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Red Wings still pack a wallop

Wednesday, 09.21.2005 / 12:00 AM / News
Detroit Red Wings
At first glance, a gander at the list of players who have left Detroit since the end of the 2003-04 season would make you think that the Red Wings are about to be clipped.

Brett Hull, Ray Whitney, Boyd Devereaux, Steve Thomas, Matthew Dandenault, Darren McCarty, Derian Hatcher, Curtis Joseph, and Dominik Hasek are all former Red Wings -- a pretty good core for a team. So, surely, the Red Wings are in full-blown rebuilding mode for 2005-06, right?

Not exactly.

The Red Wings have long had a stacked lineup, and even with the departure of so many "name" players, some of the names that still reside in Hockeytown are among the most recognizable in the sport.

Start with Steve Yzerman, then move on to Brendan Shanahan, Robert Lang, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Henrik Zetterberg -- and that's just the forwards. All have highly credible NHL pedigrees.

On defense, there's Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, and Mathieu Schneider. Not a bad blue-line trio. The goaltenders are Chris Osgood and Manny Legace. OK, let's not jump to another conclusion, one that's 180 degrees from the one mentioned above. No shouts of "The Wings are gonna cream the competition!" This summer's wild free-agency period has closed the talent gap around the NHL, especially so in the Western Conference, so teams that traditionally have been dominant are going to face stiffer competition than ever.

And before we leave the subject of changes in Detroit, remember there is a new coaching staff in place. Former Mighty Ducks of Anaheim coach Mike Babcock is now running the bench, and that heralds a different style for the Wings as well.

All in all, Hockeytown has seen tremendous change in recent months. But there's still a very good core of talented players on hand to help the Red Wings get over the rough spots. After that, the sky is the limit.

Forwards

The re-signing of an icon like Yzerman to a one-year deal eased the nerves of many a Wings fan who sweated out whether their captain would retire or -- perish the thought -- move to another team. But Yzerman in a different uniform just seems to go against the laws of nature, so he's back. Yzerman is coming off a 2003-04 regular season in which he played in 75 games and scored 18 goals and 33 assists. Even better: He's healed up after suffering an eye injury in the 2004 playoffs.
                                                                                                                                                                         
This season will mark Yzerman's 22nd in the NHL, all with the Wings. He is the franchise's second all-time leading scorer with 1,721 career points -- behind only Gordie Howe's 1,809. Stevie Y trails former Wing Marcel Dionne -- who has 1,771 career points -- by just 50 points for fifth place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.

With Robert Lang (30 goals, 49 assists in 69 games) entering his first full season in Detroit after coming over from Washington, Yzerman won't have to log monstrous minutes this season. Babcock can spot him on the power play, perhaps a penalty killing shift or two, add in some even-strength time, and not burn him out. After all, Yzerman is Yzerman, an NHL icon. But at some point even a 40-year-old needs a breather. Just don't tell him that. He might get mad.

Draper, of "Grind Line" fame, is an excellent defensive center who has blossomed into a very good all-around player, good enough to earn a berth on Team Canada for both the 2004 World Cup and the 2006 Olympic orientation camp. Jason Williams, at 25, is a relative youngster on this veteran-laden team. In 49 games in 2003-04, he scored six goals and seven assists.

On the right side, the Red Wings boast Shanahan, another of the big-name players on the roster. Shanahan is now 36, but he still gets it done. In 82 games in 2003-04, he scored 25 goals, added 28 assists, and was plus-15. With Hull departed, Shanahan could find himself used in Hull's role on a line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

Maltby, Draper's partner in crime on the Grind Line, also has seen his star shine to the point that he also played for Team Canada at the World Cup and was invited to the Olympic orientation camp. Long known for his defensive excellence, Maltby also has developed a scoring touch in recent years. In 2003-04, he scored 14 goals and 19 assists and was an impressive plus-24.

Darryl Bootland and Kent McDonell also will vie for ice time on right wing. Bootland, 23, played most of the last three seasons with the AHL's Grand Rapid Griffins, scoring 27 goals and 26 assists while piling up 552 penalty minutes in 148 games. Last season, Bootland tied for sixth on Grand Rapids with 34 points (14-20-34) in 78 games. He paced the Griffins with 336 PIM and six game-winners, and his plus-5 rating tied for second among the team's forwards.

McDonell was Detroit's sixth-round pick (181st overall) in 1999. He was traded to Columbus in 2000 and spent the next four seasons with the Blue Jackets and the AHL's Syracuse Crunch (AHL) before returning.

On the left side, the Wings have the hard-working Zetterberg who, somewhat incredibly, wasn't drafted until the Wings chose him with the 210th overall pick in the 1999 Entry Draft. In 61 games in 2003-04, Zetterberg scored 15 goals and 28 assists and was plus-15. In his rookie season of 2002-03, he scored 22 goals and 22 assists in 79 games.

Holmstrom, with 15 goals and 15 assists in 67 games in 2003-04, plants himself in front of the opposing net and makes life miserable for rival defensemen and goaltenders. His hard, gritty style of play should be much to Babcock's liking. Holmstrom figures to polish his image as "The Swede You Love to Hate" this season.

