Puck Daddy - NHL

Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights … the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we’ve decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It’s a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene …

Last Season: (44-24-14, 102 points. Second in the Central, 5th in the West.)

The Detroit Red Wings were in trouble last season; or, at least, had the perception of being in trouble. Their star players weren’t posting the same lofty numbers. Many of those players, along with team executive Steve Yzerman and Coach Mike Babcock, had Olympic distractions. As of March 10, the Red Wings were a bubble team, in danger of missing the postseason cut  for the first time since 1990.

After March 10? The Red Wings went 13-1-2 backed by an outstanding rookie goalie, made the playoffs, ousted the Phoenix Coyotes in a tense 7-game series before losing to the San Jose Sharks in five games.

In the summer, Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) decided to return for another NHL season, and the Red Wings added a few interesting names to the mix. There’s no question they have the star-power, the management and the legacy; but can the Red Wings find the consistency they’ll need to add another Cup to their trophy case?

New Additions

Mike Modano(notes), center, Detroit Red Wings. Let that one sink in for a moment.

Modano’s 1-year deal with the Wings came about after the Dallas Stars decided to go in a different (re: younger, cheaper) direction, forcing the star center to leave the franchise for the first time in his career. After a summer courtship by several teams, Modano found the Red Wings’ offer of money and ice time sufficient. He’ll be a valuable asset down the lineup, and an interesting new voice in that locker room.  

Defenseman Ruslan Salei(notes) was a liability with the Colorado Avalanche at times, but Babcock coached him in Anaheim and hopes to help the veteran blue-liner will find his physical, stay-at-home game again.

Forward Jiri Hudler(notes) returned after a year of collecting paper bags full of cash in the KHL, and he’ll seek to build on the 23-goal season he had in 2008-09.  Valtteri Filppula’s(notes) older brother Ilari was also signed, landing a 2-year deal that could see him in the AHL to start the season.

Key Subtractions

Defenseman Andreas Lilja(notes) gambled and lost as a free agent, with the Red Wings refusing to meet his demands and saying so-long (for now) after five seasons.  Brad May(notes) and Jason Williams(notes) were also unsigned. Defenseman Brett Ledba took his talents to Toronto for a 2-year, $2.9 million deal.

Wrestler That Best Personifies the Team

No matter how many times they hear “too old,” “too injured” or “it’s time for someone else to win,” the Red Wings always manage to climb back in the ring and reclaim their legacy. Just like the hardcore legend himself Mick “Cactus Jack” Foley has done …  although, admittedly, with a little more barbwire to the face.

Forwards

Pavel Datsyuk(notes) won another Selke for top defensive forward, but his offensive numbers dipped: 70 points in 80 games, his lowest point total since before the lockout. He also dropped to a plus-17, which is incredible for any player not named Pavel Datsyuk.

Henrik Zetterberg(notes) led the Red Wings in scoring with Datsyuk, seeing his power-play numbers plummet from an average of 14 goals per season over the last four campaigns to just three in 2009-10.

Johan Franzen(notes) signed a blockbuster contract extension but saw his season limited to 27 regular-season games with a torn ACL. He returned in the playoffs, doing what the Mule does: scoring 18 points in 12 games, including a 6-point effort against San Jose. Tomas Holmstrom(notes) played 68 games and tallied 45 points, including 25 goals, as he’ll turn 38 early next season.

Valtteri Filppula moved around the lineup a bit, including solid time at the end with Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi(notes), whose 18 goals were his best total since 2005-06. Dan Cleary’s numbers declined thanks to an injury that limited him to 64 games; he saw time with Darren Helm(notes) and Drew Miller(notes) during the postseason, but also played up with Datsyuk and Franzen.

As usual, Detroit’s loaded up with grunts, and can count Modano among them. Kirk Maltby(notes) will be ready to step in if there’s an injury. Patrick Eaves(notes) and Justin Abdelkader(notes) will also vie for time.

