Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Detroit Red Wings.
We may look back at the 2011-12 Red Wings' season as the moment when the NHL, and Father Time, began to catch up with the one of the most dominant franchises of the last 20 years.
Finishing 48-28-6, the Wings failed to place in their division's top two slots for the first time since 1991, taking third behind the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Their 5-game loss to those Predators in the first round of the playoffs wasn't even that close, and Detroit was ousted earlier than any postseason since 2006.
There were highlights, for sure: That 23-game home winning streak was an NHL record, and the Wings saw strong seasons out of players like Henrik Zetterberg (69 points), Johan Franzen (29 goals) and Valtteri Filppula (66).
And then, in June, they saw their legendary captain and the glue that held together four Stanley Cup champions, Nicklas Lidstrom, call it a career.
What will the Wings look like in their first season without Lidstrom since 1990-91?
"All Your Vowels Are Belong To Us."
Lidstrom led the Red Wings in TOI (23:46), had 34 points in 70 games and played to a plus-21. And he was also The Perfect Human. Irreplaceable doesn't do this absence justice — he's a once in a lifetime player.
His retirement was a blow to the blue line, but so was the departure of Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks — a trade, and subsequent free-agent signing, that brought him back to the West Coast as he desired. Stuart was their leader in shorthanded TOI at 3:10 per game.
Forward Jiri Hudler left for a rather generous deal from the Calgary Flames. As of this writing, veteran forward/goalie eclipser Tomas Holmstrom remained in limbo regarding next season.
Joining the Wings for next season: a returning Mikael Samuelsson, who last played for the Florida Panthers; right winger Damien Brunner, signed after eight years in the Swiss league; goalie Jonas "MONSTER" Gustavsson, rescued from Toronto; defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, formerly of the St. Louis Blues; and in perhaps the most contentious signing of the offseason, winger/pest Jordin Tootoo of the Predators.
At forward … Henrik Zetterberg (31) and Pavel Datsyuk (34) are now the standard-bearers for this Wings team. Zetterberg led the team in scoring with 69 points, but that was down from 80 in the previous season. Datsyuk, meanwhile, had 67 points in 70 games after being better than a point-per-game in 2011-12; that said, he had a strong all-around season for the Wings.
Valtteri Filppula took the next step last season with 66 points in 81 games, and enters the final year of his 5-year deal with the Wings. Johan Fraznen remained consistent — and above all else, healthy — with 56 points in 77 games. Danny Cleary regressed offensively, posting his lowest points per game average (0.44) in six years.
The Wings continues to have grit and pop down the lineup, with Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi (a plus-23 last year), Justin Abdelkader, Samuelsson, Patrick Eaves (when he's recovered) Drew Miller, Tootoo and Cory Emmerton. They also have two wild cares in Brunner, who could skate in the top six, and Gustav Nyquist, a talented young forward
On defense … well, things are different.
With Lidstrom and Stuart gone, Niklas Kronwall ascends to being the team's most important defenseman. He posted 36 points last season, skating 22:51 per game. He remains one of the NHL's most vicious hitters — question is, can he develop into a potential Norris candidate like some believe he can be?
Stuart was Niklas Kronwall's primary defensive partner last season, so he'll have to find a new buddy. Could it be Kyle Quincey, who skated 21:51 last season? Could it be Colaiacovo, until his inevitable injury? Could it be Jonathan Ericsson, who at 28 might be ready to fulfill the potential of that 6-4, 220-pound frame?
Ian White was second on the Wings in total ice time and notched 32 points in 77 games. Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith round out the options on the blue line, with the notion that the Wings may not be done tweaking what looks like an underwhelming group.
In goal … Jimmy Howard is one of those players that probably isn't as good as his champions attest he is but is nowhere as faulty as his detractors claim. Behind the Red Wings, he had 35 wins and a 2.13 GAA last season — his best in the NHL as a starter, and perhaps not coincidentally in his fewest games. Enter Gustavsson, who will eat up some starts and push Howard a bit if Detroit's goalie coaches can succeed where Francois Allaire failed in Toronto.
Local Michigan rapper Baby G wants you to "Throw Them Wings Up." Complete with gang signs!
Mike Babcock is cursed with being the best coach in the National Hockey League, so he apparently isn't eligible for the Jack Adams. But know this: Considering the Wings' adversity in their lineup, there isn't another coach you'd rather have to lead them. From the line juggling the Death Stare, Babcock's the man.
GM Ken Holland whiffed on bringing Ryan Suter to the Red Wings, and thus far hasn't suitably addressed the team's blue line. That said: He'll have well over $8 million with which to play this season, and there's no question he's one of the best at sustaining quality in the NHL.
Howard. He's never played an NHL season without Lidstrom patrolling the blue line in front of him, and given that defense's uncertainties it'll be up to Howard to do more heavy lifting this season.
Nyquist was a point per game player in the AHL and had a cup of coffee with the Wings, last year. He's 23 and there's no rushing him, but he could break into the lineup and be a factor on the power play this season thanks to fantastic passing skills.
Damien Brunner. Who knows, right? He's a coveted unsigned European free agent. In a related story, the Wings opted not to resign Fabian Brunnstrom.
"Pavel Datsyuk. The people love him.
"And why not? He's a socialist.
"He's among the Red Wings' leaders in assists. He's among the Red Wings' leaders in takeaways.
"That's right: He takes from one to give to the other.
"That's the redistribution of pucks. And that's not right.
"Paid for by The Western Conference Puck-Handlers."
Despite the loss of Lidstrom and the fact that the Central Division offers tough competition, the Red Wings should be a playoff team —but the margin between the 4/5 game and on the bubble in a competitive Western Conference will again be slim. The leadership is just too strong to envision this team falling off the playoff map yet. But Holland still needs to use that available cap space to improve the back end.