The first Wednesday Night Rivalry game of the 2013-14 season features the Buffalo Sabres at the Detroit Red Wings, two teams that are in very interesting situations.
The expectation in Detroit is always to compete for a Stanley Cup. So you have to look at some of the additions they made this summer. They brought in Stephen Weiss, who was highly coveted in the offseason and played in the Ontario Hockey League for Plymouth, which is about 20-30 minutes from downtown Detroit. He's another center that can make plays, distribute the puck, be a pass-first guy.
Of course, we've got to talk about Daniel Alfredsson. Come on now.
With the Red Wings, that's an interesting signing. They certainly feel he has a lot left. He's played very well these past few seasons, he was an All-Star a couple of years ago in Ottawa. He still can crank the puck off that one-timer on the half-wall. There's a familiarity there. Naturally, he knows a lot of the Swedish players on Detroit. He's a legend who played for many years internationally with Nicklas Lidstrom, who also is part of the Wings' organization. So that played a part in it.
He's a right-hand shot so I think he's going to have a good impact on that team. If nothing else, it will make his transition even easier because they moved to the Eastern Conference this season and he played in the East his entire career. That will help him from a familiarity standpoint.
Big picture with Detroit -- I really believe Jimmy Howard has become an elite goaltender in this League. He's continued to get better and better. He was outstanding against the Blackhawks last year in the playoffs, taking them to Game 7.
Speaking of goaltending, the big question in Buffalo this season is what happens with Ryan Miller. Miller, along with star forward Thomas Vanek, can become an unrestricted free agent in July 2014. So those two star players know they have to play as well as they can as Sabres, to help their team, but also to help their case should they be traded by the deadline or pursue free agency next summer.
Here is the challenge with Miller should he enter the market in 2014. The goalie market is so finicky. It's supply and demand, a game of musical chairs. People would love to get their hands on him. But what opportunities will be there in free agency?
For Miller, there might not be a better place to start his big 2013-14 season than against the Red Wings in his home state of Michigan. I know I always wanted to put on a show playing against my hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Don't forget, Miller was an absolute stud when he won the Hobey Baker at Michigan State just up the road in East Lansing. In addition, his brother Drew plays for the Red Wings.
I think it's a big opportunity for him. I'm sure he'll try to downplay it, but why would he not want to start his season against his hometown team? That can go a long way for the confidence level. If he's able to come out of there with a win, it really would make a big difference.
A lot can change between then and now, but for Buffalo, Tyler Myers has to have a good season.
He underperformed in a big way last season and he'll be the first person to say that. From my understanding, he committed himself in the offseason and spent a lot of time working on different aspects of his game. Not just conditioning, but his mental game along with his visualization and mental preparation. Hopefully for him and the Sabres, that can pay dividends and he can rediscover the form he showed as a rookie. He's such a unique package, to have that size and ability to skate -- how can you not be a force?
Up front, Steve Ott is going to provide more sandpaper on the Buffalo forecheck. But the one forward I looked at coming into the season last year who I didn't think played as well as he's capable of is Marcus Foligno. I did games on "Hockey Night in Canada" when he got called up in 2011-12 and he was a beast down the stretch for the Sabres. If they had him for maybe another week and a half down the stretch, they could have gotten into the playoffs that season. Instead, they finished three points out of the eighth spot in the East. I'm interested to see how he comes out this season.
It's a lot to go over for one game. But that's what makes these games so great.