2007-08 Team Preview: Detroit Red Wings
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The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideOnly once in the last nine NHL seasons have the Detroit Red Wings failed to reach the 100-point plateau. Bet the farm the Wings top the century mark again this season and book another trip to the Western Conference finals. After being knocked off by the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the spring of 2006, many thought the Red Wings had gone into a period of decline. Yet, with Dominik Hasek back in the fold and back in form, and with the team displaying a grit and work ethic many believed it didn't have, Detroit was a conference finalist last spring. And let's be honest, if not for a couple of bad bounces (Scott Niedermayer's tying goal late in Game 5), the Wings might well be defending Cup champs again. The good news for the Wings is both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg took the necessary steps forward and are elite NHLers who have nicely filled the void created by the recent departures of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. Assuming he's in good health for once, Niklas Kronwall should step into a starring role on the Red Wings' blue line. GM Ken Holland once again proved he's one of the best in the business by signing longtime Devil Brian Rafalski moments after Mathieu Schneider bolted to Anaheim. OFFENSE
The Wings weren't as prolific as they have been in the past, finishing with the 10th-ranked offense. With Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang off to greener pastures, coach Mike Babcock will need a couple of youngsters to mature if the Wings are to stay a top-10 scoring team. Jiri Hudler had 15 goals in his first full season with the Wings and expectations are high for him to evolve into a consistent scorer. Igor Grigorenko will get a look at training camp and is considered a great talent although his development was slowed by a horrific car accident in 2003. Center Valtteri Filppula had a strong playoffs and presumably will get more ice time as a result. DEFENSE
When you start with one of the best defensemen of this generation in Nicklas Lidstrom (he's won five of the last six Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman), you know things are going to be OK. Throw in Rafalski, a two-time Cup winner in New Jersey, and Kronwall, who has generated comparisons to legendary Russian Red Wing Vladimir Konstantinov, and things are going to be better than OK. Those three will log a significant amount of ice time, but waiting in the wings (if you'll pardon the expression) are Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda, who both played well in the playoffs in the absence of Kronwall and Schneider. Then, there's 45-year-old Chris Chelios, who is on the Gordie Howe plan and might well play until he's 50. The Wings finished second to Minnesota in goals-allowed last season and allowed the fewest shots on goal in the NHL. They should again be among the top two or three defensive teams in the league. GOALTENDING
Most observers believed goaltending might be the Wings' Achilles' heel last season with Hasek returning for a third stint in Detroit. Yet Hasek stayed healthy and, more important, was a terrific dressing-room citizen. Babcock did a nice job of using Hasek expediently (the Czech icon appeared in 56 games), so when the playoffs rolled around, Hasek was fresh. He turned in a sparkling 1.83 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in the postseason. If he can replicate that performance at the age of 42, the Wings will once again be Cup contenders. Chris Osgood is a nice safety net (he was 11-3-6 in regular-season relief with a 2.38 GAA and .907 save percentage). The problem? If Hasek goes down for any length of time, Osgood isn't likely to carry the team to another Cup on his own. Jimmy Howard is the third man and, well, let's just say Holland will be on the phone looking for help the minute Hasek comes up lame. COACHING
You had to believe Babcock was on a short leash after the 2006 debacle, when the top-seeded Wings were ousted by the eighth-seeded Oilers in the first round. But Babcock stuck to his game plan and, without Yzerman and Shanahan, again guided his team to the West's top seed. More important, Babcock tapped into a vein of grit and character that had been missing the previous spring. When the Wings blew a 2-0 series lead against Calgary in the first round, they regrouped and finished the Flames off with two precision-like efforts. Likewise, after falling behind San Jose, the Wings won crucial games on the road to advance to the West finals. Babcock got terrific performances out of inexperienced players like Lebda and Lilja and a career year out of Dan Cleary, who has been re-born in Detroit. Look for more of the same this season. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
DETROIT RED WINGS
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• Record: 50-19-13
• Division: First in the Central
• Conference: First in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted by Anaheim in the West finals
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Given Hasek's history of meltdowns, both physically and otherwise, there always will be an element of breath-holding when it comes to his performance. Not that it seemed to bother him or the Wings last season. Defenseman: Niklas Kronwall
The skilled, physical Swede missed the last 14 games of the regular season and the playoffs with a fractured sacrum. Assuming good health, he's ready for a breakthrough. Forward: Henrik Zetterberg
Another of the Wings' Swedish posse, Zetterberg had 68 points in 63 games and could challenge for a scoring title if he stays healthy.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
So, Steve Yzerman goes from Hall of Fame player to ill-defined front-office job with the Red Wings to gold medal-winning GM at the World Championships, all in less than two calendar years. What's next for one of the finest players of his generation? Yzerman's quick adaptation to the world of hockey management opens up many doors, including the front-man spot for the Canadian Olympic effort in Vancouver 2010. Stay tuned. Where They Will Finish
The Red Wings will finish first in the Central Division and first in the Western Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Detroit Red Wings will finish this time around? Who will lead the Wings in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!