Just days before the Jan. 11th deadline, the NHL and NHLPA finally agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, ending a lockout that will cut the season nearly in half.
The players can now get back into team facilities and will do it fast, as the season is set to begin Jan. 19th. After months of arguing over money, the players will now have less than two weeks to prepare for a 48-game season.
And a few playoff games if they’re lucky.
For 21 straight years now, The Detroit Red Wings have been among those 16 lucky teams who get to compete for the Stanley Cup. This streak is by far the longest active streak in the NHL, and is tied for the fifth longest in league history.
Obviously, Detroit and its fans have high expectations for their team each and every year. This lockout-shortened season will be no different, and the Red Wings will once again be expected to reach the playoffs and make a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
In this 2013 season, however, Detroit may have a harder time doing so than they have in any of the past 21 seasons.
Last year’s team earned the four seed in the Western Conference before losing to the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs. Hardly the result the Wings were seeking after a season in which they set an NHL record for consecutive home wins and at one point led the entire Western Conference.
Now the Red Wings will aim for a better result despite losing Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, 15-year veteran Tomas Holmstrom (Homer is expected to retire before the start of the season), goal-scoring Jiri Hudler, and defenseman Brad Stuart.
This tall task will have to be completed with a team that will look much different than the teams that fans have grown accustomed to seeing in Detroit during the past several seasons. Most notably, #5 will not skate out with the first defensive pair, although that number may be seen hanging from the rafters at some point this season.
Defenseman Ian White will be called upon to fill Lidstrom’s skates and Head Coach Mike Babcock will certainly move his other d-men around until he finds the best pairings.
I expect White and Niklas Kronwall to begin the season as the team’s top defensive pair, but don’t be surprised to see a number of guys occupy the first pair if those two don’t gel right away.
The youth movement is on in Detroit with the exit of Lidstrom, Holmstrom and Stuart. Gustav Nyquist, Jan Mursak, Damien Brunner and Brendan Smith will all play significant minutes for Detroit this year. These players will join Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Corey Emmerton and Jakub Kindl in the Red Wings’ 26-and-under club. These eight Red Wings have an average age of just 24 years.
The young players will be fun to watch, but I’m not sure we can expect greatness right away. This is not the same caliber team as the ’08 championship squad. The youth movement will rejuvenate the organization and bring wins in the future, but their inexperience worries me. Leadership in the locker room will be key in the growth of these youngsters.
Mikael Samuelsson returns to Detroit to don the winged wheel this season and veteran Dan Cleary will return for his eighth season as a Wing. There are leaders in Detroit, and this locker room knows how to win games. Babcock has won a Cup with Detroit and as one of the premier NHL coaches, will try to do so again in 2013. The key for Babcock will be getting his young talent playing at a high level. He’s done it with Helm and Abdelkader in the past, and I believe he can do it again this year.
Henrik Zetterberg will be another key player for the Red Wings. Zetty will be named captain before the season, and will be the first Red Wing not named Lidstrom or Yzerman to wear the “C” since Danny Gare in 1986. Hank is the right guy for the job and is a great locker room presence. He knows how to win and lead, and alongside guys like Todd Bertuzzi, Cleary, Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk, will lead this team and its young players.
It’s no secret that this Detroit team has a different look and feel. Losing a player like Nick Lidstrom affects any team in profound ways. But the talented youngsters that fill this roster are exciting indeed. Combined with the extraordinary talent of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and others, these rising stars can get this team back into the title conversation.
Whatever the scenario, I can’t wait to be able to turn the TV on and see hockey again. It will be good to hear Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond back on the air, and with any luck the two will be calling many Detroit wins this season. If the young guys play well and the old guys stay healthy, well, I think Mick says it best.
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