockey with other former professional hockey players) but looks more likely for Grand Rapids than Detroit, which is somewhat unfortunate.
With that said; this team needs an enforcer and that's it. There's plenty of sandpaper in the lineup they just need the icing on the cake. If Downey can have an excellent camp then he'll be golden. If another fighter is available on waivers during the preseason and the Wings can make a claim, I'd love to see that too.
Defense: Nicklas Lidstrom remains one of the best defensemen in hockey and while he's over 40, he's still capable of playing a supreme game. Brian Rafalski doesn't look like he's going anywhere soon so he gives the Wings a second defenseman who'll likely break 40 points. Niklas Kronwall could do that do with his offensive prowess and big-hitting ability but he very seldom, if ever, plays in a full season. Brad Stuart's settled down into the role of the shutdown defender for the Red Wings yet it's one that he's grown confident and comfortable with; and with the right team. Ruslan Salei was signed as a free agent from the Colorado Avalanche and will give the team a defender who was capable of what Andreas Lilja provided but with a bit more nastiness. Hopefully this wears off on Jonathan Ericcson, who can do a little bit of everything but needs a little more aggression and confidence to ascend the depth chart. Jakub Kindl will get his shot as the team's Number 7 defender; he can also provide defense of the tough, physical variety when he finds his groove. Derek Meech has cleared waivers and currently serves as the team's eighth defender. Holland will likely move him as soon as he finds a taker.
Otherwise, their depth's legit so moving on...
Goaltending: Jimmy Howard was able to gain the majority of the starts by season's end and gave the team more confidence in his abilities by season's end. It wasn't easy for Chris Osgood to watch, but he still provided a calming influence and will likely have a better season thanks in part to not having to save the team twice. If this is the end of the road for him, I hope he has a magnificent swan song. Regardless, Babcock would be wise to have them split playing time as opposed to having a Number 1/2 type system. In the minors, Joey MacDonald returns to the organization to mentor and be that Number 3 goaltender while Thomas McCollum will be groomed to be the Red Wings' goalie of the future.
Management: Holland was the G.M. for three championship teams and has continued the Red Wings winning ways. Babcock's stubbornness gets the best of him from time-to-time, but he's a great coach overall and a great leader for the team. Everyone buys into what they're doing there so why change a thing?
Prediction: First in the Central Division and having a nice run in the playoffs.
How far they go in the playoffs depends on their commitment to an enforcer. The only other team in the West who I think is better are the Vancouver Canucks because they have Darcy Hordichuk. If they can snag a guy who can honestly enforce and still appear in 41 games or better, this could be 2008 revisited. Nevertheless, most of the components managed to come from within this season and they're going into the season with one of the best teams possible.