The Detroit Red Wings are perhaps the most successful team of the last decade or so of NHL hockey. They seem always to be at or near the top of the Western Conference, and regularly make some noise in the playoffs. Even last season, a “down” season by Red Wings standards, they made it to the playoffs with strong play near the end of the season, and they beat the Coyotes in a series that was only technically considered an upset. This season they will look to better that result, and they’re in good shape to do just that.
The Red Wings are in a great position, since they’ve lost almost nothing, but made some nice additions that should make them even more dangerous this season. While they lost some contributing players in the form of Andreas Lilja and a few others, the additions were far more substantial. They’ve added Mike Modano, the highest scoring American player in history (not to mention one heck of a leader), and Jiri Hudler, who netted 23 goals two seasons ago in Detroit, and will try to do even better with a bit more maturity under his belt.
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano, Jimmy Howard
The Red Wings offense is talented. Maybe not as talented as the Penguins, or with quite the firepower of the Capitals, but damn good. When a team has the chance to line up the leading American scorer in NHL history as a “supporting scorer,” they’re in pretty good shape. Sure, Modano may have lost a step or two, and he’s not as electric as he once was, but not to worry, Datsyuk, Hudler, Zetterberg, and the rest will be happy to pick up the slack. Not only do the Wings have some real horsepower up front, but having arguably the best puck moving defenseman in the NHL in Lidstrom can’t possibly hurt, so they’ll get some more help from the blue line on the score sheet.
Obviously on the top end with Lidstrom and Rafalski the Red Wings are in pretty good shape. Behind those two, the team is a bit shakier, though Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwell should shake off a tentative last season and perform up to expectations. Perhaps the biggest question mark is in net. Jimmy Howard looked like a potentially special player at times last season, but his ability to build on a great rookie season will have a lot to do with how far this team can go this season. If he suffers from a sophomore slump, they could be in a bit of trouble, though trouble for the Red Wings is significantly different than for the rest of the teams in the league…
Assuming Howard doesn’t implode entirely, I see the Wings giving a good run at the Blackhawks at the top of the Central division, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked to see them grab the #1 spot in the division, but a lot of their playoff hopes rest with Jimmy Howard. If he can play lights out, the sky is the limit for this aging but talented team. If he struggles, expect the team to struggle along with him. The playoffs are as close to a lock as they are for any team, but what happens next is the question on everyone’s mind.
Tags: Andreas Lilja Brad Stuart Brian Rafalski Detroit Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg Jimmy Howard Jiri Hudler Mike Modano Nicklas Lidstrom Niklas Kronwell Pavel Datsyuk Phoenix Coyotes Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals