It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
Another division title for the Detroit Red Wings with a 47-25-10 (104 points) record, their 10th in the last 12 seasons. Another Western Conference Playoff victory in Round 1, the fifth year they've advanced.
But, it was also another semifinals loss to the San Jose Sharks, the second straight year they've been eliminated by the black and teal.
While three veteran mainstays retiring this summer, the Wings return the same collection of veteran stars and depth grunts that keep them in contention each season.
Nicklas Lidstrom's back; will the Stanley Cup return to Detroit as well?
(Please Note: The following preview is not presented to you by Amway.)
Well, this was a shocker: Brain Rafalski, a mainstay on the Red Wings blueline since 2007, abruptly retired in May. Citing injuries and desire to be with his family, he hung up the skates before Detroit knew that Lidstrom would be returning, leading to some tense days.
He's not easily replaced, but Ian White will try. White split his season between Calgary, Carolina and San Jose, with all three teams seeing potential in the puck-moving defenseman. He's undersized but feisty. And his face scores goals.
Another addition to the blue line: Mike Commodore, the 31-year-old veteran defenseman who was bought out by the Blue Jackets. Alas, not wearing No. 64.
The other big retirements was that of Chris Osgood, the three-time Stanley Cup champion and curious case for the Hall of Fame. Ty Conklin returns to the Wings to back up Jimmy Howard. Kris Draper, the Grind Line mainstay, also called it quits.
Fabian Brunnstrom, who infamously failed to meet expectations with the Stars, was a training camp invite.
The Wings lost also Derek Meech to his hometown Winnipeg Jets as a free agent. Mike Modano was un-signed. Ruslan Salei left for the KHL and tragically lost his life in the Lokomotiv plane crash this week.
At forward, Pavel Datsyuk will attempt to rebound from an injury-plagued season that saw him play a career-low 56 games. When he did play, Datsyuk finished with a 1.05 points-per-game average, up from 0.88 from the previous year. He's one of the NHL's premiere two-way players.
So is Henrik Zetterberg, his frequent linemate and the Wings' leading scorer last season with 80 points. They played with both of the Red Wings' behemoths in front of the net: Tomas Holmstrom, in what's likely to be his last NHL season, and Johan Franzen, who followed his average regular season (despite a 5-goal game against Ottawa) with a quiet (by his standards) postseason.
Dan Cleary had a breakout year as a goal-scorer with 26 goals in 68 games. He saw time with Jiri Hudler (10 goals), who returned to Detroit after a KHL stint but didn't have anywhere near the impact he had in his previous stint. Cleary also skated with Valtteri Filppula (39 points in 71 games) and Todd Bertuzzi (45 points).
Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves skated with Draper last season, and will be valuable on the penalty kill. Drew Miller will also contribute on special teams. Justin AfroGator Abdelkader played 74 games last season and was a plus-15.
On defense, Lidstrom is back for his 20th NHL season, having yet again led the Wings in average ice time (23:28). His 62 points were his highest total since 2008.
Brad Stuart remains a foundational player for the Wings' success. He led the team in shorthanded ice time (3:32) and played the majority of the time with Lidstrom.
With Rafalski gone, Ian White will be called on to be a key puck-moving defenseman for Detroit. He had a combined 26 points for three teams last season; how much power-play time will he see?
Niklas Kronwall saw time with Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson last season, scoring 37 points in 77 games. Ericsson played at career high 74 games and scored 15 points, average just under 19 minutes per game.
Jakub Kindl, Commodore and former Hobey Baker finalist Brendan Smith will push for the final spot in the top six.
In goal, Jimmy Howard has his champions and his critics, but now it's his team. He won 37 games for the second consecutive season, but his numbers took a tumble. He earned a 2-year contract extension from the Wings, however.
Conklin played 25 games for St. Louis last season and sported a disappointing .881 save percentage. Joey MacDonald appears to be the odd-man out.
"Live Free or Die Hard," a.k.a. "Die Hard 4", brings back a familiar star, a successful formula and a legacy of greatness. It's also not quite what the series used to be. But the minute you underestimate it is the minute that a car is launched into a [expletive] helicopter! Yippee-Kay-Yea!
Mike Babcock has never had a season with under 100 points while coaching the Red Wings. Last year saw the Wings win their fifth division title under Babcock. He knows this roster better than some people know their own children, and is a master tactician.
GM Ken Holland's best move of the summer was helping to convince Lidstrom that the Wings will be a Cup contender this season. And it's all about this season, because this is likely the last ride for this collection of Red Wings. Holland is one of the most respected GMs in the League; how aggressive will he be to add assets for one last run around the trade deadline?
It's a bit of a cheat, but we'll go with Jiri Hudler to re-breakout. His first three months with the Wings were hellish: 10 points by Jan. 1, 2011. A better start, and a strong offseason of training, could get Hudler back to being the 50-point player he seems to be.
"It's about time the octopus does some throwing of its own, don't you think?"
Ian White has been in the NHL since 2005-06, but has never had the gaudy offensive numbers of his puck-moving peers. If he sees significant power-play time on the fifth-best unit in hockey, that could change. But if fans are looking for White to replicate a fraction of what Rafalski did in both ends of the rink, they'll likely be disappointed. The fact that he's bounced around the league like a super happy fun ball lately is discouraging.
Here's a public service announcement regarding a recent outbreak of Kronwalling.
Beyond the need to keep this veteran lineup healthy, we'll go with Jimmy Howard in the postseason. When he was good last year, he was very good: See his three-game winning streak against San Jose. The question is whether he can be great, because "great" is what can get a team to the Finals.
The Red Wings will win the Central and are a serious contender for the Stanley Cup, despite playing in a tough division and tougher conference. Sure, there's a bit of nostalgic longing to see players like Lidstrom go out on top. But this is a deep, solid team that can beat you several different ways.