Without further ado, the 2008-09 Stanley Cup winners (drum roll, please)…the Detroit Red Wings!
OK, here’s the thing, everyone knows it is damn hard to repeat as champs. No team has done it since the Wings in 1997 and ’98.
With 30 clubs and a salary cap, it’s difficult to keep a championship team together for an extended period of time. Teams have a better chance now than ever before to climb up from the basement to the penthouse. Just look at the Philadelphia Flyers. They went from last place overall to the NHL’s final four in one year.
But when you make it to the Cup final, it is a two-month grind that extends your season into early summer. And the obligatory celebration period leaves you with less preparation time for the upcoming season. It leads to what is commonly referred to as the Stanley Cup hangover.
So what makes the Red Wings different?
For starters, their best forwards – Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – have just entered the prime of their careers. Both are highly skilled, two-way threats.
Then there is the Wings’ system. They play a fast-paced, puck-possession game that confuses and frustrates opponents. Mike Babcock’s coaching has as big an influence on the outcome of his team’s games as any coach in the league.
Then there’s the obvious: an already great team adds the most prized free agent of the summer in Marian Hossa, who declined long-term, multi-million dollar offers to sign for one year with the Red Wings because he thinks they give him the best chance of winning the Cup.
Beyond that, no team in the league boasts the proven secondary scoring of the Wings: Johan Franzen (27 regular season goals, 13 in 16 playoff games) Dan Cleary (20 goals in 63 regular season games), Tomas Holmstrom (20 in 59), Valtteri Filppula (19), Jiri Hudler (13) and Mikael Samuelsson (11). Go ahead Pavel and Hank, take the night off…they’ve got you covered.
It should be noted a number of the Wings’ key players – including future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and valuable checking forwards Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby – are getting long in the tooth. But Lidstrom has always been quietly effective without expending too much energy, while Draper and Maltby are role players who average between 12 and 15 minutes of ice time.
Veteran goalies Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin form a competent duo.
Finally, the kids. One of the reasons the Wings have been so strong for so long is the fact they draft well and have youngsters in the system who push the vets. Speedster Darren Helm, drafted 132nd in 2005, showed in last spring’s playoffs that he’s developing into a fine two-way forward.
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson looks like he’s ready to join the top six; left winger Ville Leino, 25, finished second in scoring in the Finnish League; and, don’t be surprised if brash right winger Justin Abdelkader joins the varsity squad full-time at some point next season.
How do you bet against these guys?
Here, taking into account the 1-2-3 seeding of division winners, are our predictions for the upcoming season.
Detroit Red Wings
San Jose Sharks
New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils
Tampa Bay Lightning
Columbus Blue Jackets
Los Angeles Kings
Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders
St. Louis Blues
For more detailed predictions and a preview of the upcoming NHL campaign, pick up the Sept. 30 edition of The Hockey News magazine.