Defense

Nicklas Lidstrom looked human with some frequency last season, and his Norris Trophy losing streak hit two years. But at 40, Lidstrom’s return to the Red Wings was incredibly symbolic and important; a validation that he believes one more year is worth playing with this bunch. 

The fact that he led the Wings in TOI (25:25 per game), power-play TOI (3:54) and points by a defenseman (49) means the Wings are thrilled the captain decided to make another go at it. His partner Brian Rafalski(notes) finished with 42 points and a plus-23.

Brad Staurt and Niklas Kronwall(notes) had their struggles as a pairing, and Kronwall missed significant time due to a knee injury that’s still being worked on.

Salei will anchor another pairing, with Jonathan Ericsson(notes) the likely partner. Derek Meech(notes), Brendan Smith and top prospect Jakub Kindl(notes) are all in the mix as well.

Goaltending

There was a vocal minority that felt Jimmy Howard(notes) merited MVP consideration last season, and he certainly helped make the case: 37 wins, a 2.26 GAA and a .924 save percentage. But, most importantly: a consistent, steadying presence at a position that been turbulent and unpredictable for the last few regular seasons under Chris Osgood(notes). Dude went 13-0-2 from March 11 until the end of the regular-season; not bad for a rookie.

Osgood will again back up Howard, turning 38 in November. He made 21 starts last season, the majority of them in 2009.  How much does he have left? And does Kristen Bell still put his name inside a heart on her Trapper Keeper?

Match We’d Pay To Watch

Detroit Red Wings special assistant in player development Chris Chelios(notes) vs. a triceratops -- a rematch from their epic bout roughly 65 million years ago.

Breakout Player

There are so many established players on the Detroit roster, it’s hard to see anyone “breaking out” from their expectations. So we’ll toss Red Wings checking forward Justin Abdelkader’s name in the ring, as a player with untapped offensive upside in the regular season. Assuming he earns a roster spot. If not AfroGator, then maybe Jiri Hudler gets a nod here if he can build on this walk-year performance in 2009.

Potential Flop

Salei. Hard to characterize a third-paring defenseman who signed for less than $1 million as a potential flop, but Salei was a liability in Colorado. He’s a Babcock reclamation project; hey, if nothing else, he’ll keep Modano in check.

Finishing Move

Pavel Datsyuk’s ridiculous change-up in the shootout against the Chicago Blackhawks was like getting knocked out by a feather-duster.

Special Teams

The Detroit power play was a disappointment last season, as key players saw their numbers drop and the unit finished ninth (19.2 percent conversion rate) after finishing first overall in the previous season.  They were 10th on the kill, scoring eight shorthanded goals. 

Coach/GM

Babcock’s system works. He’s good at deploying his star players in different parts of the lineup, when necessary. He has a face that inspires violence. He’s a psychologist off the ice and one of the best game-managers behind the bench.

GM Ken Holland saw right-hand man Steve Yzerman depart for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and faced a summer of tight cap space (what else is new)? But he’s built, and maintained, a championship caliber roster … and even avoided raising the ire of the NHL (at least publicly) with his long-term deal to Franzen.

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: A
Defense: A-
Goaltending: B
Special Teams: B+
Coaching: A
Management: A

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

Nostalgia’s a fickle mistress. One look at this roster, and a certain legendary defenseman’s age, and you get the sense this is the last ride for this version of the dynastic Wings. So, one is inclined to believe they’ll go out in style, with Lidstrom raising the Stanley Cup while walking into the sunset.

Can it happen? Absolutely. They’re coached better than nearly any team in the League; have championship-caliber talent and depth; and they’ve been there before.

Will it happen? A weakened Blackhawks team will make it easier. But it may come down to two factors: Howard and/or the goaltending in general; and whether the Wings can avoid the inconsistency they showed last postseason.

Prediction: Final Four, with a chance at the Chalice.

Entrance Music: Cold, calculated efficiency that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents? Is that Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ music we hear? Or just some sort of Pink Floyd-meets-John-Carpenter-movie-theme mash-up? No … it’s definitely Jake The Snake.

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