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2010-11 NHL Previews: Detroit Red Wings

RETURN TO 2010-11 NHL PREVIEW INDEX

2009-10 RECORD:
44-24-14/102 pts
2nd in Central Division
5th in Western Conf.
—————-
GM: Ken Holland
COACH: Mike Babcock
—————-
2010-11 PAYROLL:
$58,792,000 ($0.9M below cap)

It was a tough year for what is perhaps the most consistently dominant team in the NHL. First the Red Wings, two years removed from their last Stanley Cup and the defending Western Conference champs, failed to win the Central Division for the first time in a decade. Because they finished behind Chicago, the fifth-seed in the West also missed out on first-round home ice — ending their streak of opening the playoffs with the home advantage at 17. What followed was a tough series against Phoenix that went the distance followed by a quicker-than-expected loss to San Jose that kept Detroit out of the conference finals for the first time in four years.

But there is more to the story than mere regression as a team. The Red Wings were forced to contend with injuries to key personnel in their lineup that prevented them from fielding most of their top-choice roster until after the Olympic break. Teetering on the brink of missing the postseason altogether, the Wings came out of the break and caught fire, posting an NHL-best 16-3-2 record to close out the season. That stretch is far more indicative of Detroit’s potential than the playoff stretch.

Just like their division rival, the team has a core group of players locked up for the long haul. But unlike Chicago the Red Wings had no need for a fire sale in the offseason to rework their cap figures. As long as injuries don’t become a factor for a second straight year, Detroit has the potential to retake their spot atop the Central…

# Pos Name Height Weight Age
8 F Justin Abdelkader 6′ 1″ 212 23
44 F Todd Bertuzzi 6′ 3″ 225 35
11 F Dan Cleary 6′ 0″ 205 31
13 F Pavel Datsyuk 5′ 11″ 194 32
33 F Kris Draper 5′ 10″ 188 39
17 F Patrick Eaves 6′ 0″ 191 26
51 F Valtteri Filppula 6′ 0″ 193 26
93 F Johan Franzen 6′ 3″ 222 30
43 F Darren Helm 5′ 11″ 195 23
96 F Tomas Holmstrom 6′ 0″ 198 37
26 F Jiri Hudler 5′ 10″ 182 26
18 F Kirk Maltby 6′ 0″ 195 37
20 F Drew Miller 6′ 2″ 178 26
90 F Mike Modano 6′ 3″ 212 40
40 F Henrik Zetterberg 5′ 11″ 195 29
52 D Jonathan Ericsson 6′ 4″ 220 26
37 D Doug Janik 6′ 2″ 211 30
4 D Jakub Kindl 6′ 3″ 199 23
55 D Niklas Kronwall 6′ 0″ 192 29
5 D Nicklas Lidstrom 6′ 1″ 190 40
14 D Derek Meech 5′ 11″ 200 26
28 D Brian Rafalski 5′ 10″ 194 37
24 D Ruslan Salei 6′ 1″ 212 35
23 D Brad Stuart 6′ 2″ 210 30
35 G Jimmy Howard 6′ 0″ 210 26
31 G Joey MacDonald 6′ 0″ 197 30
30 G Chris Osgood 5′ 10″ 180 37

MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: Pavel Datsyuk (top-line center) — The 32-year-old was one of the uninjured of last season, but with so much shuffling in the lineup he never found his best game and posted his lowest points total since the lockout.

KEY ACQUISITION: Jiri Hudler (F – returned from KHL) — A contract dilemma left Hudler the center of a cross-Atlantic dispute over player rights for the 2009-10 season. He’d filed for arbitration as a restricted free agent shortly before inking a more-lucrative deal in Russia, which sparked a court case about which team — Detroit or Dynamo Moscow — had earned the right to slot the Czech winger in their lineup. Ultimately the Russians won the day this time on a technicality of signature. He’s back in Detroit after a year with Dynamo in the KHL, having put up 54 points in 54 games in what is at this point the world’s second-best league, and ready to take flight on the right wing alongside newcomer Mike Modano. Hudler was a 23-goal scorer during his most recent NHL season of 2008-09, and he should be able to return to that sort of production. Both he and Modano are going to be part of a revamped third line for Detroit that, if given the right amount of ice time, should be effective at both ends of the ice. Hudler’s play will dictate the success or failure of the Modano acquisition in the eyes of the public, and that’s why he’s the key newcomer in the lineup from last year’s configuration.

KEY DEPARTURE: Brett Lebda (D – FA to Toronto) — The blueline corps is the unit on which the fortunes of the Wings hinge. We know that Nicklas Lidstrom (with Niklas Kronwell) and Brian Rafalski (with Brad Stuart) will anchor the top two lines; Lidstrom is 40 and Rafalski 37 this year. Can they hold up? If not, they might just rue having allowed Brett Lebda get away across the border to historic rival Toronto. Lebda, the 28-year-old free agent who had played alongside Chris Chelios in the twilight of the legend’s career, was a staple of the Detroit defense for most of the past five seasons. Their offseason replacement, Ruslan Salei, now sets up on the third line with Jonathan Ericsson… but Salei is himself already 35 and hardly the same player he once was. If Lebda finds his best in a Maple Leafs sweater, how much will Ken Holland be kicking himself?

KEY YOUNGSTER: Jimmy Howard (G/26 years old) — Perhaps 26 might be a little old to consider someone a youngster, but for a goalie it is but the beginning of the road. And Howard, still having played just one full NHL season, heads into his sophomore season hoping to sustain last year’s brilliance. Displacing longtime Motor City staple Chris Osgood, Howard posted a sterling 37-15-10 record and was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. The netminder found playoff hockey to be a little daunting, however, going just 5-7 in the Red Wings’ two postseason rounds; his goals-against average ballooned by a half-goal a game, and his save percentage dropped nine ticks where the reverse is often the case. He will need to guard against a sophomore slump… Osgood remains on the staff, but at 37 he’s seen his skills diminish over the past few years. For Detroit to retake the Central, Howard will have to be at his rookie best if not better.

OUTLOOK: Things are bound to be better in Detroit this season… of course, that presumes that a fifth-place conference finish and winning a round in the playoffs is outright failure. Sure, the Motown faithful have become indoctrinated in a culture that churned out division championships, conference championships and league championships like clockwork over the past decade, to earn none of the accolades was a shock to the system after reaching the Cup finals each of the past two years. But every team is bound to have one of those seasons where fate catches up and renders them mortal. We saw it with the Patriots when Brady went down, and Detroit still made the playoffs despite suffering far more than the loss of one man.

So their misfortune of last season can be explained. They found a potential long-term gem in net in Howard as well, bolstering the back end of an already talented set of players. But with the Stanley Cup the measuring stick every season in Hockeytown USA, Babcock’s crew knows that they must find that extra gear to reclaim the Central from Chicago. With their crew healthy once more and a few smart offseason additions to retool their forward depth, the Red Wings should be right back there in the hunt and among the NHL’s elite.

FINAL PREDICTION:

  • 51 wins
  • 112 points
  • 1st in Central/1st in Western Conference


Zach is a writer and editor who covers a wide array of sports both traditional and non-traditional. Formerly the managing editor of Informative Sports before joining Sports Nickel, Zach has been covering events international and domestic for various publications since 2006. Find him @zbigalke on Twitter.

Zach Bigalke has written 289 posts for SportsNickel.com

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