With Training Camp looming, I want to take a quick look ahead to the upcoming season. I'll refrain from speaking about individuals as much as possible and try to look at the team as a whole because I plan on writing about specific players in the near future.
If I was going to try and sum up what I'm hoping for next season, it would look something like this: "Please, for the love of god, try to keep the injuries to a minimum!". And I know all the naysayers want to be the first to jump at the "Too old" argument because without having an inch of knowledge of our past injuries, that might be the first thing that comes to mind. It wouldn't be that we had a good number of freak accidents. Stuarts shattered jaw, Datsyuks broken wrist, Osgoods old, stretched out groin... Okay so there were a couple age-related injuries. That said, we have been on the wrong side of the coin the past couple of season and hopefully our fortunes change as the team gets a bit younger and some of the older members move on to the next stages of there lives.
Who's in? Commodore, White, Mursak, Emmerton, Conklin
Who's out? Rafalski, Draper, Modano, Osgood, Salei
We also made some under the radar changes in the coaching department as Brad McCrimmon and Paul MacLean have moved on to bigger things and Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters find themselves working alongside Mike Babcock. I can't say I know a whole lot about the way either guy coaches but this should bring a bit of new life into an old system as well as some fresh voices. It was a change which I saw as necessary and might make a bigger impact than we initially think.
Another thing to look at is the Improvement of other teams within the conference and division. Teams like Los Angeles and San Jose look to have made strives to improve there teams, along with Vancouver which for the most part stayed steady with there President Trophy winning team from last year. There is plenty of high-end competition for the Red Wings this season.
In the Central it looks to be an even tougher year than we have seen in the past. Starting with the Blues, whom have a young core of players that are always tough to go up against. Notably I'm a fan of Pietrangelo, Halak, and Oshie. They also picked up the up-and-coming power forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Shattenkirk in there late season trade with Colorado last year. Columbus made some nice additions to there top 6 adding Jeff Carter and along the blue line they added James Wiesniewski. I'm convinced there season really relies on what version of Steve Mason we see though. Nashville, always bringing a "blue-collar" style of play to the arena, never an easy game, especially with the brick wall they have built up from the net out. Suter, Weber, Rinne are all players to watch. They may be an underdog(when are they not?) to fight for the Central crown this season. Then there is Chicago, our little brothers. They blew apart there Stanely Cup winning team from 2 years ago and looked like a shell of themselves last season. I don't believe they added much quality outside of Brunette but that is off-set by the loss of Campbell. That said, they are always dangerous with there young and improving core. Watch for them and Nashville to battle with us for the top in the Central.
As for the Red Wings, I have high hopes. I'm a firm believer that when the trade deadline comes around we will be looking to add a piece to the puzzle, whether it works or not remains to be seen. For now, I think a top 6 winger would be ideal, but who knows who steps up or falls back as the season begins to unfold. Maybe we find ourselves with a higher quality version of Hudler this season instead of the black hole that wore the number 26 last season. Maybe Ericsson somehow lives up to the astronomically high contract he signed. Wishful thinking, I know. But at least we know even our dead weight has much higher potential than we have seen as of late.
Our blue line is the biggest question mark heading into the season, with the retiring of Rafalski. We will be looking for Kronwall to step up and fill that void and White or Ericsson to fill the spot left by Kronwall. A lot of "what-if's". The 6-7 spots will be a dog fight between Commodore, Kindl, and Smith. I'm a firm believer that Smith will be playing a full season in the AHL with limited call-ups if injuries begin to pile up. Our nucleus is still among the best, and our core has been playing together for a number of years. The largest adjustment will be seen in the coaching changes and the players reacting to a new system.
Prediction: 101 Pts. First in Central and 3rd in Conference.
The quality of competition in the Central rises as the quality in the Pacific drops. Points are hard to come by but we continue our consecutive 100+ point seasons to 12 and our playoff appearances to 21.
Be excited, hockey is just around the corner!