Detroit Red Wings preview

Up until last year, the Detroit Red Wings were labeled as a bit of a choker team.

It seemed as if every year they were the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, and every year they failed. But that label may have been unfair, as the favourite is usually upset in any sports playoffs.

But more than anything else, it shows how good this team has been for so long. They’re the favourites every single year. People expect nothing but the best from them.

They draft smart, trade well and make key free agent acquisitions. And the leaders teach the young players so when they step away, the organization is in good hands.

Every team should follow the blueprint the Red Wings have laid out.

Forwards: So they were the top scoring team in the Western conference last year by 25 goals. They went on to win the Stanley Cup, losing only six games in the process, and decide that wasn’t enough, they might as well sign one of the most sought-after free agents in the market?

This team was good. Now that they’ve added Marian Hossa, they’re scary good. Hossa is a threat to score 50 goals every year, and has come close on a couple of occasions, with seasons of 45 and 43. But besides his offensive talent, he also takes care of the puck in the defensive zone, which is important on this team.

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk fit into the same mold as Hossa. Bothplayers have gotten better every single season they’ve been in the league, and both play a defensive role on the team. With these three players on the ice to kill penalties, they’re more of a threat to score a goal than the powerplay team. 

The rest of the team is a solid core of grinders, scorers and checkers. Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper have been there before. Daniel Cleary just became the first Newfie to win a Stanley Cup, and Tomas Holmstrom is known as a guy who will go to the front of the net to take some punishment in order to score a goal. 

Defence: Easily the best defence in the league, led by the best defenceman in the league. Nicklas Lidstrom is without a doubt one of the top five of all time. He was the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last year, and, despite being 38 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. He’s also durable, missing no more than six games in any season he’s played.

Follow that up with Brian Rafalski. He’s never gotten the credit he deserves, mostly because he’s played in the shadow of hall of fame defencemen (Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermeyer in New Jersey, and Lidstrom here in Detroit). But he’s a very solid player on the blue line. He’s never been a minus player, and has at least 30 assists every season, not including his rookie season.

Chris Chelios is getting up there in the years, but he still loves competing. He’ll be back for his 26th season this year.

Any young guys on this team have some great players to look up to and get advice from, and that will only help advance the careers.

Goaltending: The Red Wings can afford so many superstars because they save so much money on their goalies. Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin make under $2.2 million, combined. Their young goalie, Jimmy Howard, makes $700,000. Compare that to Chicago, who is spending $12.3 on their two goaltenders.

But in Osgood, the Red Wings have a servicable goalie who won’t cost them wins. He’ll play 60 or so games, and with the defence he has in front of them, all he needs to do is show up.

Pool picks: Who wouldn’t you want to draft on this team? But since I’m trying to find guys who will be having breakout years, you could try Tomas Holmstrom. He didn’t get as many points last year as he normally does, so he may be off the radar screen for a few people. Stay away from: Johan Franzen. He had a great playoff last year before getting injured. Most people will be mesmerized by that playoff run, but he’s never had more than 38 points in a season.

Miscellaneous: This team has been fortunate when it comes to the salary cap, but that could all change after this season. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have had lower-paying contracts for a number of years, but they’re both big-money players. Datsyuk was just rewarded with a contract that will pay him $6.7 million a year for six years. But Zetterberg will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and could easily command $8-$10 million on the open market. Marian Hossa was only signed for a one-year deal, but the team can’t afford to lose him and Zetterberg next summer. And Johan Franzen will be looking a raise from the $940,000 contract he has now, especially if he can duplicate his playoff goals like he did last season, when he scored 13 goals, despite missing the finals with an injury.

Expected finish: First in the Central division, first in the Western conference

Overall: The team that won the Stanley Cup just keeps on getting better. They have good team chemistry, and no one ever rocks the boat.

This is a team that doesn’t have many faults. They’ve been in a weaker division the past few years, but that will start to change as Chicago and St. Louis become better. But Detroit is the Stanley Cup champion for a reason. They don’t have any weaknesses, and are solid throughout the whole organization, not just on the ice.

They’re simply better than the rest of the NHL.

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