Gearing up in anticipation for the 2009-2010 NHL season, the folks at SB Nation have been running a series of season previews for each team. Today, you guessed it, is the day for the Detroit preview to be up. We here at Winging It are running our own preview and James Mirtle over at From the Rink will have his Detroit preview up. Be sure to check his out as well as ours and of course link them to your friends--yes, that was a shameless plug.
2008-2009 Season Review: After winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, the Red Wings were pretty much an automatic favorite for winning the 2009 Stanley Cup after adding Marian Hossa and Ty Conklin from the Penguins. I guess that's why they play the games then huh? Hossa was one of the key players throughout the regular season, scoring 40 goals and 31 helpers. In contrast to those high numbers during the regular season, Hossa's skills went missing in the playoffs and it hindered the rest of the team's success. I don't pin the whole loss of the Cup on Hossa because it is a team sport after all. Last year's team seemed to go through the motions at times, seemingly disinterested in what was going on on the ice. There were two games in which the opposition put up 8 goals and several games that slipped away for unknown reasons. Call it the Stanley Cup hangover if you want but I call it lack of chemistry and inexcusable complacency. I think the mindset of "offense offense offense" was deadly for the defensive focus and created lapses in good play.
Oh, there were good times too. I mean how can you go to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and call it a bad season? There were so many times I felt the team was unstoppable and they looked so quite often. How else would they have garnered the number 2 seed? The Winter Classic was an incredible game in an incredible atmosphere at Wrigley Field. Or the 6-0 demolishing of the Sharks at the hands of Pavel Datsyuk's 2 goals and 2 assists was pretty incredible too. I've already done two posts on the great moments from last year's season so let's get to the rest of the preview shall we?
The remainder of the preview follows the jump...
Who's Out: Chris Chelios (Free Agent), Jiri Hudler (Moscow Dynamo, KHL), Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks), Tomas Kopecky (Chicago Blackhawks), Mikael Samulesson (Vancouver Canucks), Ty Conklin (St. Louis Blues)
In net: Chris Osgood showed last season, the season before, and both playoff runs that he still has what it takes to be a top goalie. Yeah, sure he's had his spotty moments but that's the nature of the position. He still has the skills and Howard has shown enough in Grand Rapids to get the chance to split time. We could be witnessing the passing of the torch in the Motown net.
Defense: Chris Chelios is no longer on the team and Andreas Lilja will start the year on the long term injured reserve. But if it wasn't for these two circumstances Jonathan Ericsson wouldn't have gotten the chance to start the season with the Red Wings. Ericsson is an up and coming defenseman who shows too much skill and mental awareness to have just had "fluke success" in his time last year. His big frame is a much needed presence in the defensive end and he should work well with the speedy and energetic puck chaser Brett Lebda. Lidstrom and Rafalski are one of the best pairings in the league and Kronwall and Stuart have a perfect chemistry since both are skilled but physical defensemen. The key to the success of the 09-10 team lies in the defense. If they keep the pressure off of Osgood and feed the playmakers, the Red Wings can continue to play their trademark puck possession hockey.
Offense: The success of this offense lies with two guys-- Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are ferocious forecheckers and create opportunities in the offensive zone that shouldn't be there. By controlling the puck, they are able to feed their linemates or fire on goal themselves. Although we will probably see them paired together at some point, they are both great anchors for the top two lines. They both have similar lines with Holmstrom/Bertuzzi in front of the net and Franzen/Cleary as shooters so their point production should be high again. Johan Franzen will likely continue his high level of play but look for guys like Valtteri Filppula and Ville Leino to break out as secondary scorers in the absence of Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson. Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves could play great roles within the offense but I don't expect incredible seasons out of them just yet. Scoring depth and puck possession have been the main focus of the Red Wings in the past and there's no reason for it to change now.
In net: Last year, Osgood was backed up by a solid and proven netminder in Ty Conklin. This year, Jimmy Howard finally makes the move from Grand Rapids to Detroit but will it be a good run? The only reason I even speculate on this is because of his limited experience in the NHL. The former college stud waited his turn down in Grand Rapids and proved he was worthy to take the number 2 spot finally in Detroit. This is more of an uncertainty rather than a weakness in my opinion. The difference between the scorers AHL and the NHL is clear as day and it's hard to predict how a goalie will adjust. Hopefully, Howard will find the pace of the game very quickly because he will be called on often to fill in for Osgood to rest.
Defense: Last year's defense was pretty horrid at times and it showed in two 8 goal games and several 6 goal games. There was very uncharacteristically poor play by Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Stuart far too often for my taste. Pinching in the offensive zone at the wrong time created breakaways, confusion with assignments created shooting lanes, and sometimes just flat out bad defensive play were common during games last year. With the loss of the a lot of the offense from last year, there has to be a new focus on defense. Ericsson showed his knowledge of the game and skill; hopefully this translates to a cohesive third pairing and the top two lines are more likely than not to return to their former level of play.
Offense: Well the loss of 88 goals, or nearly 30% of last year's production, is nothing to overlooked by any means. Hossa was an elite scorer for the Red Wings and Hudler/Samuelsson were great playmakers. I don't know if the addition of Bertuzzi, Williams, and Eaves is enough to make up for that departure but they also may not need to if the identity of this year's team is focused on better defense rather than trying to outscore everyone. Another thing running through my mind is whether or not Tomas Holmstrom will be back to top form or somewhere close. If he's not close, the offense might sputter for a while before finding a new alternative. Good thing there's great scoring depth all the way down to the 4th line right?
Depth Chart: Here's a quick take on the depth chart, based on what the lines have been during camp. Babcock is the king of mixing it up so these lines likely won't stick for the whole year.
|Tomas Holmstrom||Pavel Datsyuk||Johan Franzen|
|Dan Cleary||Henrik Zetterberg||Todd Bertuzzi|
|Ville Leino||Valtteri Filppula||Jason Williams|
|Nicklas Lidstrom||Brian Rafalski|
|Niklas Kronwall||Brad Stuart|
|Jonathan Ericsson||Brett Lebda|
Note: Abdelkader/Helm, Maltby/Eaves are double listed because of the likelihood that Babcock will frequently sit one for the other or in the event of injuries--such as Helm's.
Predictions are a tricky and sometimes risky business. One minute you can look like a genius, the next like a pure idiot. Part of me wants to say the Red Wings will be right back in the Stanley Cup while the other part of me isn't even sure we'll win the division. Chicago took gigantic steps towards re-establishing itself in the division over the past few years and took an even bigger step this past year signing Hossa. The rest of the division has drastically improved too but I still think it is a two horse race for the Central. That being said, I think Detroit has the goaltending, coaching, and team chemistry to still make a deep run into the playoffs. Bertuzzi, Williams, and Eaves all bring a certain hunger and grit to the team that can help protect the star players--something missing from last year's team. In the end, I think the only thing that will hinder the team's success could be injuries.
I'll say that Detroit will finish no worse than 3rd in the Conference in terms of points (not necessarily 3rd seed) and make it to the Conference Finals again.
Let's get your take on things!