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

Kronwall Out 4-6 Months

The Detroit Red Wings got the news that they had hoped not to hear on Friday: Defenseman Niklas Kronwall will miss four to six months of the upcoming season, shelved due to a knee injury.

“He’s got a partially torn MCL, he’s got a torn ACL,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said.

Kronwall suffered the injury Tuesday night against Colorado. After getting an MRI in Detroit on Wednesday, things didn’t look good. He saw knee specialist Dr. William G. Clancy in Aspen, CO, on Friday and the diagnosis was confirmed.

Kronwall will ungergo surgery once the swelling has gone down – in two to three weeks. His earliest predicted return date is February 1 but it could be as late as April 1.

Staffan Kronwall, Niklas’ brother, stated “I know him so well, and I know he is going to come back.”

The Red Wings will look to replace him with Andy Delmore, Jamie Rivers or Brett Lebda.

Wings Rout Flu-Ridden Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets came to Detroit missing thirteen players from their normal starting roster and certainly played like it, allowing nine goals and scoring none en route to a loss to the Red Wings.

Detroit got goals from Nicklas Lidstrom, Robert Lang (2) and Kyle Quincey in the first period to take a 4-0 lead into the intermission. The Blue Jackets managed only two shots to the Red Wings’ twenty-one on the period.

Dan Cleary and Rem Murray added goals in the second before Columbus goalie Marc Denis was replaced by Pascal Leclaire. Mathieu Schneider scored one more goal in the second before Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom added goals in the third.

Lidstrom scored the only goal of the shootout in the fifth round.

The Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by a flu bug going around the team.

The Red Wings were without captain Steve Yzerman, defenseman Jamie Rivers and goalie Chris Osgood, all suffering from groin injuries. Pavel Datsyuk did not play after practicing with the team for a second day and Andreas Lilja sat after playing the night before in Colorado. Niklas Kronwall was out with the knee injury he suffered in Denver.

Wings Fall to Avs, Kronwall Injured

The Colorado Avalanche scored two goals in 1:36 in the second period on Tuesday to bounce back from being down 1-0 and earn a 2-1 win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

With 7:36 remaining in the middle frame, Andrew Brunette scored Colorado’s first goal of the game. With 6:00 remaining in the period, Alex Tanguay added another goal for the Avalanche.

Dan Lacouture scored Detroit’s only goal just 3:12 into the game.

Overall, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced, while Colorado’s David Aebischer made 26 saves on 27 shots.

Late in the first period, Colorado’s Dan Hinote hit Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall‘s knee with a hip check. Kronwall left the game with what Red Wings’ communications manager John Hahn, described as a “left leg injury.”

Early in the second period, after the injury, Lacouture fought Hinote.

Blue Jackets Defeat Wings in OT

The Detroit Red Wings got a power play goal in the final minute of their exhibition game with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, bouncing back to tie the game at two and force overtime for the second night in a row. It wasn’t enough, however, as Columbus scored late in the overtime period to get the win.

Gilbert Brule put a shot past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard after a flurry by Columbus that started with Niklas Kronwall‘s broken stick and a 3-on-2 for Columbus. Howard made stops on several Columbus chances before Brule got the game-winner.

Howard looked good in his first career start, allowing only three goals and making several timely stops. Likewise, Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire was strong in his bid for the Blue Jackets backup spot.

Detroit’s lone shootout goal came from Dan Cleary while Columbus got goals from Jaroslav Balastik and Brule.

The Red Wings are next in action Friday night in Dallas in another preseason matchup.

Wings Sign Defenseman Kronwall

The Detroit Red Wings finally wrapped up one of their “big three” restricted free agents, announcing Friday that Niklas Kronwall had signed a two-year deal. As per club policy, financial details were not announced, but reportedly Kronwall will earn just under $2 million over the life of the deal.

Kronwall shone in the games he played with Detroit before a leg injury sidelined him in 2003-04. His play with the Grand Rapids Griffins during the 2004-05 season earned him the Eddie Shore Memorial Trophy as the American Hockey League’s top defenseman.

Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill complimented Kronwall’s physical play.

“He’s not imposing to other players until he hits — then he’s imposing,” Nill said. “He hit a guy in center ice, with his shoulder, a clean hit. The guy had his head down, and he ended up with a broken jaw and a concussion.”

Management hopes that Kronwall will continue to play that kind of game in the NHL, slotting him as one of Detroit’s top four defensemen, alongside Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Jiri Fischer.

With Kronwall’s signing, general manager Ken Holland only has young superstar forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg left to sign. Datsyuk is entertaining offers from Russian club Moscow Dynamo but his agent states that his priority is to return to Detroit.

Wings Sign Three as Roster Takes Shape

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Tuesday the signings of defenseman Andy Delmore and forwards Jason Williams and Darryl Bootland. The all three agreed to one-year deals.

Delmore, a native of Windsor, Ontario, is likely to share time on the Wings’ third defensive pair with Jamie Rivers and Chris Chelios. In seven seasons of NHL experience – most recently with the Buffalo Sabres – he has played 276 games, scoring 43 goals and adding 58 assists.

He entered the NHL after signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1998-99 season.

Williams returns to Detroit for his fourth NHL season, all with the Red Wings. He accepted the one-year qualifying offer that the Red Wings made to him as a restricted free agent, allowing him to become unrestricted following the 2005-06 season.

He has played in 95 career NHL games, scoring 17 goals and 15 assists. He spent the cancelled 2004-05 season playing with Assat Pori of the Finnish League, where he led his team in scoring.

Bootland looks to crack the Red Wings’ lineup after appearing in 22 games with the team in 2003-04. He spent the last three seasons in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The signings give the Red Wings 20 players under contract for the 2005-06 season, with three notable restricted free agents – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall – still unsigned.

Lang Out for Three Weeks

The Detroit Red Wings lost their third center in less than a week to injury on Monday night, as newly-acquired Robert Lang left the game with just over two minutes remaining in the second period.

Lang has been diagnosed with a rib injury and will miss the next three weeks. He had played just four games with the Red Wings after being traded from the Washington Capitals.

Detroit is also without centers Kris Draper and Pavel Datsyuk, defensemen Mathieu Dandenault, Jason Woolley and Niklas Kronwall, and goaltender Dominik Hasek. Defenseman Derian Hatcher and goalie Curtis Joseph returned from injury Monday night.

Hull Snaps Slump as Wings Down LA

Brett Hull scored his first goal in 21 games, ending the longest goal scoring drought of his career and helping the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Hull’s goal came 3:47 into the second period as the Wings were on one of their two power plays of the game. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom fired a shot from inside the blue line that Hull deflected near the slot and went past Kings’ goalie Roman Cechmanek to pull Detroit back into a 2-2 tie with Los Angeles.

Detroit had opened the scoring off a faceoff 6:01 into the game. Pavel Datsyuk won the draw back to Jamie Rivers at the blue line. Rivers sent a pass to Jason Woolley who fired a shot from along the boards that was deflected into the net from the slot by Steve Thomas.

The Kings took the lead on goals just 1:30 apart later in the first period. Trent Klatt scored on the power play with 4:49 remaining in the period, deflecting a shot at the top of the crease through Detroit netminder Curtis Joseph‘s five-hole. Alexander Frolov put the Kings up by a goal after picking up a rebound and firing it over the sprawling Joseph.

Detroit regained the lead when Mathieu Schneider fired a shot from the right faceoff circle by Cechmanek 1:30 after Hull tied the game.

Jamie Rivers, who was inserted into the lineup late after Niklas Kronwall was injured in pre-game warmups, scored his first goal as a Red Wing 3:55 into the final period. Rivers picked off a pass just inside the Kings’ blue line and rifled a quick shot by Cechmanek to make it 4-2.

Another power play goal pulled the Kings back within a goal when former Red Wing Luc Robitaille deflected a shot by Joseph at the 6:15 mark of the third.

Schneider’s second goal of the game put Detroit back up by a goal with 6:08 remaining in the game and that was enough for the Red Wings to hold on for the victory.

Frolov finished the game’s scoring with 1:17 remaining in regulation. As the Kings skated with the extra attacker, Frolov swept down the left side of the ice and fired a backhand shot over the stick of a surprised Joseph for his second goal of the night.

Joseph stopped 25 of the 29 shots he faced in net for the Red Wings. Cechmanek made 24 saves on 29 shots between the pipes for the Kings.

Detroit is next in action on Saturday night when the Red Wings pay their first ever visit to the new Glendale Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Kronwall Breaks Leg in Warmups

Detroit Red Wings rookie defenseman Niklas Kronwall will return to Detroit for further evaluation on Friday after suffering a broken leg during pre-game warmups before the Red Wings’ Thursday-night matchup with the Los Angeles Kings.

Kronwall’s skate reportedly got caught in a rut in the ice as he turned, causing his leg to twist and buckle under him.

He was helped off the ice and defenseman Jamie Rivers was quickly inserted into the lineup to replace him.

Without further assessment of the injury, no timetable has been set for his return.