Highly touted Jiri Hudler cracked the Wings' lineup for just a dozen games in 2003-04. In those 12 games, he scored a goal and two assists. Detroit can expect more this season. In 52 games with Grand Rapids in 2004-05, Hudler scored 12 goals and 22 assists.

Also in competition for a spot on the left side is Tomas Kopecky, the 39th overall pick in the 2001 draft. He has played at Grand Rapids for the last two seasons, totaling 23 goals and 27 assists in 118 games.

Defense

Lidstrom, a three-time Norris Trophy winner, again will anchor Detroit's backline. He's among the elite defensemen in the game today. Very strong and smart defensively, Lidstrom also is a potent weapon offensively for the Wings. In 2003-04, he scored 10 goals and 28 assists and was plus-19. Those numbers actually were down from the previous season, when Lidstrom scored 18 goals and had 44 assists.

Schneider re-upped with the Wings this summer for what will be his second full season in Detroit. A solid all-around defenseman, Schneider is strong in front of his net and has a potent shot. In 78 games for the Wings in 2003-04, Schneider scored 14 goals and assisted on 32 others while going plus-22.

Jiri Fischer rebounded nicely from an injury-ravaged 2002-03 season that saw him limited to 15 games and netted four goals and 15 assists in 81 games in 2003-04. At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, Fischer has plenty of size and isn't shy about using it. That physical nature should help alleviate the departure of Hatcher, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent.

In an unheralded signing, the Red Wings brought veteran backline Andy Delmore aboard this summer. Delmore, 28, has seven seasons of NHL experience, totaling 276 games. Over that span, he has scored 43 goals and 58 assists.

Delmore scored 14 points in 66 games for the Flyers in the 2000-01 regular season, but really grabbed the headlines in the playoffs. He scored a hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 7, 2000, making him the first rookie defenseman in NHL history to record two multi-goal games in the same playoff year. Delmore spent the 2004-05 season in Germany, where he scored seven goals and 26 assists for 23 points in 50 games for Adler-Mannheim. He could be a big help on the power play.

Also back on defense is Chelios, who at age 43 will be playing in his 22nd NHL season and seventh with the Red Wings. In 69 games in 2003-04, Chelios scored two goals and 19 assists. For his career, which includes Norris Trophies in 1989, 1993 and 1996, Chelios has appeared in 1,395 regular-season games, scoring 178 goals and 736 assists.

Veteran Jamie Rivers, who appeared in 50 games in 2003-04, scoring three goals and four assists, and youngster Niklas Kronwall, who had a goal and four assists in 20 games in 2003-04, round out the Wings' blue-line candidates.

Goaltending

The muddled crease that marked the Red Wings' goaltending situation in 2003-04 is now an uncomfortable memory. Hasek has moved on to Ottawa and Curtis Joseph is now a Phoenix Coyote.

That leaves the goaltending up to holdover Legace and former Wing Chris Osgood, who returns for a second stint with the team after re-signing this summer.
                                                                                                                                                                      
Legace was the forgotten man when the 2003-04 season started because the Wings were stuck with too many goaltenders once Hasek reversed his planned retirement. But injuries to both Hasek and Joseph forced Legace into the starting role -- and he preformed brilliantly. In 41 appearances, he was 23-10-5 with three shutouts and a 2.12 goals-against average. It was his best season since 2000-01, when he was 24-5-5 with a 2.05 GAA in 39 appearances.

Since leaving the Red Wings prior to the 2001-02 season after eight seasons in Detroit, Osgood has played for the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. His time in Detroit was highlighted by his role as the starting goaltender for the Wings' 1998 Stanley Cup Championship; he also backed up Mike Vernon on the 1997 Cup winners. In 2003-04, he appeared in 67 games for the Blues and finished with a 31-25-8 record and 2.24 goals-against average.
                                                                                                                        
Outlook                                                                                                        

The Red Wings won the Central Division in 2003-04 with a 48-21-11-2 record, finishing first by a very comfortable 18 points. It isn't far-fetched to envision the Wings repeating as champs in 2005-06, although the gap figures to narrow due to the improvement of Nashville, Chicago, and Columbus and the continued good play of St. Louis.

The Wings' 109 points also topped the entire Western Conference, making them the top seed in the playoffs. Finishing first in the West again is going to take some work due to the significant improvements expected in cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose and Phoenix.

Impossible? No. More difficult? Yes.

The Wings still have plenty of star quality, but much of it shines on veterans like Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, and Chelios. For the Wings to remain among the NHL's elite both now and in the future, the torch will have to be passed to the Zetterbergs, and Hudlers. The veterans, after so many years of distinguished play, have earned the right to see the next generation excel in Detroit.

But calling this a farewell tour for Yzerman and Co. is a little premature The Red Wings still pack more than enough punch to give the ol' can quite a kick. And after so much success over so many years, do you really want to bet against them?

Didn't think so.

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