September 30, 2011

Put Your Hands Up For Detroit!

I don’t think many fans worldwide have a preseason conversation about potential Stanley Cup winners without mentioning the Detroit Redwings. It seems every season they claim that top 8 place without too much strain and are tough to beat when the post season hits. So are those conversations between fans going to be different this preseason? I think not.

Detroit were extremely unlucky when San Jose sent them crashing out of the playoffs last May. You may think I am showing some Detroit bias when calling it unlucky, especially as San Jose were 3-0 up in the series and 1 game away from a white wash but 2 of the 4 San Jose won were in OT and all 4 were by 1 goal. It was a close series and it was a shame that either team had to lose.

So, where have Detroit upgraded and downgraded from that series heading into the new season? Well, as usual with Detroit most of the players remain the same with improvements here and there.
Jimmy Howard will be the main lead inbetween the pipes again coming off a 37-17-5 season last time out. An ever improving netminder who should be stronger after another full season of experience under his belt and not too shabby a playoff run. He should be good for 60-65 games again as long as he remains injury free and expect another return of 35-40 wins.

Howard won’t have Ozzie has his back up this time round after the Detroit legend retired from the game. Instead Ty Conklin and Joey MacDonald will battle it out to be back up. MacDonald had a 5-5-3 record last season and didn’t do too badly whilst Conklin has played a bit part for the St Louis Blues the past 2 seasons, winning 18 and losing 18 in the past 2 years. Conklin had his best season sharing duties with Osgood the season previous in Detroit and if he can reproduce that sort of form he could be as good as Osgood. I feel both these options are downgrades on Osgood and Detroit will need to rely on Howard for more wins to keep them near the top of the Western Conference.

On the D not only have Detroit lost Salei from last season but family, friends and the Ice Hockey world lost the big Dman this summer when he was part of the Lokomotiv team that lost their lives in the awful plane crash that occurred. He will be missed from Detroit’s D and from the Hockey world.

Detroit have also lost Brian Rafalski to retirement which leaves a hole to fill on the PP as well as in defence. Another player Detroit might have lost to retirement was captain Niklas Lidstrom but he will be back for another season after an excellent last one. In my eyes, he was the biggest signing made by Detroit in the summer and to have him back is music to my ears!

Mike Commodore and Ian White come into the mix as does Garnet Exelby. Ian White impressed me in a Sharks uniform in that San Jose v Detroit series and I think that if he settles into the team he could be a great acquisition at the back. Commodore will bring size and experience and should be another good signing as a defensive D-man.

Losing a player like Rafalski is always going to be tough for any team and Detroit might have not replaced him like for like but with the players brought in and with the likes of Kindl and Janik also trying to break into the team Detroit still have plenty of strength and depth in this area.

What changes are there with the forwards for the Redwings? I hear you cry! ... Well, apart from the retirements of Mike Modano and Kris Draper, basically nothing. Detroit will be relying on the same players to get the goals as they did last season. Is losing Modano and Draper a downgrade then? Well, they have certainly lost a lot of experience but there has to be a point where the young talent get their chance and players such as Tatar and Mursak need that chance to get established after have a glimpse of the NHL last season. Modano spent most of last season out injured and even when on the ice he was disappointing, to the point he ended up a healthy scratch for almost all of the playoffs. Draper was used when players were out injured as a depth player and In my opinion did a good job. However, I’d like to see the younger players get more games this season though and see if there is another generation of Datsyuk’s and Zetterberg’s coming through the Detroit ranks.

This means the likes of Patrick Eaves, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader all need to step up a gear again this season which I am sure they will and if Dan Cleary can get on a roll and stay injury free I am sure Detroit won’t have any issues finding the net. With Datsyuk and Zetterberg again pulling the strings and add to the afore mentioned players the likes of Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom Detroit have a strong forward line that can match any other of the 29 teams in the NHL.

My only worry is if there are a lot of injuries to players all at the same time or players run into suspension trouble if there is enough experience in depth. If the young players aren’t playing well and don’t step up to the level required in the NHL will Detroit need to go looking for players before the trade deadline? 

Time will reveal all this. After all, we are still a week away from game 1 so let’s not look to far ahead!

I am sure come April, May and hopefully June next year Detroit will yet again be there or thereabouts.

- Adam Yates

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