Twenty and Counting
The 2011-12 season is just around the corner, and the Detroit Red Wings are looking for a 21st straight playoff appearance and their 12th Stanley Cup. They look younger then they have in years. Yes, they still have some oldies, but they are still producing numbers. Gone are Kris Draper, Brian Rafalski, Chris Osgood and Mike Modano, and in comes some young blood that will help now and in the future.
The newcomers include Ian White, Mike Commodore and Ty Conklin, and possibly Chris Conner, Fabian Brunnstrom and Ryan Johnson. White will fit in perfectly as a right handed shot from the blueline and will effectively replace Rafalski. Commodore is a replacement part for Ruslan Salei, who tragically lost his life in the plane crash in Russia. Conklin is back for his second stint with Detroit and will back up Jimmy Howard and will likely give him some more rest than last year when Osgood and Joey MacDonald were the backups.
Conner will probably start in Grand Rapids, but his play in Pittsburgh has proved that he is an up and coming grinder. If Brunnstrom can crack the lineup, he will have to beat of rookies Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton. Both have to clear waivers if they have to be sent down to the AHL, and the Wings won't want to give away a player they have spent years developing like they did when Mattias Ritola was claimed by Tampa Bay last year.
The Johson tryout is strange due to the fact that he is also up against the same players for the same spots, and being 35 doesn't help his cause. From listening to Canucks fans, he was a player who was one dimensional in that he was a shot blocker and nothing more. I don't see him sticking around. If Detroit wanted an aging veteran they would have brought Draper or Modano back.
I have a tough time seeing Detroit being worse than last year. Some pundits say that losing Rafalski will be a huge blow to the team. I see it this way; Rafalski was playing hurt basically the whole year, and while he had a decent season, he wasn't ever 100 percent healthy. I will take a healthy 27 year old Ian White over a banged up 37 year old Brian Rafalski.
Nick Lidstrom leads the defence, with White most likely being his partner. Niklas Kronwall will need to elevate his game from a big hit man to a points producing blueliner; Brad Stuart will make more impact in the physical side of the game. The last pair is up for grabs with Commodore, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl fighting for the final two spots.
The forward lines will stay almost exactly the same. Leading the way is Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zettererg, with Johan Franzen and Valterri Filppula looking for bounce back years. Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary are good for 40+ points each, and Darren Helm will be looking to hit the 20 goal plateau for the first time. Jiri Hudler, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves round out the top four lines.
Some exciting prospects that will be in training camp include Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Gustav Nyquist, Calle Jarnkrok and Thomas McCollum.
Here's to a new season of hockey!