Changes: A New NHL, but Wings Remain Similar

With all the opinions on how this NHL season will go, someone has to be right.

You know the words “a new NHL” actually mean something when people are talking about how far the Pittsburgh Penguins will advance in the playoffs, or how the Nashville Predators are the real threat to take the Central Division.

Things are bound to change, but every season brings a few surprises. While the same teams were looked at as Cup contenders each year, there were others that shocked the world once, but not again. No one gave Carolina a shot before 2002, and they don’t get much respect now, despite making the Cup Final that year. Each team is going to see some changes in this new NHL. So, what stays the same in Detroit and what changes?

The roster looks a lot like it has in the past. Detroit may be the measuring stick for any team in the future trying to keep a core together. At the center is Steve Yzerman, as he has been for two decades. Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Brendan Shanahan remain from the 1997 championship team at forward, with six-time Norris nominated (and three-time winner) Nicklas Lidstrom on defense.

Chris Osgood remembers that 1997 team, and he’s back in Detroit after spending a few years in New York and St. Louis. Including Ozzie, Detroit has ten players that have been with the team since before 2000. Manny Legace saw Osgood leave and return, and the two will have a healthy fight to become the number one guy. Relative newcomers Robert Lang, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are the guys who will be looked at to score goals this season. Gone from the long-time roster are Darren McCarty and Mathieu Dandenault, along with a few salary eaters (Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph, Brett Hull).

Players that will have to produce when they get their chances include Jason Williams, Johan Franzen, Mark Mowers and Dan Cleary.

If the officials call the game by the book, the defense needs to be ready. While Lidstrom is nearly perfect at his position, Jiri Fischer is still learning and may rack up the penalty minutes. This means the Red Wings are relying on a few older veterans to hold down the fort.

The play of Mathieu Schneider, Chris Chelios and possibly Jamie Rivers and Andreas Lilja will be the true test of this Wings squad. Niklas Kronwall again will miss most of the season, meaning the Wings may even look at some inexperienced defenders, as tight cap space may limit them from testing the free agent market or making a big trade.

A new trio now leads the Wings behind the bench: Coach Mike Babcock and his assistants Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan are all fairly familiar faces. Babcock coached the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim that knocked out the Wings in 2003, and MacLean played for the Red Wings. Interestingly enough, McLellan coached the Houston Aeros past the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2003 Calder Cup playoffs. These three should lay down the law, making sure the Wings never get too comfortable trying to play their old style.

This Week’s Matchups

October 5 vs St. Louis – Chris Osgood won’t get a chance to open the season against his former team, so it looks like Manny Legace will get the start. The Blues now have Patrick Lalime in front of the net, but not Al MacInnis or Chris Pronger. If the Wings can come out hard and fast, they might be able to exploit the Blues’ young defense which is now led by Eric Brewer.

October 6 at St. Louis – The Blues and Wings get two of their eight meetings over with in a hurry. The Blues home opener may see Reinhard Divis and Jim Howard in the nets. St. Louis is the younger team, and they’ll be excited to open the Savvis Center. A split series with both teams winning their home opener is not out of the question.

Games this week: 2
vs. Western Conference: 2
vs. Central Division: 2
Home: 1
Road: 1