A healthy mule: Johan Franzen excited about the Wings' season

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johanfranzen1.jpgLast season saw the Detroit Red Wings deal with a host of injuries. Coming off of back-to-back seasons reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s understandable that players could get tired and hurt as well and on a team that lost 40-goal scorer Marian Hossa, losing any kind of offense makes living a bit rough. Losing fellow scorer Johan Franzen for stretches of time didn’t help matters and the offensive flare that he showed in the playoffs proved that.

How are Franzen and his Red Wings teammates feeling going into this season? Pretty good it seems as Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press finds out.

“I’m feeling really excited to get going again,” Franzen said. “Last season was more of a rehabilitation for me to get my knee back in shape. I feel really hungry this year and in good shape and really strong. I’ve been working out from the day I got injured, pretty much, so I’m probably in the best physical shape I’ve been in. I needed this summer to get really healthy. Now I feel 100%.”

Though he had 18 points in 12 playoff games, Franzen scored only six goals because he couldn’t maneuver into position fast enough.

“I didn’t have that jump from the line to beat a guy to the puck and cut in front of him,” Franzen said, “so I ended up playing more on the outside and started passing a little bit more.”

The luxury of being on a team like the Red Wings means that there’s plenty of support all over the ice. While injuries can do in any team at any time, the resiliency the Wings showed last year was pretty amazing considering how down they were most of the season. With Jiri Hudler returning to the team and the addition of Mike Modano, the Wings are certainly primed to pack quite an offensive punch and having a healthy Johan Franzen all season long will only make things better.

While some folks will worry if Jimmy Howard will hit a sophomore slump or that the defense might run into issues or that the team could be too old to keep up, scoring goals is something that should not be an issue at all in Detroit this season.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”