Thursday, October 05, 2006

The other Ilitch team

Tonight the Red Wings opened the season with a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. An less than auspicious start to the post-Yzerman era. But the beginning of this season marked another first, my indifference. I didn't realize that the NHL started Wednesday until I read something Tuesday night. I didn't know who the Red Wings were playing tonight until I turned the game on. It's not like I was turned on to hockey as a fad when the new team moved into town. Detroit is an Original Six town, I was born and raised on hockey. I played it, my Dad played it, uncles and cousins played it, it is in my blood. Growing up it was baseball and my Tigers hat in the summer, when fall came it was my Red Wings jersey and hockey. However, the same thing that happened with my love for baseball as a child is happening to hockey right now. It took a few years after the strike to get back into baseball, and it looks like it will take me a couple years to get back into hockey full time. With Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel, hockey's future looks bright. Hopefully they'll stop trying to "fix" the game so I can start watching again.
Anyways, here's a little preview of the 2006-07 Red Wings

Farewell to:
- The Captain. Next to Gordie Howe, no one in the 80 year history was the team more than Steve Yzerman.
- Brendan Shanahan. a 37 year old slow winger who doesn't produce in the playoffs. Have fun with that New York
- Manny Legace. Nice guy, good goalie, just made the cardinal sin of not being able to bail out an under performing team in the playoffs and was rode out of town.

Hello, Newman:
- Dominik Hasek. His 3rd tour of duty with the Wings, the over-under on when his groin (and/or brain) explodes, December.
- Danny Markov. He is expected to fill the hard hitting, intimidating defenseman role left open by Jiri Fischer.

Forwards: Henrik Zetterberg was just named an assistant captain along with Kris Draper. This will be Zetterberg's team in a few years and he needs to lead by example. This shouldn't be a problem with Pavel Datsuyk feeding him the puck. Robert Lang and Mikael Sameulsson have to step up to fill the goal scoring void created by the departure of Shanahan. Also prospects Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky need to produce as well. They have been stuck down in the minors for the past few years due to the talent overflow. So they should be ready to contribute right away. Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen are big bodies that should plant themselves in front of the net and cause havoc. Jason Williams, and converted defenseman Brad Norton will complete for the 4th "Grind Line" center position between wingers Dan Cleary and Kirk Maltby

Defensemen: New captain Nicklas Lidstrom is simply one of the best to play the game ever. Chris Chelios was, but he'll be struggling fro playing time as the 6th man on the game roster. The aforementioned Markov and Andreas Lilja are there to provide a physical presence. Kronwall needs to take his development as "Nick, Jr." to the near superstar step. Brett Lebda and Mathieu Schnieder round out the D corps as the offensive specialists.

Goalies: Hasek is back, who knows how long he'll play. If he starts to struggle, look for his "groin" to begin acting up like past seasons. Chris Osgood is to goalies is what Trent Dilfer is to Quarterbacks. A guy better suited to be a back-up yet somehow lead a team to a championship. Joey McDonald is up as the 3rd goalie because they can't send him to the minors with the chance of losing him to another team on waivers. He'll only see time if/when Hasek gets hurt.

Overall: Pretty much the same team that had the best regular season record that got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, but one year older. While that year added experience to guys like Zetterberg, Datsuyk, Lebda, Kronwall, and Williams; it also made Chelios, Schnieder, Maltby and Draper one year slower. The age will catch up to this team, and Nashville has closed the gap, but the do still play Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis a lot, so that's good enough for the 4 seed. Plus Ken Holland will be in the market to make a trade if need be. The future looks good as well, the farm system is stocked with players such as Valterri Filppula, Jimmy Howard, and Igor Grigorenko. They might not win this year and lose a few more players to age and the salary cap, but they won't have to rebuild, just reload.

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