I wasn’t part of The Hockey News’ annual and hotly debated mid-summer predictions meeting, so it came as a George Laraque punch-sized surprise when I first laid eyes on “our” rundown of teams.
There are a few things I mildly disagree with in THN’s official picks, which are currently being revealed day-by-day HERE, but there’s one selection in particular that had my chin-gruff dusting the floor: The Detroit Red Wings.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise by saying exactly where the closest-thing-we’ve-had-to-a-dynasty-since-the-Oilers is slotted, so I’ll simply say I don’t believe The Hockey News, and many other punditry troupes, are giving the Wings the respect they deserve.
Lest we forget Detroit is home to a squad that was one victory away from a back-to-back Stanley Cup parade and its fifth NHL championship in the past 12 seasons. And there’s nothing the Winged Wheel has lost – or any other Western Conference team has added – to make me a firm believer the Lidstrom-led legion isn’t still the cream of the West’s crop.
Chicago and Calgary are clearly better after their summer acquisitions, but each has goalie questions that need to be answered: Is Cristobal Huet a true No. 1 or a one-season wonder? Can Miikka Kiprusoff avoid his typical slow start and will he be fresh enough down the stretch?
Barring the significant change(s) West Coast fans have been waiting for GM Doug Wilson to pull the trigger on, San Jose will also field ostensibly the same lineup from their Presidents’ Trophy-winning run of 2008-09. But which version of the Teal and White will be on display this season: the one that began last campaign 34-6-5 or the one that went 19-12-6 after the all-star break?
Detroit lost an all-world player, one who was arguably their regular season MVP, in Marian Hossa and a trio of sniper-to-serviceable skaters in Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky, but the Wings won the Cup in 2008 without Hossa and their incomers will more than compensate for the other defectors.
Ville Leino, a player who by all rights should have been with the big club and not in the American League last season, averaged 0.7 points per game through his first 13 NHL contests, which pro-rates to 57 points over an 82 game schedule – the exact total Hudler, the man he’ll replace as the No. 2 left winger, posted in 2008-09.
The recent signings of Patrick Eaves and Jason Williams also have the potential to pay off in a significant way. Each has shown a scoring spark in the past and Motown is a place where reclamation magic (see Larry Murphy, Daniel Cleary, Chris Osgood, Brad Stuart) happens with regularity.
Full campaigns from seasoned youngsters Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader will further add to Detroit’s unmatched depth and, if you haven’t learned by now, never bet against the best GM in the game. If Ken Holland sees a hole in his lineup, he’ll make a move to fill it.
The palette that is the Western Conference will certainly contain different shades in 2009-10, but the top of the canvas will still be painted Red.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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