It has been six years since the Detroit Red Wings last won the Stanley Cup, but this year’s team has all the makings of a championship team. They have a core group of veterans mixed in with talented young guys and are primed for a deep playoff run.
Detroit has been on top of the division and Western Conference since day one of the season. With a lineup that has so much depth, Detroit is the team to beat this season. Their lineup features five 20-plus goal scorers with another one about to join the club and eight 40-plus point producers.
The Red Wings got off to a fast start to the season by winning ten of their first 13 games. Pavel Datsyuk got off to a hot start by recording two goals, 12 assists, and 14 points in the first month of the season. He recorded a point in 12 of the 13 games in October. Datsyuk was prepared to take the team on his shoulders and become the leader of a team once graced with players such as Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan.
Zetterberg, like Datsyuk, got off to a great start as well recording ten goals, 12 assists, and 22 points and earning a point in all 13 games in October. The Njurunda, Sweden native was off to his best start in the NHL compared to last season when he only recorded two goals, one assist, and three points in the first month. If the play of Zetterberg was any indication on how the Wings season would go, it sure looked like it won’t end until June.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg are considered veterans by NHL standards, but with the new rules since the lockout ended, they are playing as if they are rookies competing with Yzerman and Shanahan for a job. Zetterberg has already set career highs in goals with 40 and is about to set career highs in assists and points. Datsyuk has already set career highs in goals with 31 and points with 90, and needs one more assist to tie his career high of 60 set in 2006-07.
Goaltending is up to its usual high standard in Detroit, but the only question right now is who should be the number one starter? Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek have nearly identical records with Osgood at 26-9-3 and Hasek at 24-9-3. Osgood, a veteran of 15 NHL seasons, has a better goals-against-average (2.04) and save percentage (0.917) than his teammate; Hasek’s numbers aren’t bad with a 2.17 GAA and 0.900 save percentage.
The health of Dominik Hasek will be the only question mark for the Wings’ goaltending; he has missed a total of eight games this season because of back and hip problems. Regardless of who gets the nod for Detroit in the playoffs, they might have the best tandem in the league as both goalies have won Stanley Cup Champions as a starter.
The Red Wings defense corps is a group of veterans that know how to play the game and perform in clutch situation. Nicklas Lindstrom is anchoring the defense for his 16th consecutive season and no one is better to be the leader of the defense. During the off-season, the Red Wings signed veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski from New Jersey to help take some of the pressure of Lindstrom. Rafalski, like Lindstrom, is a former Stanley Cup Champion while anchoring the Devils defense in 2000 and 2003.
Already with Lindstrom and Rafalski on defense, why not add another? Well throw in Chris Chelios and you might just have the best defense in the league. Chelios, like his two defense partners, knows what it takes to win a championship; he’s done it twice, once with Montreal in 1986 and 2002 with Detroit.
Detroit does have three young guys on defense that have to step up if the veterans tire. Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, and Niklas Kronwall have all stepped in nicely this season to help the defense. Meech, a defensive defenseman, has appeared in 29 games this season posting three assists and three points. Lebda, also a defensive defenseman, has appeared in 72 games posting three goals, 10 assists, and 13 points. Kronwall, the most experienced of the three young guys, is in his second full season with Detroit and has seven goals, 26 assists, and 33 points; all career highs.
The Wings have such a veteran defensive corp that it could be a coin toss as to the way they perform come late April and into May. Knowing how to play and conditioning could be an advantage, but on the other hand, another year older could take its toll and possibly slow them down. Either way you look at it, Detroit’s defense will survive the test if they make it into late May and early June.
If the Wings want to make a deep run into the playoffs, they will need to get past teams such as San Jose, Dallas, and last year’s Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. For that to the happen, Detroit will need to rely on some of their young guys to step it up in the playoffs. Sure Datsyuk and Zetterberg can produce points in the post season, but as history has shown, two players can’t do it on their own.
Jiri Hudler, who is in his second full NHL season, will need to be a point producer once the post season begins. Hudler has already posted career highs in assists with 28 and points with 40. With three more goals, he will tie his season high of 15 set in 2006-07. Another player that will need to make an impact in the playoffs is Valtteri Filppula, who is having a career year with 19 goals, 17 assists, and 36 points while playing most of the season on the fourth line. He appeared in 18 playoffs games with Detroit last season posting three goals, two assists, and five points.
Mikael Samuelsson is in his third season with Detroit and sixth NHL season overall. Samuelsson has produced decent numbers during the regular season with 11 goals, 29 assists, and 40 points, but will need to do better come late April and May. In 18 playoff games in 2007, Samuelsson tallied three goals, eight assists, and 11 points.
Jonathan Franzen has been a proven point producer over the last two seasons, but has faltered in the playoffs. Franzen has produced 32 points as the third line center this season. In the playoffs last season, he posted only seven points in 18 games. If he can up that total this season, it will help a possible deep run for Detroit’s in the playoffs.
The Wings do have a few guys that aren’t afraid to chase pucks into the corners and grind it out. Kris Draper, Thomas Holmstrom, and the return of Darren McCarty are going to be a valuable part of their success in the postseason. They won’t put up the most points, but the work they do sometimes gets overlooked. All three have been members of winning teams with Detroit in the past, and look for one more shot at glory before finally calling it a career.
The Red Wings has the makings of a championship team. It will all depend on how some of the young guys perform in the postseason. The goaltending situation will also decide on how far Detroit’s run will last. If Hasek can stay healthy and along with Osgood, Detroit’s goaltending will be the best in the league. If you had to put your money on any team to win the Stanley Cup, put it on Detroit.