When you win the Stanley Cup, is it really possible to improve your team?
Well, yeah, if less than a month after your parade through downtown you add arguably the best player in a strong crop of unrestricted free agents to a team that will return all but two players that suited up for the Stanley Cup clinching game.
The Detroit Red Wings were barely into their summer of fun when Marian Hossa shocked the hockey world by turning down a seven-year contract offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins -- only the team Detroit beat in the Final -- to sign a one-year deal with the Wings.
Hossa joins an already stacked and award-winning lineup, including Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Henrik Zetterberg, Lady Byng Trophy-winner Pavel Datsyuk and Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom, making the Red Wings the early favorite by nearly every pundit in the hockey universe to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
"I wanted the best chance to win the Stanley Cup and I feel like Detroit is the team," Hossa said. "I know I could get more money somewhere else, but the thing that I was looking for was to win the Stanley Cup."
Dominik Hasek retired, but that really only meant Chris Osgood needed a new backup because Ozzie turned into "The Dominator" in the playoffs after supplanting Hasek as the starter in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinal against Nashville.
He finished the playoffs with a League-best 1.55 goals-against average and 14 wins, including three shutouts, to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in his career and second as the Wings' No. 1 goalie.
Conklin, who backed up Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh last season, was signed to a one-year contract on July 1. Howard, the Wings' second-round draft pick in 2003, was an All-Star in the American Hockey League last season, his third with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He was signed to a new three-year contract on July 21.
Osgood, though, can finally enter a season knowing he is the man in Detroit. Since returning to Hockeytown in 2005, he has entered each season as a backup, first to Manny Legace and then to Hasek the last two years.
The last time he began a season as a No. 1 was in 2003-04, his only full season with the St. Louis Blues after he was shipped there by the New York Islanders at the 2003 trade deadline. He went 31-25-8 with a 2.24 GAA and took the Blues to the playoffs.
Even with his constant job uncertainty, Osgood still has Hall of Fame credentials. He owns a 363-195-81 career regular-season record with a 2.43 GAA. In the playoffs, he is 59-41 with an even-better 2.11 GAA, not to mention the three Stanley Cups.
"To me, the best part of Ozzie is his makeup," Detroit General Manager Ken Holland said. "You won't find anyone more mentally tough. He's laid-back, but there's a passion burning inside of him."
Hossa is really only the tip of the iceberg.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk are now fully established as two of the more dynamic players in the League. Tomas Holmstrom is still extremely effective in front of the net.
Johan Franzen proved with his second half of the season and playoff run that he is one of the League's rising stars. Dan Cleary is an emerging, two-way talent. Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler can dazzle. Mikael Samuelsson has still got it.
Darren Helm, who is still considered a rookie despite playing 18 playoff games, was one of the biggest surprises of the postseason. He's one of the fastest skaters on the team and will have the inside track to making the squad out of training camp.
Then, of course, there is the old guard of Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. With eight Stanley Cup rings between them, Draper and Maltby are two grizzled vets who still contribute.
Draper is dominant in the faceoff circle and Maltby is a solid fourth-line grinder.
Hossa, though, will attract the early attention. People want to know where he's going to play and with whom? Will it be with Datsyuk and Zetterberg? Will coach Mike Babcock break up that pair and put Hossa with Datsyuk and Franzen? Can he really go wrong?
Hossa comes over after piling up 66 points between Atlanta and Pittsburgh last season. He had another 26 points over 20 games in the playoffs while playing on the right side of Sidney Crosby.
Datsyuk is coming off a career year. He led the Wings with 66 assists and 97 points. He led the NHL with a plus-41 rating, reason enough for his third straight Lady Byng Trophy. He had 23 points and was a plus-13 in the playoffs.
Zetterberg played only 75 games last year, but was first on the team with 43 goals, second with 92 points and third with a plus-30 rating. He won the Conn Smythe for tying Crosby for a League-best 27 points and Niklas Kronwall, his own teammate, for a League-best plus-16 rating over 22 playoff games.
Franzen emerged as a top player in the last month of last season by scoring 15 of his 27 goals from March 2 until the end of the season. He had 13 goals in the playoffs, but was limited to only 16 games due to a concussion.
"Marian is a premier player in this League," Holland said of Hossa. "We wanted to add another forward who could fit into our top six, and now we have a forward that could fit into our top three."
Guess what? The Red Wings are pretty good on the back end, too.
All they have is "Mr. Perfect" himself (Lidstrom), leading a group that includes his likely defensive partner, Brian Rafalski, as well as Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Andreas Lilja, Brett Lebda and Chris Chelios.
Jonathan Ericsson, Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey will push for playing time as well. All are prospects Holland, Babcock and Assistant GM Jim Nill love. Ericsson, in fact, just signed a three-year contract this summer.
The Red Wings' defense should once again stifle the opposition and limit scoring chances on a nightly basis. On average, the Wings gave up a League-low 23.5 shots per game last season, while wracking up 34.4 shots, a League-best.
Look for Lidstrom and Rafalski to reprise their role as arguably the best tandem in the League. They combined for 23 goals, 102 assists and a plus-67 rating last season.
2008-2009 SEASON PREVIEWS
Stuart, a trade deadline acquisition from Los Angeles last season, re-upped for another four years on July 1. He'll likely play with Kronwall again, so the Wings will have their physical defensive pairing.
Kronwall emerged as one of the League's most ferocious hitters while posting a team-high 15 assists in the playoffs. He had 28 assists and 35 points in the regular season, when he also was a plus-25.
As it stands now, Lilja and Lebda would make up the third pairing, but watch out for Ericsson, Meech and Quincey coming out of training camp. Lilja re-signed for two years this summer and played in 79 games last year. Lebda played in 78.
Chelios, of course, is the wild-card.
"When the CBA was coming around, we analyzed our team and our success. We always had good defense, so we stressed we need to continue to have a good defense," Nill said. "Every year going to the deadline we start looking at defense, so we decided to start building it from within. Right now, we have eight or nine guys on the NHL roster that could play and three or four young guys coming up."
Three reasons for optimism
* Hossa, an All-Star winger, joins an already-stacked team looking to defend the Stanley Cup. That can't be a bad thing. The Wings didn't necessarily need Hossa in the fold to be a serious contender for another Stanley Cup run, but with him they are the clear-cut favorite in the preseason.
* Lidstrom, who turned 38 in April, has shown no signs of slowing down. The Swedish defenseman won his sixth Norris Trophy in the past seven years at June's NHL Awards Show in Toronto. He had 70 points on 10 goals and 60 assists last season. You'd think by now he would have lost a step or two, but with his conditioning and less-aggressive, play-the-proper-angles style, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
* The Red Wings' depth is simply amazing. Forget for a second about the top five forwards and the top four defensemen. Go down the depth chart a bit further and you'll find this squad to be as deep, or perhaps even deeper, than any other in the NHL. When you can deploy guys like Hudler, Cleary, Samuelsson, Draper, Maltby and Helm on your third and fourth lines, you know you have an advantage. Lilja, Lebda and the kids give the Wings a super-padded cushion at the end of their defensive depth chart. And Conklin proved how good a backup he can be last year when he subbed for Fleury and basically kept the Penguins afloat for more than two months.