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Wings down? Players say unlikely

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

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TROY, Mich. – While some prognosticators believe the Red Wings will struggle to make the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, others believe a shortened NHL season gives Detroit an equal playing field to stretch its current postseason record to 22 straight appearances and make a run at the franchise’s 12th championship this spring.

First, some critical holes on the roster must be addressed, namely, on defense with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the departure of Brad Stuart, who signed with San Jose. There’s also a rumor that forward Tomas Holmstrom – who has made a living out of playing a net-front disturbance for opposing goalies – will likely announce his retirement this month.

“There will be some adjustment with Nick gone and Stuie’s influence is lost, too,” Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said. “And whatever happens with Homer. No one knows 100 percent what’s going on, but if he’s gone that’s a big loss in the locker room and on the ice. He brought a lot to the table on the ice, but especially off the ice.”

Bertuzzi was among seven Red Wings’ players who participated in another informal skate at the Troy Sports Center in anticipation of an abbreviated NHL season, which likely won’t begin before Jan. 19.

When the season does commence, the Red Wings’ strengths will still be built around speed, especially up front with centers Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm. And then there are the things that set the Red Wings apart from everyone else.

“Just the typical things we've always been good at,” Wings defenseman Ian White said. “We're good with holding onto the puck and making plays, lot of skill, real good speed. Guys have real good work ethic, lot of veteran presence. I just think we're going to be pretty similar to last year and hopefully better.”

Certainly, veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson thought highly enough of this team’s chances to win that he agreed to return to Detroit once free agency commenced last July. So what is it about the Wings that are so enticing?

“Good character, I think, around the dressing room, and they play – or we are now – playing a fun way to play the game,” Samuelsson said. “It starts off in the dressing room and off of the ice. We’re good people from the management and the players are good characters, too.”

As for filling the defensive voids, isn’t expected that rookie Brendan Smith will become a regular along the blue line, and then there was the off-season acquisition of free-agent Carlo Colaiacovo, who gives the Wings the seventh NHL-caliber defenseman they need.

“It's going to be a change for sure losing Nick, one of the best all-time, losing Brad was a huge part of our defense,” White said. “We picked up Colaiacovo, a real good player. It's going to be a different look on the back end for sure. You can't fill those guys' shoes but we'll do our best.”

After spending the last four seasons in St. Louis, Colaiacovo, who has never played a full NHL season, signed a two-year deal with Detroit, where he’ll be reunited with White. The pair played three seasons together in Toronto.

“He'll fit in well,” White said. “He's a quick player, he's a puck-mover, likes to jump into the play. I got the opportunity to play with him over a couple years in Toronto, so we were pairs for a little bit of that time, too, so I got a little bit of chemistry with him. He'll fit in well.''

The Wings also signed goalie Jonas Gustavsson to backup starter Jimmy Howard, and veteran agitator Jordin Tootoo, who should add some gritty to the Wings’ third- and fourth-lines.

“We still have some pretty good players,” Helm said. “I know we lost Nick and Stuie but we still have really good core guys on our team. Howie's great, the D that are going to step-up, they've proven they can step-up in the past. I still believe that we're a team that has Stanley Cup potential.

“Sammy's coming back, Tootoo is good. We have a few good guys on the way so I think those guys that we picked up are going to help us out a lot.”

Edmonton defenseman Jeff Petry isn’t convinced that Detroit’s run as one of the elite teams in the NHL is over.

“They’re always a good team year in and year out,” said Petry, who calls metro Detroit home during the off-season and skated with many of the Wings’ players during the lockout. “I’ve watched them my whole life and those guys, like Lidstrom, he was a big part of that team, but they’ll feel the gap pretty well and they’ll be a good team for a while now.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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