DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings like their chances to chase the Stanley Cup, keeping the players they wanted from the team that ended last season strong and adding a few veterans they needed.
Detroit shook off an injury-filled start last year and, when its roster was finally healthy, went an NHL-best 16-3-2 after the Olympics.
The Red Wings extended their post-season streak to 19 years but failed to advance to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2006.
This year, like most seasons, the Red Wings have plenty of experience. Others wonder if the team is too old to go deep into the playoffs without getting worn out. As the season began this week, Detroit had the oldest roster in the NHL with an average age of 31, the only team above 30.
That roster includes six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom (40) and Brian Rafalski (37) on defence.
“They’re older, but I think they’ve shown they still have some hockey left,” general manager Ken Holland said.
Longtime Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano thinks he has some more hockey to play, too. Modano, 40, decided he wanted to stick with his day job instead of retiring after the Stars decided he was no longer wanted. Minnesota and San Jose also gave Modano a chance to continue his career with them, but he chose to come back home.
The Livonia, Mich., native has the most points (1,359) by an NHL player born in the United States, but is coming off his lowest-scoring season since 1995. He had 14 goals and 30 points in 59 games, fading to a fourth-line centre role.
Modano is expected to centre Detroit’s third line with Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary on the wings.
“A little nervousness,” Modano acknowledged. “Excited to get started.”
Detroit didn’t make a big splash in free agency, instead addressing some needs by signing Modano, getting Hudler back after one season in Russia and adding defenceman Ruslan Salei. Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi were brought back to bolster the front line.
The Red Wings, who open the season Friday night at home against Anaheim, found out just how tough it is to earn victories last year. They hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating, then lost players—such as Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson—who combined to score 88 goals.
Detroit was counting on young players to play complementary roles, but they weren’t quite ready to do more when Johan Franzen, Cleary, Nicklas Kronwall and Holmstrom were among the many banged-up skaters on the injured list.
The Red Wings, though, didn’t fall apart and ended up winning a series as the fifth seed in the playoffs.
Adding players—while the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks were one of the teams that saw many stars leave—has given Detroit confidence.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, though, doesn’t want his players to simply think their talent will shine as soon as they step on the ice.
“We need to understand that you can’t skill your way around the rink,” Babcock said. “You have to work.”
Holland also hopes forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk can bounce back from 70-point seasons and produce like stars again with an improved surrounding cast.
“We really need Hank and Pavel to give us 85-plus points,” Holland said.
In goal, Detroit is counting on Jimmy Howard starting off how he finished last season, ranking among league leaders in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and being a candidate for rookie of the year.
Detroit gave up 2 1/2 goals a game last season and believes that’s a key for the storied franchise to have another special season.
“We know we’re capable of doing it,” said Lidstrom, who has helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups since 1997. “It’s just a matter of doing it now.”