DETROIT – If you liked what you saw from this year’s Stanley Cup final – and if you didn’t you’re either a Detroit Red Wings fan or you might want to check to see that you have a pulse – you might want to consider getting used to seeing these teams steal the show at the NHL’s annual spring dance.
There’s no reason to believe the Pittsburgh Penguins and Red Wings won’t be treating the hockey world to lots of deep playoff runs in the next couple of years. And who knows? Perhaps we’ll all be back here watching the Red Wings wrest the Stanley Cup back from the Penguins?
(By the way, has anybody noticed the Penguins now have as many Stanley Cups as the Chicago Blackhawks and one more than the Philadelphia Flyers?)
Don’t laugh, it could happen. After all, who’s going to challenge these two teams in the next couple of years? The San Jose Sharks or Washington Capitals? They might want to try getting halfway through the playoffs without losing one of these times. The Boston Bruins? Maybe, but they have some holes to fill and need to find some playoff courage somewhere along the way. The Vancouver Canucks? Come on.
The fact is the Penguins and Red Wings were in the Stanley Cup final for a reason – something about them being the class of the league. Both teams face some excruciating decisions this summer – perhaps not such a difficult one for Detroit after watching their No. 81 look more like Maid Marian or Marian Cunningham than Marian Hossa during their playoff run. They will both lose players and they will be important players.
But the core of their teams is remarkably intact and if you believe strength down the middle is a key to winning championships, both the Penguins and Red Wings look set for years to come.
The Penguins, for example, have their top three centers under contract for the next four seasons and have their No. 1 goalie committed until 2015.
Not a single significant player in their organization is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer and their unrestricted free agent group consists of the following players – Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, Craig Adams, Hal Gill, Philippe Boucher, Rob Scuderi and Mathieu Garon.
With the exception of Scuderi – if Jeff Finger is worth $4.5 million what will this guy make on the open market? – there is not a single player among them who would not be replaced relatively easily. The Penguins now have the core of a championship team returning that is both young and experienced with equal amounts of skill and will. They’re moving into a new arena in a re-energized hockey market and, of course, have two of the best young players in the world.
Let’s look at the Red Wings now. They believe that you commit the biggest money and the longest term to a core of between six and eight players and right now they have Henrik Zetterberg under contract until 2020-21 and Johan Franzen until 2019-20. Pavel Datsyuk will be around until at least 2013-14 and Valtteri Filppula and Dan Cleary are committed until 2012-13. Chris Osgood could potentially continue to be one of the most productive and underappreciated goaltenders in the NHL for another two seasons.
Nicklas Lidstrom is 39 and has one more year on his deal, but who’s to say he can’t stick around for another three or four seasons. Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall are already top-four defensemen and getting better.
Guys such as Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper could be looking at a change of address if the Red Wings decide to bring Hossa back, but again, they’ve all become relatively replaceable, particularly given the Wings continue to churn out prospects who can step into the lineup and contribute without being a financial burden. Darren Helm, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader all look as though they’re ready to step into the Red Wings lineup.
The NHL loves to trumpet the fact there’s so much parity in the league today and tries to sell the notion that any team can win, any year. They might be a little disappointed with this turn of events, as will the poorly run teams in bad markets who might be under the mistaken impression they can turn their programs into contenders by taking shortcuts.
But you have to admit, the hockey is great. So bring it on again next spring. No complaints here.
THN Shootout: Pens prevail
From the road in Detroit, host Ken Campbell and Pittsburgh Penguins’ color commentator Phil Bourque discuss… The Pens remarkable turnaround… Pittsburgh’s ability to overcome adversity… The similarities between Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux… And the likelihood of the Penguins contending for the Stanley Cup for years to come. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Click HERE for post-game interviews.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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