September 11, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy (See Also Wings Eulogy): Second in the Western Conference, first in the Central Division (51-21-10, 112 points). Swept the Columbus Blue Jackets, outlasted the Anaheim Ducks in seven games, blasted the Chicago Blackhawks in five and then watched Sidney Crosby(notes) snub the handshake line while celebrating the Stanley Cup championship after Game 7. And yeah, they're still a little sore about that last one.
This is a good thing. The Detroit Red Wings with a chip on their collective shoulder are a dangerous bunch. Like when critics doubted that a reigning champion can make it back to the finals. Like when an NHL commissioner issued a quasi-suspension because players didn't participate in the all-star game festivities. Like when a Cup-winning goalie stunk in the regular season, and then posted a 2.01 GAA and a .926 save percentage in coming one win away from bringing his team to consecutive titles.
Entering 2009-10, there are those who will say the Red Wings have lost some depth, lost a step and will cede their supremacy to Chicago or Vancouver or whomever the heir apparent is this season in the West. Which is exactly the sort of thinking Detroit excels in debunking on its way to another run at the Cup.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Ken Holland and the Wings' managerial brains have rightfully earned the trust from fans that their decisions are the right ones for the organization. That faith was put to the test this summer.
Winger Todd Bertuzzi(notes) returned to Detroit in a one-year deal after a mini-career revival with the Calgary Flames. Bert's on his fifth team in four seasons, hasn't cracked 20 goals since 2006 and remains a polarizing figure amongst fans. But he says he's healthy, and if that's the case than he could be a valuable power forward.
Another former Wing, Jason Williams(notes), returns to a coach and a system he's familiar with in an effort to replace Mikael Samuelsson. Winger Patrick Eaves(notes) was traded from Carolina to Boston, bought out in Boston and then signed by Detroit. Journeymen defensemen Andy Delmore(notes) and Doug Janik(notes) are both on the roster. Holland saved his most curious move for last: The invitation to much-maligned goalie Dan Cloutier(notes) to attend Wings camp, after a busy summer attempting to save beach balls at Jimmy Buffet shows.
All of these moves were made with reasonable, sometimes discounted price tags and relatively low-impact ... in direct contrast with Summer 2008, when Holland and the Wings made a huge free-agent splash. Say, whatever happened to that guy?
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Marian Hossa's defection to the Chicago Blackhawks came after the winger was somewhere between ineffective and invisible during the finals loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He left the Penguins for the Wings; the Penguins won the Cup. He leaves the Wings for the Blackhawks, and ... well, let's just say that karma is a cruel mistress, and she's not waiting for the playoffs to show her teeth.
Hossa takes some significant offense with him, to be sure. But he also takes a salary and contract commitment that the Red Wings, in the long term, are likely better without carrying on their cap.
Like Hossa's, the Wings expected other departures. Backup goalie Ty Conklin(notes) went to St. Louis, where the Blues may be under some delusion that they have a Winter Classic this season. Center Tomas Kopecky(notes), a very good depth player for the Wings, followed Hossa and the money trail to Wirtzville. Winger Mikael Samuelsson(notes) left one group of famous Swedes for another, signing with Vancouver.
Losing Jiri Hudler(notes) hurt, if only because it appeared he was headed for salary arbitration before bolting to the KHL. It wasn't guaranteed he'd be back as an RFA, but losing three solid supporting players in the same summer added up.
Also, the Wings finally said goodbye to 47-year-old Chris Chelios(notes), who may actually end up in the AHL this season. Where he won't be: Skating with his son, who is starting at Michigan State, because "I'm not going to follow him around like Rodney Dangerfield" in "Back To School." No doubt because he's yet to master the Triple Lindy.
Datsyuk averaged 2.91 points per 60 minutes of even-strength hockey, and had 36 power play points. His Selke award was another shred of evidence for those who claim Dats is the most complete forward in the NHL. He's an offensive dynamo that, had he been healthy in the finals, could have turned the tide. Of course, he appeal goes beyond what he does on the ice. Once more, with feeling: "Don't touch my dream with your dirty hands."Jonathan Ericsson(notes), who's going to be a very good pro, the one to watch this season is Ville Leino(notes).
Leino's a 25-year-old winger who had nine points in 13 games last season, showing flashes of enormous offensive potential. He's been working hard to develop into an NHL player, working on skating and defense. He'll no doubt make the team in some capacity, but the question remains if he'll be a role player down in the lineup or play his way up to being a de facto replacement for Hossa's points. It'll be the difference between helping the Wings win and challenging for the Calder.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): We all know the story -- Chris Osgood(notes) goes from the Stanley Cup's escort at movie premieres to a mediocre regular season goalie who nearly lost his gig and was actually sent home in an attempt to bust the slump. Then, when the playoffs arrived, Osgood because Osgood again: One of the best postseason money goalies in recent history, backstopping the Wings to within one win of a second straight Cup.
With that, he rendered predictions about his upcoming season pointless. Jimmy Howard(notes) could start five games or 25 games; barring injury or the Wings' inexplicable absence from the postseason, Osgood'll be the starter in Detroit's first playoff game. There's no other goalie in hockey whose regular season matters so little in relation to his postseason. OK, outside of Luongo.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Nicklas Lidstrom's(notes) name was on the Norris Trophy ballot yet he didn't win it, which is odd. The 39-year-old Swedish cyborg (26:43 TOI per game) has rehabbed his elbow all summer and enters the last year of his contract. Think a guy who suffered a "nearly catastrophic injury to his testicle" and then kept on competing for the Stanley Cup will retire? Didn't think so.
While the Wings had to find some new faces to fill in the blanks behind their offensive stars, the defense basically returns intact. Brett Ledba and Andreas Lilja(notes) could be paired again, assuming Lilja's brain has stopped bleeding. Nicklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart(notes) are the most physical pairing on the team; players like Ericsson and Derek Meech(notes) are tapping their feet patiently.
The Inventor (The Coach): Mike Babcock is, without question, one of the best coaches in the NHL, and not just because the man contorts his face into several dozens snarly grimaces during any given game. He's a great tactician, solid manager of talent and exudes the calm confidence that's found throughout the locker room. Babcock has some challenges this season, from integrating new faces to figuring out why the penalty kill was poo-poo. But he's the right man for the job.
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B- (A power play that's as good as the kill was bad.)
"The Wings will need their defense and penalty-kill units to improve because of the loss of 90 goals scored. Last year the offense would bail out a poor showing by either the defense or PK in a game, but that won't be as probable this season. If they show their improvement in those two areas during the regular season, I expect the Wings to have another long run in the playoffs."
"We can expect the Wings to be highly motivated, angry and tenacious this season. They may not look as good on paper this time around, but they'll make up for that in heart. They'll still compete."
"What do I expect from the Wings? Oh, not much. Just continued excellence and a 12th Stanley Cup. If a Hart trophy finalist, one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history and at least four other difference makers are injured in the Final like '09? Well, I suppose the possibility exists that the Wings could lose to an inferior team again, and there are plenty of those...like 29 of them."
"Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Dallas Drake(notes), and in all likelihood Andreas Lilja will be the only four players from the 2008 Cup winning team missing from the 2010 team. Drake and Hudler played 3rd and 4th line minutes, while Lilja was just trying to get through each game without vomiting up a crucial turnover. Samuelsson was pretty solid throughout, save for a few wayward slapshots, but he's not what you would call irreplaceable."
"So we lose those guys, plus Holmstrom, Draper and Maltby are all on the decline ... but now we now have a talented Ville Leino, an improved Darren Helm(notes) and Valtteri Filppula(notes), a future star defenseman in Jonathan Ericsson, and the same top five guys in Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Rafalski. Not to mention a battle-tested goaltender, wrecking ball Niklas Kronwall(notes) and the fact that this team will be playing with revenge on their mind for 8 straight months. I still like our chances."
"The entire team will be recommitting itself to strong defensive play, and Mike Babcock simply won't allow them to sleep through the first 40 minutes of every game like they did last season. A lot of 'experts' have entertained themselves by writing about the imminent downfall of the Dynasty this summer thanks to the team's free agent losses, but they've clearly overlooked how strong the reinforcements from within the organization are (Helm, Ericsson, Leino...not your average rookies). I'll gladly take my chances with a roster that includes Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom, Johan Franzen(notes), Brian Rafalski, and, yes, Chris Osgood any day."
Don Draper Says ...
"Wingers come and go, Campbell, and sometimes it's best to rid them of unrealistic expectations. If I leave this place, one day, it will not be for the dream of a silver chalice and a 12-year contract. It'll be because my accomplishments here told me it's time to leave."
Results May Vary (Biggest Issues Facing the Team): There are two significant ones for the Red Wings, and they are health and quality of depth.
We know what to expect from Henrik Zetterberg (31-42-73 and outstanding two-way play), Datsyuk, Johan Franzen (34-25-59), Valtteri Filppula (40 points) and Tomas Holmstrom(notes) (37 points in 52 games) if they're healthy. There is a sense, though, that the safety net for these players isn't as sturdy as it's been in the past. The free-agent acquisitions aren't as good as the players that left. Inexperienced players like Justin Abdelkader(notes) and Leino have tons of potential but few results in the regular-season grind. Kris Draper(notes) and Kirk Maltby(notes) are both a year older. It's a talented supporting cast for the stars, but you want to see what they look like in practice rather than potential.
Warranty Expires (Prediction): The dynastic run for the Wings isn't over. This is a Stanley Cup contender because the front-line players on offense and defense are better than almost anyone else in the NHL. Is there adversity? Sure, but the Wings thrive on that. Get ready for another few postseason rounds of octopus slime on your arena ice.