Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.
Who's In: Marian Hossa, F (UFA, Pit), Ty Conklin, G (UFA, Pit)
What's Changed: Much to the chagrin of fans across the League, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings only got better during the off-season as they landed arguably the biggest name on the free agent market, Marian Hossa.
Formerly a member of Detroit's adversary in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hossa left millions on the table with teams around the League in order to don the Winged Wheel and contribute to the repeat effort. Hossa is slated to start the season on the top line with Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk. Hossa and Datsyuk have been unable to gain too much familiarity, however, as Datsyuk has been sidelined for much of the pre-season with a groin injury.
The Hossa acquisition may make the annual split up of Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg stick for the first time. Head coach Mike Babcock has Zetterberg centering a line with Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler, and there is little reason to believe that group won't pan out. Zetterberg and Franzen are in contract years, while Hudler will look to maintain his spot outside the fourth line doghouse. On paper, Detroit may have the best top two lines in the League. They'll certainly have the two most defensively responsible scoring lines.The scoring threat won't end when the top six are off the ice. Valtteri Filppula looks to be headed into the season as the center of a third line also made up of Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson. All three players could hit 20 goals.
The bottom end of the forward corps is somewhat up in the air, but it's likely the final line will end up looking like Tomas Kopecky-Kris Draper-Kirk Maltby. Young Darren Helm has picked up where he left off in the Finals and looks more than ready for an NHL job, but Detroit's depth could dictate a return to Grand Rapids. The Finn Ville Leino has been impressive, but again, depth will likely mean a trip to Grand Rapids. Neither player would see much playing time in Detroit and sitting in the luxury box isn't good for their development. Aaron Downey or Darren McCarty could act as the 13th forward, with the other heading to Grand Rapids.
On defense, nothing has changed. The Wings retained what is in my book the best blueline corps in the business. Nick Lidstrom remains incomparable and his defensive partner Brian Rafalski is one of the better puck-carrying D-men around. Nik Kronwall is becoming a dominate physical offensive defenseman and his partner Brad Stuart seems to have found a home with the Wings. The third pairing was in doubt until a broken leg sidelined Chris Chelios for 4-6 weeks, but it now looks like Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebdawill round out the regular six.
The team has indicated it would like to carry 8 defensemen. With six spots filled as outlined above, the remaining two spots will be filled by Chelios and one of the following three young defensmen: Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, and Derek Meech. Ericsson is the team's top prospect and they would only keep him around Detroit if he were going to get playing time. Since he can go down to the AHL without having to clear waivers, he is likely headed for the Griffins. It looks like Meech has the edge over Quincey in terms of total value, so it appears likely Quincey is the odd man out.
In net, the Wings will be covered by Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin. Osgood is the definite starter, but Conklin is likely to see a fair amount of action as the team looks to keep Osgood fresh for the playoffs.
The team is currently over the cap and must make a trade to get back under, but they have some time now that Chelios is injured. His salary won't count against the cap until he returns, at which time the team will likely trade a defenseman. Quincey again seems to be the odd man out here.
I've saved the biggest change for last: the Wings are now fully a new time. Players like Lidstrom, Draper, Maltby, and Osgood of course remain, but this is the team of Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Filppula, and Kronwall. More importantly, it's Mike Babcock's team. Last year showed the results of wholly buying into Babcockian hcokey and the Stanley Cup marked the completion of the transition from the Steve Yzerman and Company Era to a new one, which could be as great.
Who's On The Hook: Marian Hossa's presence in Detroit has fans pumped for the season. People in the world of Hockeytown love that he came here to win and can't wait to see him in action. That means, of course, that expectations are in the stratosphere. I suspect Hossa will be walking a fine line between fan favorite and goat until the fans get to know his ins and outs.
Where They'll Finish: From where I stand before the start of the season and with the glow of the Stanley Cup victory still in my admittedly red-colored glasses, I believe this team is too mature and too well-coached to suffer a lasting post-championship hangover. On paper Detroit should be poised to have a season for the ages. Will it happen? We'll see. The pessimist (realist?) in me sees a bumpy road ahead, especially with the ascendent star in the Central of the Chicago Blackhawks. All my pessimism can't overcome a complete confidence in their ability to repeaet, however, and even an objective observer may have a hard time coming to a similar conclusion. Detroit's dominance doesn't seem likely to just end.
Blogs To Watch:Snapshots, Abel to Yzerman, Gorilla Crouch, yzerman is god, Behind the Jersey, HockeyTownTodd, Red Wings Hardware, and On the Wings (my blog).