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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Lidstrom's return means Detroit's a Cup contender

Wednesday, 08.10.2011 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Just as they always do in Detroit, the Red Wings rolled with the punches this summer.

They bid a fond farewell to three prominent figures, but were lucky enough that the most important defenseman in franchise history decided to stick around for at least one more year. General manager Ken Holland then made a couple of shrewd signings -- and, not surprisingly, the Wings are ready to take a run at another Stanley Cup.

That's just how it works in Hockeytown: The Red Wings are always built to contend.

They'll have to do so this season without Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood. The veteran trio has a combined 10 Stanley Cup rings, but each player decided to move on to the next stage of their lives. Draper and Osgood accepted positions within the organization.

But captain and reigning Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom figured out that he wasn't done yet, so the 41-year-old signed another one-year contract in June. It was the most welcome news of the summer for Holland and Co.

FACTS & FIGURES

Record: 47-25-10, 104 points, third in West

Coach:
Mike Babcock (7th season)

Interesting fact: The Detroit Red Wings have made the postseason 20 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL. The next closest active streak is seven consecutive seasons by the San Jose Sharks.
The Red Wings brought in Ian White to replace Rafalski and Ty Conklin to take over Osgood's backup duties behind Jimmy Howard. Mike Commodore was signed to be a veteran depth defenseman in place of the departed Ruslan Salei, and the Wings plan on using what was in-house to replace Draper.

The rest of the team is well enough known that diving into specifics on players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart would be an exercise in repetitiveness.

They're good, real good. Everyone already knows that.

However, the Red Wings are also getting up there in age. All of the aforementioned players, including Lidstrom, Commodore and Conklin are on the wrong side of 30. That means 11 players on the Wings' 23-man NHL roster are 30 or older, including Lidstrom at 41 and Holmstrom at 38.

Then again, the Red Wings have been dealing with this issue of age and getting older for the past few seasons. It hasn't seemed to slow them down yet, and there is no reason to believe it will any time soon.



RED WINGS: 3 QUESTIONS FOR 2011-2012


1. How will Jimmy Howard fare in his third year as the Red Wings starting goaltender?
Howard has proved the past two seasons he is a capable starting goaltender. However, after the retirement of Chris Osgood, Howard won't have the presence of a three-time Stanley Cup champion to mentor him both on and off the ice. Howard, however, most likely learned plenty from Osgood, and should be just fine -- especially with the team in front of him.

2. How will the Red Wings replace Brian Rafalaski?
With one year and $6 million left on his contract, it was a bit of a surprise when Rafalaski retired during the summer. The $6 million, however, allowed the Red Wings to sign more depth, including three veteran defensemen in Garnet Exelby, Ian White and Mike Commodore. None will be likely to replace Rafalski's 48 points from this past season, but the three will help add to the strong depth needed for a long postseason run.

3. Can Detroit do it again?
Dating back to 2007, the Red Wings have advanced to at least the Western Conference Semifinals.  Along with San Jose, Detroit is one of just two teams to have made the postseason every year dating back to the lockout. Although the team lost Rafalski, there is no reason to believe the Wings can't do it again.

-- Greg Picker
The loss of Rafalski stings the most because he was still a top-four defenseman with skills on the power play. Rafalski, who had 48 points in 63 games last season, retired with one year and $6 million left on his contract. He's only 37 years old, but he was hampered by knee and back injuries last season and said at his retirement press conference that it was time to move on.

Osgood and Draper would have been unrestricted free agents and were not in the Red Wings' plans any longer.

Mike Modano, who has also hinted at retirement, will not be back after spending one injury-riddled season with his hometown team. A wrist injury limited Modano to only 40 games last season and he was a healthy scratch for nine of Detroit's 11 playoff games.

Salei, who played 75 games for the Wings last season, signed with a club in the Kontinental Hockey League.



Holland went outside the organization to replace the departed pieces of Detroit's back end by reeling in White, Commodore and Conklin for Rafalski, Salei and Osgood.

White was the Red Wings' most expensive acquisition, costing $5.75 million over two seasons. Regardless, White's cap hit of $2.875 million is less than half of what Rafalski was due. He's also 10 years younger than Rafalski, but White's first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs came last season when he suited up for 17 games with the San Jose Sharks.

White has bounced around since playing the first three full seasons of his career in Toronto. Since getting dealt by the Leafs on Jan. 31, 2010, White has played a combined 105 games with the Flames, Hurricanes and Sharks. He has 143 points in 401 NHL games.

The 31-year-old Commodore, who signed a one-year contract worth $1 million, played 20 games with Columbus last season before the club dumped him and his $3.8 million contract in the AHL. The Blue Jackets bought out the remaining three seasons on Commodore's contract, making him an unrestricted free agent -- in fact, the Jackets are paying Commodore more money than the Red Wings are this season. Detroit is hoping he can fill the void left by Salei, but Jakub Kindl will push for more playing time this season so Commodore will likely have to win a spot in the top-six in training camp.

UP-AND-COMING: 3 PLAYERS TO WATCH


Jiri Hudler, F -- Hudler's sub-par return to the NHL (37 points in 73 games) after spending the 2009-10 season playing in Russia put him in coach Mike Babcock's doghouse at various points in the season. Babcock thought Hudler was "70 points guaranteed," but after he barely got half of that, his leash is short and the coach won't hesitate to give Hudler less ice time if he's not performing.

Jonathan Ericsson, D -- The 27-year-old blueliner has played two full seasons in the NHL and is now getting paid handsomely ($3.25 million per season) to be a big part of the Detroit's defense. Babcock, Ken Holland and Wings' fans everywhere will say it's high time Ericsson starts living up to his potential. He had only 15 points in 74 games last season.

Jakub Kindl, D -- The 24-year-old Czech-born defenseman showed the Wings' brass flashes of his potential last season as he appeared in 48 games because of long-term injuries to Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart. He'll have another opportunity to crack the top-six this season with his main competition likely being Mike Commodore. Kindl was a first-round pick in 2005.
Conklin returns to the Wings after playing the last two seasons in St. Louis. He held the team up during the 2008-09 season when Osgood was going through a slump. Conklin signed a one-year contract worth $750,000 to back up Howard.



Detroit remains deep and versatile up front, skilled and big on the blue line. Howard is coming into his prime years as a No. 1 goalie and with Conklin riding shotgun, the Wings could have one of the League's best goaltending duos. Conklin is used to playing between 20-30 games a season, which seems like the appropriate amount of work to keep Howard fresh into the spring.

If injuries become an issue, Detroit might have to dip into a pool of unproven yet promising players like Cory Emmerton, Tomas Tatar and Jan Mursak, who have a combined 30 games of NHL experience.

However, unlike in previous years, Holland still has plenty of wiggle room below the salary cap to make some in-season moves. According to capgeek.com, the Red Wings are $5.845 million under the cap even with a full 23-man roster. There are 12 teams in the NHL that currently have higher payrolls than the Wings, who spent to the cap last season.

If they keep that cushion through the winter, Detroit might be a major player at the trade deadline to beef up in time for another run at the Stanley Cup.


Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl



Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1