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Once again, the Red Wings reload

Saturday, 09.29.2007 / 11:33 AM / Features
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Once again, the Red Wings reload
The Red Wings are a team that never seems to rebuild. Instead, they are a club that reloads every year, and this summer, with the departures of veterans like Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi, was no different. The Wings compensated for those losses with the addition of defenseman Brian Rafalski and veteran Dallas Drake, a former NHL captain. Playmaker Robert Lang is also gone, but the Red Wings are excited about youngster Igor Grigorenko, who is attempting an NHL comeback after a car accident nearly killed him four years ago.

The Wings will once again rely on a solid veteran core that’s been in Detroit forever, guys like Kirk Maltby, Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom. They’ve been a dominant power the last 10 years and the older guys continue to defy Father Time. By adding more quality veterans this summer to their solid nucleus, the Wings seemed primed to continue their mastery of the new rules and figure to give Western Conference foes fits again.

Don’t forget, the Red Wings finished with the best record in the West last year and came up just short of winning yet another President’s Trophy. With a stable core group, the continued development of homegrown personnel, and this summer’s free-agent additions, they figure to be even better this year.

GOALIES

Who's No. 1? As impressive as Chris Chelios’ being 45 years old this season is, so, too, is Dominik Hasek’s longevity between the pipes. Hasek turns 43 in January and despite his advanced age, “The Dominator” continues to be among the elite goaltenders in the NHL. Last season, a renaissance year for the goalie, Hasek won 38 games, finished with a .913 save-percentage (good enough for second in the League) and compiled eight shutouts (also second in the NHL).

The six-time Vezina winner and two-time MVP signed on for one more season with Detroit this summer, deciding he wasn’t ready to retire after getting the Red Wings thisclose to the Cup Final in the spring. Detroit was eliminated by the eventual champion Ducks in the Western Conference Final. Hasek was a big reason why the Wings got that far, allowing an impressive 1.79 goals against in the playoffs.
Backup plan

In Detroit, it would be an unthinkable set of circumstances, but if for some reason Hasek ever gets injured, the Wings would turn to longtime backstop Chris Osgood to carry the load. He’s been with the team forever, and in 21 games last year in relief, the 34-year-old went 11-3-6 with a 2.96 GAA. If the Wings want to go young behind Hasek, there is 23-year-old Jimmy Howard waiting in the wings, no pun intended, as well as Adam Berkhoel, who joined the club this summer.
In the Wings

Adam Berkhoel -- The 26-year-old signed as a free agent this summer with Detroit after working in the minors last year in the Buffalo organization. Spent most of last season in the ECHL where he went 23-17-3 last year with Dayton. Also saw action in six games with AHL Rochester where he went 2-3-0 with a 3.23 goals-against.

Logan Koopmans -- Selected by the Red Wings in the fifth round in 2002 and has spent the last two years toiling for the East Coast League’s Toledo Storm. He’s appeared in a total of only 38 games the last two seasons, however. Went 17-7-1 last year with a 2.83 GAA and a .914 save-percentage as a 22-year-old.

Daniel Larsson -- The Red Wings took him in the third round of the 2006 Draft and he has yet to make it over to North America. He’s played the last two years in his native Sweden, and most recently appeared in 49 games last season in the Swedish Elite League. Could eventually be the guy to inherit the reigns from Hasek, though the 20-year-old might be a few years away.

DEFENSE

The Big Four: Nicklas Lidstrom remains the best in the business after winning a fifth Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defenseman. He’ll be the guy eating the most minutes again this season on the Detroit blue line, will see regular time on the power play and penalty kill, and will continue to be matched against the opposition’s top scoring lines. Brian Rafalski joins the mix after anchoring the New Jersey defense in the post-Scott Stevens era and should fit nicely in the spot vacated by Mathieu Schneider. Nicklas Kronvall is another Swedish defenseman in the Lidstrom mold, and is coming off a fractured sacrum that kept him out of the playoffs last spring. Chris Chelios, 45-years young, returns for a 24th NHL season and has shown no signs of slowing down. He plans to play until he’s 50, which is bad news for opposing forwards.

Beyond the top four, the Red Wings also have solid defenders in the emerging Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja.

Get the point: Nobody’s cooler quarterbacking the power play than Lidstrom and he will continue to be the catalyst with the extra man. Last year, he scored 10 power-play goals and has 101 for his career. Also capable for running the extra-man unit is Rafalski, who held that position with the Devils where he scored three power-play goals. His 47 assists tied for fourth among all NHL defensemen, and in a more wide-open system in Detroit, that number could get even bigger this season.
In the Wings

Kyle Quincey -- The 22-year-old played in six games last year for the mostly veteran Wings after spending the majority of the season in the AHL. With Grand Rapids, the 6-foot-1 defender was a disappointing minus-7, while scoring four goals and 22 points down on the farm. In the playoffs, he became a valuable commodity with injuries to the Detroit blue line and played in 13 games with the Wings on their run to the conference finals.

