DETROIT - The Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings have a good shot at being the first team to repeat since they pulled off the feat in 1998.
All of their key players are back, plus the Red Wings snagged a star and backup goaltender from the runner-up Pittsburgh Penguins, and retained key free agents as well as coach Mike Babcock.
"On paper, this team is much stronger than it was a year ago," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I hate talking about the Stanley Cup in October, but we certainly feel like we're a legitimate contender.
"It's hard to repeat because you have to be motivated, healthy and at your best at the end of a 10-month process that begins with training camp."
Detroit did what it could during the off-season to improve its chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the fifth time in 12 seasons and earn consideration as a modern-day dynasty.
The Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers - who won five titles from 1984-1990 - were the last NHL team to be as successful as the Red Wings have been recently.
When the NHL emerged from the lockout three years ago, the salary cap was supposed to spread talent around the league.
The Red Wings have stayed on top, though, because the organization drafts and develops players really well and standouts take less money to play in the Motor City than they could make elsewhere.
Exhibit A: Marian Hossa.
After helping Pittsburgh reach the Stanley Cup finals, arguably the best forward available in free agency agreed a one-year deal worth just under US$7.5 million to chase a Cup in Detroit instead of a signing a contract with the Penguins worth about $30 million more.
"We were pretty surprised obviously," Holland acknowledged.
A lot of athletes say it's not about the money, but Hossa proved it.
"I didn't make the decision to be proud of myself," he said. "I did it because I had a choice to go wherever I wanted, and this is the place where I think I have the best chance to win."
Hossa, who will be 30 in January, has scored at least 29 goals the past eight seasons and has 299 in his career. In 75 playoff games, he has 61 points.
Babcock plans to put Hossa on the first line with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom.
Zetterberg broke a franchise record with 27 points in a post-season, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. Holmstrom is the best in the business at standing in front of goaltenders, distracting them and deflecting pucks into the net.
Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk, who was honoured for scoring and backchecking, is expected to be on the second line with Johan Franzen, who shared a team record with Zetterberg by scoring 13 goals last post-season, and Jiri Hudler.
Valtteri Filppula, a rising standout who was re-signed, Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Cleary make up a third line that most teams could only dream of having each game.
The defence is led by six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, who chose to stay in Detroit instead of making more money elsewhere as a free agent.
The forwards and defencemen are backed up by a mix of young and old players such as 21-year-old center Darren Helm and Chris Chelios, though the 46-year-old is out three to six weeks with a fractured shin bone.
"Scotty (Bowman) always told me that you need 15 NHL forwards and 10 NHL defencemen," said Babcock, the first NHL coach to win 50 games in three straight seasons. "And this is the first time I've had that.
"I had fun working on lineups on napkins over the summer, but it still comes down to having chemistry on the ice and a tremendous work ethic on and off the ice every day."
Chris Osgood is the undisputed No. 1 goaltender because he had a league-low 1.55 goals-against average in the playoffs after replacing Dominik Hasek, who retired. Ty Conklin, who gave up 2 1/2 goals in 32 games last year for Pittsburgh, was signed to give the team an experienced backup as 24-year-old Jimmy Howard develops.
The Red Wings insist they will have a sense of urgency this season to win it all because next year, they might lose Zetterberg, Hossa or Franzen in free agency.
"Hopefully we can take advantage of this one-year window and have a great year," Holland. "But we've got to get off to a great start. It looks good on paper but it's got to happen on the ice."