The Big Four
Nicklas Lidstrom remains the best in the business after winning a fifth Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defenseman. He’ll be the guy eating the most minutes again this season on the Detroit blue line, will see regular time on the power play and penalty kill, and will continue to be matched against the opposition’s top scoring lines. Brian Rafalski joins the mix after anchoring the New Jersey defense in the post-Scott Stevens era and should fit nicely in the spot vacated by Mathieu Schneider. Nicklas Kronvall is another Swedish defenseman in the Lidstrom mold, and is coming off a fractured sacrum that kept him out of the playoffs last spring. Chris Chelios, 45-years young, returns for a 24th NHL season and has shown no signs of slowing down. He plans to play until he’s 50, which is bad news for opposing forwards.
Beyond the top four, the Red Wings also have solid defenders in the emerging Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja.
Get the point
Nobody’s cooler quarterbacking the power play than Lidstrom and he will continue to be the catalyst with the extra man. Last year, he scored 10 power-play goals and has 101 for his career. Also capable for running the extra-man unit is Rafalski, who held that position with the Devils where he scored three power-play goals. His 47 assists tied for fourth among all NHL defensemen, and in a more wide-open system in Detroit, that number could get even bigger this season.
In the Wings
Kyle Quincey -- The 22-year-old played in six games last year for the mostly veteran Wings after spending the majority of the season in the AHL. With Grand Rapids, the 6-foot-1 defender was a disappointing minus-7, while scoring four goals and 22 points down on the farm. In the playoffs, he became a valuable commodity with injuries to the Detroit blue line and played in 13 games with the Wings on their run to the conference finals.
Derek Meech -- Re-signed as a restricted free agent this summer, the 23-year-old has been the victim of playing on a deep, veteran defense in Detroit since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2002. Last year he played in four games for the Wings and spent the bulk of the season in Grand Rapids. With another solid defense corps in place in Detroit this season, he’ll likely be limited to spot duty at the NHL once again.
Jakub Kindl -- A 6-foot-3 Czech defender drafted in the first round (No. 19 overall) in 2005, he could be ready for full-time duty in North America after playing in a handful of games two years ago with Grand Rapids. Played in 54 games last year with Kitchener of the Ontario League, where he scored 11 goals and 55 points and was a plus-23. Should be a rock on the Detroit blue line for years, provided there’s room on the roster for a youngster.
Chris Chelios -- It’s not out of disrespect that Chelios is here, it’s that the better he is, the better off Detroit will be. He might not log as many minutes as he used to, but Chelios is a steadying force on the Red Wings’ blue line, both on and off the ice. His leadership is invaluable and his NHL street smarts do go a long way. But he’s not getting any younger, and that means a lot in hockey. You know he’s going to be quality, but the X Factor here is that Chelios can make Detroit that much better if he exceeds expectations, like how he took on a much bigger role during the playoffs. For a guy that’s defied odds throughout his epic career, turning in a better-than-expected season is not out of the question. And if Chelios has a better year than he’s expected to have, the Red Wings could be a lot more fearsome than people expect.