Derek Meech -- Re-signed as a restricted free agent this summer, the 23-year-old has been the victim of playing on a deep, veteran defense in Detroit since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2002. Last year he played in four games for the Wings and spent the bulk of the season in Grand Rapids. With another solid defense corps in place in Detroit this season, he’ll likely be limited to spot duty at the NHL once again.

Jakub Kindl -- A 6-foot-3 Czech defender drafted in the first round (No. 19 overall) in 2005, he could be ready for full-time duty in North America after playing in a handful of games two years ago with Grand Rapids. Played in 54 games last year with Kitchener of the Ontario League, where he scored 11 goals and 55 points and was a plus-23. Should be a rock on the Detroit blue line for years, provided there’s room on the roster for a youngster.

X Factor: Chris Chelios -- It’s not out of disrespect that Chelios is here, it’s that the better he is, the better off Detroit will be. He might not log as many minutes as he used to, but Chelios is a steadying force on the Red Wings’ blue line, both on and off the ice. His leadership is invaluable and his NHL street smarts do go a long way. But he’s not getting any younger, and that means a lot in hockey. You know he’s going to be quality, but the X Factor here is that Chelios can make Detroit that much better if he exceeds expectations, like how he took on a much bigger role during the playoffs. For a guy that’s defied odds throughout his epic career, turning in a better-than-expected season is not out of the question. And if Chelios has a better year than he’s expected to have, the Red Wings could be a lot more fearsome than people expect.

FORWARDS

Lining Up: There might not be a more dynamic trio in hockey right now than the line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom that the Red Wings iced last season. In that trio, you get a little bit of everything with Zetterberg a two-way force, Datsyuk the gifted playmaker coming off consecutive 80-point seasons, and Holmstrom, the immovable object from in front of the net that gives the unit added grit. Datsyuk erased doubts about his playoff production with eight goals in the tournament last spring, while Zetterberg, capable of shutting down the enemy’s top guns, scored 10 game-winning goals.

Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby have been in Detroit as long as the auto industry and they will again be counted on as the team’s primary checking duo. Dallas Drake, 38, joins the mix this season for a second tour with Detroit, the team that drafted him in 1989.

Don’t forget about Dan Cleary, who scored 20 goals and 40 points last season, or the versatile Johan Franzen, 27, who continues to develop into a solid two-way presence.
Feeling Special

There’s no secret what the Wings are going to do on the man advantage. Holmstrom is going to set up in front, where he chipped in 13 power-play goals last season, Datsyuk is going to set everyone up (he also had five PPG last season), and Zetterberg is going to own the wall after scoring 11 extra-man goals last year.

The Red Wings were deadly in the playoffs on the power play and going into this season, putting them a man up continues to be a risky proposition for penalty-prone opponents.

Up and Coming: Tomas Kopecky  -- The 25-year-old Czech was drafted in the second round in 2000 has plenty of potential and has been praised for his ability at both ends of the ice. Was limited to a total of 26 NHL games last season because of a collarbone injury, but two years ago, he scored 32 goals for Grand Rapids. At 6-foot-3, he’s got good size and could eventually replace one of the veteran Detroit checking line players.

Darren Helm  -- The 20-year-old can play either center or wing. … drafted in the fifth round in 2005. … played the last three seasons with Medicine Hat, where he scored 41 goals and 79 points in 70 games two years ago. His point production was down last season to 64 points, but he finished the year an impressive plus-32.


Evan McGrath  -- A fourth-round pick in 2004, the 21-year-old split last season between the East Coast League and Grand Rapids of the AHL. Held scoreless in seven playoff games with Grand Rapids last spring.


X Factor: Igor Grigorenko --  The 24-year-old is expected to make his North American debut this season after recovering from a near-fatal car crash in 2003. An unproven rookie, he’s got the potential to find a home on one of Detroit’s top two lines and has the potential to post tremendous numbers in his freshman season. Originally drafted in the second round of the 2001 Draft, his arrival has been highly anticipated in Hockeytown. Like any unproven player, you just don’t know what you’re going to get out of the kid. But with an upside that’s sky high, according to scouts, he’s someone that could make what is an already dangerous Detroit attack to one that’s downright dominant.

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