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One last celebration for Red Wings

Thursday, 10.09.2008 / 9:00 AM / Season Preview

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

"Hockeytown" will be jumping Thursday when the Detroit Red Wings unveil the 11th Stanley Cup banner of their illustrious history prior to the start of their sold-out home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RIS).

As part of the celebration, the NHL will launch the 2008-09 season in North America with NHL Face-Off Rocks 2008, an opening-night spectacular at Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit that features a concert by Def Leppard, plus singer Alanis Morissette, who will perform via satellite from Place des Arts in Montreal.

"When (the banner) goes up there, it's there forever," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I spend a lot of time when I'm in an Original Six building, whether it be at the morning skate or standing on the bench during the national anthem, looking at all the history up there, and to be a part of history I think is a special, special thing.

"When we got to see our names on the Stanley Cup (Monday night), that was a great night for our players," Babcock said. "For guys like (General Manager) Ken (Holland) and (Kris) Draper, (Kirk) Maltby and (Chris) Osgood, they're on there three and four times. What a fantastic tribute to their commitment and their passion for the game. So we'll be thrilled to share that with the state of Michigan and our fans here in Detroit."

While the pre-game ceremony also will be memorable for Holland, he's also looking forward to the start of a new season.

"It's obviously going to be an unbelievable night with the ceremony before the game and having (retired players) Dallas Drake and Dominik Hasek there to join in the celebration," Holland told NHL.com. "Emotions will be high, the building will be full and the Maple Leafs are in town, so there's going to be emotion regardless. The thing is, once the puck drops, I know I'll start to worry if the players are still kind of living in the past, but that's where Babcock comes in.

"I know Mike is going to make sure everyone is focused and ready to rock and roll when the puck is dropped. The Stanley Cup is so hard to win, so it'll be neat to celebrate with the fans one last time on the accomplishments of last year."

The Wings have won seven consecutive Central Division titles, have posted eight consecutive 100-point seasons and have participated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 17-straight seasons, the longest active postseason streak among the major pro sports. Detroit also is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back Cups since 1997 and 1998.

"To me, this is affirmation that it's not about money, but about passion, work ethic and great leadership from top to bottom," Babcock said. "Kenny Holland and his group here, year after year, get the job done. They always give themselves, the organization, the fans and ownership a chance. Kenny and his group should be very proud that in the new (NHL), they were able to get this done in three years."

Holland said this season's team, including those players competing for Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, may be the deepest since the 1997 season.

"When we won the cup in '97, we had real good depth since the core was young and Steven Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan were in their prime," Holland said. "In 2002, we were a little longer on the tooth; we brought in players nearing the end of their careers who played great hockey for us, the Brett Hulls, Luc Robitailles and the Dominik Haseks. We've worked really hard to try and turn our team into a younger team and at the same time, haven't traded as many draft picks as we did in the late '90s and early 2000s. So (assistant GM) Jimmy Nill and his staff have had more picks to go to the draft table with and they've done a tremendous job in identifying some young players, so we like our depth.

"But this is a one-year window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup and add a Marian Hossa and really keep our team together. No matter what happens, when the season is over, we're going to have to make some hard decisions and we're going to have to keep some players and we're going to lose some. Players that are unrestricted are looking for and deserving of big raises, but we've also got some young kids who we're going to have to put into our team or risk losing them."

Babcock realizes the time is now for a repeat.

"I'm a big believer that each year is different, and there isn't a huge carryover from year to year anyway," he said. "I believe this is an opportunity, and when I hear Ken talk about what's going to happen next year, I get nervous. So this is our opportunity, our chance. We don't know when this chance will come this good again so we have to make sure our preparation is equal to the opportunity."

 
 
Forwards Hossa, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Zetterberg all are in the final years of their contracts, but prospects waiting in the wings are forwards Ville Leino, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and goalie Jimmy Howard.

"It's the best group of players that I've ever been involved with sending to the minors," Babcock said.

While the top four forward lines appear to be set, Babcock remains cautiously optimistic when discussing his top unit of Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk (groin) and Tomas Holmstrom (knee). The group hasn't skated together in a competitive setting since Detroit's preseason opener Sept. 24.
 
"Sure, it concerns me because we have three lines that look like they're rolling and one that hasn't played, so we're going to find out soon enough," Babcock said. "I'm a big believer in Pavel, I've known Hossa for a long time and Homer can bring it every night, so I'm confident they'll work it out."
"It's obviously going to be an unbelievable night with the ceremony before the game and having Dallas Drake and Dominik Hasek there to join in the celebration. Emotions will be high, the building will be full and the Maple Leafs are in town, so there's going to be emotion regardless. The thing is, once the puck drops, I know I'll start to worry if the players are still kind of living in the past but that's where Babcock comes in."Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland
The second unit will have Zetterberg with Jiri Hudler and Franzen, the third finds Valtteri Filppula centering for Dan Cleary and Samuelsson, and the fourth line has Draper between Maltby and Tomas Kopecky. Holland said the Wings likely will open the season with forward Darren McCarty, defenseman Chris Chelios and Howard on injured reserve.

"We're deeper, younger and faster than we used to be and that's always been part of our success," Babcock said. "You can't just count on the same people night after night. We have our 12 forwards starting the year and we like all of them for different reasons; they are competitive people, work hard and provide good depth. The more you can spread out the workload, the better you are. The good players like being on the ice and we like watching them."

So will the sellout crowd of 18,000-plus at the Joe on Thursday night.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh