Based on the current health of Minnesota’s top two goaltenders, the Wild’s first round series against Chicago looks doomed. Which is too bad, because while I don’t think the Wild could have won the series anyway, giving the Hawks all they could handle would have been a great learning experience for a Minnesota squad quickly shaping up to be world-beaters in the future. Exactly like the Blackhawks looked four years ago.
Cast your mind back to 2008-09 and you’ll find a Hawks team with most of its franchise pieces in place, but no playoff run to speak of. Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Bolland and Byfuglien were all newbies to the post-season and though the Hawks came in as the fourth seed, there was still one team ahead of them in the Central Division: The dreaded Detroit Red Wings.
The Motor City Machine had won the Stanley Cup one season prior, then lost to Pittsburgh in the rematch after dispatching the young Hawks in the conference final. Chicago was outscored nearly 2-to-1 in that series, which lasted only five games. But they roared back the next year, stealing the division crown from Detroit during the regular season en route to winning their first Cup in decades. They didn’t meet the Wings in the playoffs – Detroit caught the Bertuzzi curse (http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/27575-THNcom-Blog-Big-Bert-curse-will-do-in-Wings.html), thus missing the chance for perfect poetic completion – but I don't think anyone in Chicago is too hung up on that.
Minnesota may not be a carbon copy of Chicago, but the Wild do have some advantages. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu all had playoff experience of varying degrees before this season, just not together. And when Niklas Backstrom is healthy, he’s a better goalie on paper than Antti Niemi was back then (though Niemi is now one of the best in NHL). The Wild also have their own youthful aces getting used to life in the spotlight, including power forward Charlie Coyle, overtime hero Jason Zucker and the highly-touted Mikael Granlund, still getting his feet wet in North America after a terrific teen run back home in Finland.
Will the Wild win the Stanley Cup next year? All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. And in a nice bit of coincidence, realignment will put Chicago and Minnesota in the same division next year, so the Wild can even usurp the Hawks in a direct way during the regular season and/or the playoffs.
But there is one thread left to pull in this analogy: If Minnesota is the new Chicago and Chicago is the new Detroit, then who is Detroit now?
I’m going to throw it out there that the Red Wings of 2013 have become the team they previously hated – the Colorado Avalanche.
Four years ago, the Avs were saying goodbye to one of the best players ever and their captain, Joe Sakic. Injuries limited him to 15 games that season, so he couldn’t help the Avs get into the playoffs. This season, the Red Wings discovered what life was like without one of the best players of all-time and their old captain, Nicklas Lidstrom. Peter Forsberg was back in Sweden in ’08-09, while Tomas Holmstrom followed Lidstrom into retirement this summer (sure, Foppa was the better player when healthy, but Homer meant a lot to the Wings and did win four Cups).
Detroit does have a bit of a leg-up on those old Avs. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the two main reasons for that and I’m sure anyone outside of Denver would take them over Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny, the duo that carried the post-Sakic torch for Colorado. The big question becomes whether or not the Red Wings will rise up thanks to youngsters such as Gustav Nyquist, Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar, or sink to depths that allow a rebuild – like the Colorado struggles that netted Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and, we all assume, Seth Jones.
Datsyuk has one year left on his current contract before free agency approaches in 2014. There have been reports he would like to finish his career back in Russia, so if true, does that happen then, or later? It’s something worth tracking if you’re a Wings fan looking towards a foggy future.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.