Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Team Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Key additions: Mike Babcock, Head Coach (ANA); Chris Osgood, G (FA - STL); Andy Delmore, D (FA - BOS); Kent McDonell, RW (FA - CBJ); Jiri Hudler, C (D - 2002, 2/58); Igor Grigorenko, RW (D - 2001, 2/62); Niklas Kronwall, D (D - 2000, 1/29)

Key losses: Derian Hatcher, D (FA - PHI); Brett Hull, RW (FA - PHX); Curtis Joseph, G (FA - PHX); Darren McCarty, RW (FA - CGY); Ray Whitney, LW (FA - CAR); Mathieu Dandenault, D (FA - MTL); Jason Woolley, D (FA); Peter Vandermeer, LW (FA - MTL)

Key players unsigned: Pavel Datsyuk, C; Henrik Zetterberg, LW

Forwards: Assuming they can re-sign Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the Red Wings will still be pumping in the goals by the boatload. The team scored the second-most goals in the League in 2003-04 (only Ottawa scored more), and, despite all the roster turnover, only lost one player who scored more than 15 goals last season (Hull). Sure, they're old. Steve Yzerman is 40. Brendan Shanahan will turn 37 in January, Robert Lang 35 in December. But they were old two years ago and the team won the President's Trophy. Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper will miss their grind line running mate McCarty, but someone will fill in and give the team one of the best checking lines in hockey. Talented young Euros Hudler and Grigorenko will help the offense. This is a team without many holes up front, though another scoring right wing would be icing on the cake.

Defensemen: Stop us if you've heard this somewhere before: the Red Wings are old. Three-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom is 35, Mathieu Schneider is 36 and three-time Norris Trophy winner Chris Chelios will be 44 in January. Yes, 44. Jiri Fischer leads the under-30 crowd on the blueline with a dominant physical presence. Delmore will help provide some offense, and newcomer Kronwall will continue to develop into a solid two-way defenseman.

Goaltenders: Manny Legace spelled Joseph in 2003-04 and put together a great season, going 23-10-5 with a 2.12 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. However he showed signs of either fatigue or pressure when he was relied upon for long stretches of time. Ideally, he would split time in net for Detroit. Enter (or, rather, re-enter) Chris Osgood. At about 1/9 of what Joseph made in 2003-04, Osgood will get a fair share of starts in his second tour of duty for the Wings. Look for new coach Babcock to go with the hot hand in goal.

Bottom line: The Red Wings can no longer simply open the checkbook in July and count on still playing hockey in May. The team will have to stay healthy (though maybe they can get Medicare reimbursements to pay for some injuries), and Legace needs to prove that he can handle being a #1 goalie, but most of the pieces are in place for another run at the President's Trophy.

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