On Thursday night, the Detroit Red Wings will raise their fourth Stanley Cup banner in 11 years. The addition of Marian Hossa to an already stacked lineup could lead to a similar ceremony roughly one year from now.
With Hossa making his debut, the Red Wings open defense of their latest championship against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six matchup.
Detroit (54-21-7) led the league in wins and points last season, and its 257 goals scored were a Western Conference-best. Its playoff run included a four-game sweep of bitter rival Colorado before eventually defeating Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh in six games to capture the 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
While the Red Wings can count on offense from forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and six-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, they still were able to lure Hossa away from the Penguins just weeks after raising the Cup.
Arguably the best forward available in free agency, Hossa agreed to a one-year deal worth just under $7.5 million to try and win a Cup in Detroit instead of a signing a contract with Pittsburgh worth roughly $30 million more.
"I didn't make the decision to be proud of myself," he said. "I did it because I had a choice to go wherever I wanted, and this is the place where I think I have the best chance to win."
At just 29, Hossa has scored at least 29 goals each of the past eight seasons, and his next goal will be the 300th of his career.
While the Red Wings appear to have a good chance to become the first repeat champion since they did so in 1998, general manager Ken Holland said it's way too early to consider making plans for another Stanley Cup parade.
"On paper, this team is much stronger than it was a year ago," he said. "I hate talking about the Stanley Cup in October, but we certainly feel like we're a legitimate contender. It's hard to repeat because you have to be motivated, healthy and at your best at the end of a 10-month process that begins with training camp."
The Red Wings, though, will start the season without two of their grittiest players in Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty. Chelios - who at 46 is entering his 25th NHL season - will miss three to six weeks with a fractured shin. McCarty, a 14-year veteran, is out with a groin injury.
After failing to reach the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time in the franchise's storied history, the Maple Leafs (36-35-11) have decided to lean on youth going into 2008-09.
Toronto will have 10 players age 25 and under on the opening-night roster, including 18-year-old defenseman Luke Schenn, picked fifth overall in the 2008 entry draft.
The Leafs can play him for nine games before possibly returning him back to juniors. Despite excelling in camp, Schenn understands that is an option.
"I don't think I've made the team yet," he said. "I'm just starting the season here and I've got to keep proving that hopefully I belong and (that I can) keep getting better."
Toronto hopes the infusion of youth can help replace several veterans. Among those gone are forward Darcy Tucker and goaltender Andrew Raycroft to Colorado, and defenseman Bryan McCabe to Florida.
But perhaps the biggest name missing is longtime captain Mats Sundin.
The franchise's all-time scoring leader said last month he's gotten contract offers from some teams including Toronto, but at 37 isn't sure if he's ready to come back for an 18th season.
"I have to prepare differently and warm up 30, 40 minutes before a practice session. I didn't have to do that when I was 25," said Sundin, who led the Leafs with 32 goals and 46 assists last season.
Another fine season from goaltender Vesa Toskala could help Toronto end its postseason drought. In his first season as a starter following a trade from the Sharks, the 31-year-old Finn was 33-25-6 with a 2.74 goals-against average and three shutouts in 64 starts.
"Now we have players here who want to really improve," said Toskala, who's won his last four starts against Detroit. "I didn't feel we had that last year. That's a change for (the) positive and I think that's a good thing."
Ron Wilson, who failed to get San Jose past the second round in each of the last three seasons, replaces Paul Maurice as coach. Wilson becomes the Leafs' 20th coach, including interim ones, since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1967.
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