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Babcock looking forward to hangover-free season

by Dan Rosen
Detroit coach Mike Babcock thinks about the challenge every time he reaches for another pen and starts jotting down line combinations.

"I'm wrecking lots of napkins this summer putting people all over the place," Babcock told

A year ago, Babcock spoke about the challenge of overcoming the Stanley Cup hangover. This year, as the Red Wings prepare for training camp after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, he is facing an even greater challenge -- getting his team to the Final for a third straight season.

Not since the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 has a team gone to the Cup Final three straight seasons, but those Oilers didn't have the obstacles in front of them that the Wings are staring at.

Significant changes in personnel will force Babcock to use at least five players with a total of 156 games of NHL experience between them. All the while, Babcock and a handful of his players have the upcoming Olympic Games hanging over their heads.

Once the Vancouver experience is finished, the NHL re-opens for the playoff drive and the Wings will have to turn it on again. That might be tough since no team has played more games (209) than they have over the past two seasons.

Oh, and did we mention the Wings are going to Sweden to open the season as part of the 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere? Yeah, there's that, too.

"I don't know how we're going to do it, I just know we're going to do it," Babcock said. "Now, you can ask, 'What does that mean?' Well, I just know when I came to work for the Red Wings years ago, (GM) Ken Holland said, 'You're coming here for the people. It's not about our roster now or our roster in the future, we're just going to find players and we're going do it.' Ever since that time I have thought that way."

Hesitantly, Babcock admits the one thing the Wings have going for them now is they won't be gassed from an exhaustive summer of Stanley Cup fun when they show up in Traverse City, Mich., for training camp next month.

There isn't a hangover when you lose.

"The thing about losing is you don't spend the whole summer partying," he said. "I hate to say that because the greatest summer of your life is after you win the Cup. That trophy is such a magnet for fun, but you're worn out when you get to training camp. I think it probably is easier to recover from losing because you're not wearing yourself out."

Instead of partying, Babcock has spent his summer planning for the Olympics and figuring line combinations. Driving his enthusiasm about the Wings is the younger, less experienced players he will incorporate into the lineup.

Salary cap restrictions have forced a typically veteran-laden team to replace Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky and Ty Conklin with Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino, Jonathan Ericsson and Jimmy Howard.

Abdelkader and Helm each are 22 years old. Leino and Ericsson both are 25, but have just 40 games of NHL experience between them. Howard is also 25, but has been the goalie of the Wings' future since he was a second-round pick in 2003.

"We're going to have youthful enthusiasm that we might not have had in the past, and we're not bringing in kids, either," Babcock said. "As much as they're young, they do have some time in the program under their belt."

To Babcock, that means the transition should be smooth and the challenges of the upcoming season that much easier to overcome.

"Let's face it, in the cap world, when you have good teams, players leave because you can't afford to keep them," Babcock said. "That means there is going to be change, but if you embrace it you have a chance to turn it into something really good."

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