Detroit Red Wings

Where to begin? The defending Cup champs are so well-balanced and talented from top to bottom that the fact they managed to land Marian Hossa means they’re the heavy favourites to repeat again, which hasn’t happened since 1997 and 1998 when, you guessed it, Steve Yzerman and the Wings did it. It almost came as a shock to some that the Wings won the Cup, in part because 1) they had an European captain, and 2) their best centre had been labeled as a playoff “choker” the last couple of years. They were labeled as a team that didn’t scare anybody with their physical play, which is partly true, but when the Ducks won the Cup the year before it the in-your-face type of hockey the Ducks played almost became a standard for Cup-contending teams. Instead the Wings stuck to their gameplan and proved everyone wrong.

It’s always a blessing that your best offensive players are also your best defensive players. For Mike Babcock, he’s been blessed with their Big Three of Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Pavel Datsyuk. The Euro Trio is by far the most committed, talented, and well-rounded core in the league. When your best players are in the running for the Art Ross, Selke, and Norris trophies, you know you’ve got something special. This is what differentiates the Wings from all the other teams in the league – unlike about 3/4 of the league, they can send out their best players in any situation of the game. The three carried the team throughout the season and the playoffs, and in the process showed to the world that Europeans know how to play playoff hockey too. Not only that, their supporting cast, once again carefully put together by Ken Holland, came through and responded well when they were asked upon. Just ask anybody about Johan Franzen, whose 13 playoff goals had him being mentioned as a potential Conn Smythe candidate. The Wings are just blessed with talent through all 12 forwards, almost a little unfair, considering the speedy and surprising Darren Helm may be the odd man out this year despite having the ability to become at least a 4th liner on any other team. The Wings could boast as many as 8 20+ goal scorers this coming year.

On defense you can’t start with anyone else other than Lidstrom, who is the most valuable player to his position, and potentially the best defenseman of his generation. Lidstrom doesn’t do anything that will make you stand up or cheer, but he has the ability to just glue your eyes to the screen and watch him do difficult things with a incredible ease. He rarely makes any mistakes, and that’s how defensemen should play their game. His hockey smarts are completely off the charts, and when paired with Brian Rafalski, one of the most underrated puck-movers in the game, they form the most dangerous PP duo in the league. Rafalski played a major role in their Cup win, despite the fact that he was often overshadowed by the Euro Trio’s defensive games. In fact, it was very surprising that Datsyuk had led the team in hits, with Zetterberg following close behind. Brad Stuart re-vitalized his career and seems to be enjoying his time in Detroit. The most feel-good story though, is Niklas Kronwall (brother Staffan plays for Toronto), who led the team’s defensemen in points with 15 and played every single game, despite never playing in more than 70 during the season. Along with Jonathan Ericsson, who was drafted as a forward, “Nick, Jr.” could be the future anchor of this team’s defense when Lidstrom retires.

The Wings proved that you don’t need a $6m goalie to win. Chris Osgood posted some of the best stats of his career last year in part because of a new hybrid style and the defense in front of him. Osgood’s $1.4m cap hit is amongst the lowest in the league for goalies, but at that price he’s probably the best bang for your buck in the league. Should he falter, and even if he does with the personnel in front of him will keep Detroit at least in the top 10 in defense, Ty Conklin is more than capable, after making a string of spectacular starts in the place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury.

There’s almost no weaknesses on this squad. An already potent offense added the best sniper on the market this summer in Hossa, and a stable defense will have Stuart for a full season and a more experienced Kronwall. Osgood is the de facto starter and won’t have to fight to regain his starting role. The coaching staff remains one of the league’s best despite losing Todd McLellan to the Sharks. The only thing that’s stopping the Wings are themselves, who will no doubt have to motivate themselves for 82 games and more. It’s been ten years since the last Cup repeats, and the Wings have set themselves up to break that trend.

Cap wise, the Wings are very close to the ceiling, but that shouldn’t be a problem considering that there will quite a bit of player movements in the first couple months of the season. The most pressing matter for the Wings, however, is Zetterberg’s extension. His contract expires this summer, and don’t worry Wings fans, he won’t be going anywhere. However, Hossa is also in the same boat and it remains to be seen what will be done should both have outstanding seasons. Neither will make more than Lidstrom’s $7.45m, but nothing less than Datsyuk’s $6.7m as well. Zetterberg has priority over Hossa, who may head for greener pastures or even perhaps return to Pittsburgh should he win a Cup this year.

Projected lineup:
Pavel Datsyuk – Henrik Zetterberg – Tomas Holmstrom
Johan Franzen – Valtteri Filppula – Marian Hossa
Kirk Maltby – Kris Draper – Mikael Samuelsson
Dan Cleary – Tomas Kopecky – Jiri Hudler

Niklas Lidstrom – Brian Rafalski
Brad Stuart – Niklas Kronwall
Andreas Lilja – Brett Lebda

Chris Osgood – Ty Conklin

scratches: Darren Helm, Chris Chelios, Jonathan Ericsson

Coach: Mike Babcock
GM: Ken Holland

Predicted finish: 1st Central, 1st West