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THN.com Playoff Blog: Back-to-back-to-back Wings-Pens a good bet

Sidney Crosby faces off against Henrik Zetterberg during Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Sidney Crosby faces off against Henrik Zetterberg during Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Like a J.J. Abrams production, an NHL season is filled with unlikely plot twists and monsters (usually found in the games Pierre McGuire is calling), which makes predicting the future on ice somewhat of a fool’s game.

That said, if you’re one who likes to wager a buck or two, picking the Red Wings and Penguins to meet for a third straight time in the early summer of 2010 is a solid venture.

The way the current Cup finalists are set up for next season, there’s absolutely no reason to think either will take a step back. In fact, these two clubs will actually be better if all unfurls as it should this off-season.

The key for the Red Wings to maintain their stranglehold on the NHL will be to not get greedy. GM Ken Holland made the right decision to re-sign Johan Franzen, but getting Marian Hossa – and, even, Mikael Samuelsson – back in the fold isn’t in the cards.

According to nhlscap.com, the Red Wings have close to $53 million committed to 10 forwards, seven defensemen and goalie Chris Osgood next season. Up front, Hossa, Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky are UFAs and Jiri Hudler and Ville Leino are RFAs.

Assuming the cap remains at $56.7 million, that leaves only $3 million to fill out the roster. Hudler will be looking for a raise on his $1 million salary after potting 23 goals this season, but he can be squeezed in. Leino made $875,000 and will be brought back for around the same. Either Daniel Larsson or Jimmy Howard will make for a cheap, suitable backup.

Any dumping or moving of salary in an effort to bring back Hossa would only come at the detriment of the team’s depth, which, as has been on full display throughout the playoffs, is key to the Wings’ attack. Plus, as Detroit demonstrated through the end of the Chicago series and the start of the Cup final, you can take away a key part (Pavel Datsyuk) and the Winged Wheel keeps rolling.

Alas, Detroit will return in 2009-10 with virtually the same team as the one poised to capture its fifth Cup in 11 seasons; the only major difference being players like Leino, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson will have a full-time role. But, as once again these playoffs have shown, they’re more than ready to pick up the slack and can even inject extra energy into the lineup.

A scary prospect for the rest of the West.

The Pens’ future is similarly bright for next season, though GM Ray Shero certainly has more work ahead of him.

Pittsburgh has nine forwards, four blueliners and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury under contract, but still sport nearly $9 million in cap room under a $56 million ceiling.

Nine players currently on the roster are UFAs (Forwards Bill Guerin, Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko and Craig Adams; defensemen Philippe Boucher, Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi; and goalie Mathieu Garon), but all the key parts – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Fleury – are signed.

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Guerin has found some chemistry with Crosby and the Pens would surely love to have him back, but only at a rate far reduced from the $4.5 million he made this season. Gill and Boucher are also useful parts, but one or both could be replaced with RFA blueline prospects Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy.

Left winger Luca Caputi, ranked No. 70 overall in THN’s Future Watch ‘09, had 18 goals and 45 points in 66 American League games and could be ready for NHL duty. Otherwise, Shero will need to wade through this summer’s UFA crop to find players to fill in the holes up front. Finding players eager to ink with a Cup contender featuring two of the game’s best shouldn’t be too hard of a task.

A shrinking cap ceiling and an abundance of top-end, highly paid players will eventually force some tough decisions, but next season expect more of the same from Motown and Steeltown.

THE RETURN OF DATSYUK
Pavel Datsyuk has been out since Game 3 of the Western Conference final, but the Wings have carried on mightily without him, going 4-2 along the way. More than anything, though, that success is a testament to Detroit's depth and Datsyuk's return will only make them more deadly. THN senior columnist Ken Campbell reports from Pittsburgh.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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