The Detroit Red Wings have arguable been the most successful franchise in the NHL since the lockout and the formation of the “new” salary-cap era. This past summer, however, the once invincible-looking Red Wings seemingly took a huge step back as they lost several players to free agency – including Marian Hossa, who opted to sign with Central division rival the Chicago Blackhawks. Before proclaiming that the age of the Winged Wheel has ended in the Central Division, however, you need to remind yourself of three things about the Wings: They still sport some of the best defensive depth in the NHL, they have an incredible knack for overcoming adversity and they won the Cup in 2007-08 with a roster that looks pretty similar to their current one.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will again be called upon to lead the Red Wings up front this season. After a sluggish regular season, Zetterberg upped the ante in the playoffs and finished with 24 points in 23 games, including 11 goals. Zetterberg should have no problem bumping right back up to 80-90 points this season. Datsyuk, calm and shifty as ever, should be able to leave some nagging injuries from the playoffs behind him and perhaps become the first Red Wing to score 100 points in a single season since Sergei Federov. These are two of the best forwards, and often most overlooked forwards, in the NHL right now.
Budding stars like Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen will be called upon to fill help lead the secondary offense and fill the voids left be departed free agents. Franzen, who had 34 goals last season, needs to put in a consistent effort night in and night out. Under those circumstances, Franzen could easily top the 40-goal mark and could be a fantasy hockey sleeper, especially if he gets significant time on the top line with Datsyuk. Filppula, the Finnish center who often shows flashes of brilliance, also needs to show more consistency throughout the entire season.
While the free-agent additions of former Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams baffled some, others believe they will certainly help establish more offensive depth for the Red Wings. Jason Williams has had a stellar pre-season thus far and looks right at home with his old Red Wings teammates and could be a dangerous threat playing the point on the second power play unit. Todd Bertuzzi came into training camp looking fit and feeling healthy. If he can find his hands near the net, expect big contributions out of him playing the wing alongside Zetterberg. Bertuzzi’s big question mark is health, however. The big man needs to find a way to stay out of the press box and stay on the bench with his teammates.
The Red Wings defense is scary good, but needs to tighten up some if they are to go deep into the playoffs. Defensive lapses hurt this team last year, but an abundance of scoring power propelled the Wings to more wins than they might have had otherwise. Both forwards and defenseman alike need to tighten up their game if they are to stay on top of the Central division. But with veterans like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski leading the pack, and players like Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson making names for themselves quickly, this defense still looks to be at the top of their game and should be able to contain even the fiercest offenses in the Western Conference.
Goaltending remains somewhat of a question mark for this organization. Chris Osgood had a subpar regular season only to turn up his play to Conn Smyth caliber in the post season last year. Which goalie will show up when the puck drops later this week? Jimmy Howard, the new backup goaltender replacing Ty Conklin, has looked soft in several of his NHL contests in previous seasons. Howard will get plenty of opportunities to show his stuff, however, as he is slated to play around 30 games behind Ozzie. It’s do or die for Howard, who the Red Wings have billed as the goalie of the future for several seasons. The future is now for the Wings.
The future certainly is now when you consider that Darren Helm, Ville Leino and Jonathan Ericsson are all considered rookies this year despite the fact that Helm and Ericsson played through most of the playoffs with the Wings last spring. Their play catapulted them to a new level and now the Wings want to see what these young guys are made of as regulars to the roster. If they play half as good as they did in the playoffs, expect big things.
The Detroit Red Wings may have lost some talent, but they are a team that knows how to win. Even without Hossa, this team is stocked full of potential all-stars. And come next April, the Detroit Red Wings will again be in the postseason as a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.