2011-2012 season preview: Detroit Red Wings

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2010-2011 record: 47-25-10, 104 points; 1st in Central; 3rd in West

Playoffs: Defeated Phoenix 4-0 in Western quarterfinals, lost 4-3 to San Jose in Western semifinals

It wasn’t long ago when the Red Wings were within a single game of winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, but after a couple of second-round exits to San Jose, some people think Detroit’s best years are behind it. That could be true — but let’s face it, the bar was set pretty high. Even if the Wings aren’t as good as they were three or four years ago — they’re still good enough to compete with any team in the league on any given night.

Offense

With guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Hank Zetterberg leading the way, the Wings have one of the most potent offenses in the league. Their combination of top-end talent, underrated forward depth, and a strong power play had Detroit as the second best scoring team in the NHL last season. The entire stable of forwards returns intact this season as they look to take on the league once again.

One of the keys to the Red Wings’ success in recent years has been their ability to put the right players in the right roles. They expect Zetterberg and Datsyuk to be superior two-way players that score at least a point-per game. But behind the two stars, they have forwards all over the roster that can fill a specific spot. Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, and Tomas Holmstrom are not asked to do anything more than their role — go to the dirty areas and pitch in goals through hard work. Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula are asked to develop into the next generation of high-end scorers and energy guys like Patrick Eaves, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm are asked to play superior energy roles. It’s a formula that has worked for the last 20 years.

Defense

Offseason news on the blueline was a mixed bag for the Wings this summer. Nicklas Lidstrom deciding to come back for another season must have had management dancing on tables, but Brian Rafalski’s retirement caught most people by surprise. They brought in Ian White to fill Rafalski’s top-four role and they’ll expect 6-foot-5 Jonathan Ericsson to start earning his new contract in a bottom-pairing role. With Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall playing behind Lidstrom and Ian White, the Red Wings will be set for about 50 minutes every game.

Goalies

Jimmy Howard has proven in his first two seasons that he can win. He’s racked up 74 wins in the NHL and is unquestionably the No. 1 goaltender for the Wings. But despite the strong record, Howard’s numbers took a dip last season. His save percentage decreased from .924 during his rookie season to a pedestrian .908 last season. Likewise, his goals against average was a stellar 2.26 in his first campaign, but his 2.79 mark last season left plenty to be desired. The Wings have enough scoring to compensate for a few off nights by their goaltenders, but if they want to return to the elite team in the playoffs that they expect to be every season, Howard will need to improve.

Coaching

Many people will tell you that Mike Babcock is the best in the league — and it’s hard to argue. He’s shown throughout his coaching career that he can manage expectations, work well with superstars, put players in the right role, and still meet lofty expectations. He’s a great motivator and can manage the in-game coaching decisions with the best of them.

Breakout candidate

On a team with so many established veterans, finding a player to break out onto the national scene could be difficult. For the Red Wings, it could be White, who is simply getting the best opportunity of his career. After signing with the Wings in the offseason (his fifth team in less than two years), White is slated to play next to Lidstrom. He showed at the end of last season with the Sharks that he can be a valuable player on a good team. Now that he finally has a solidified role with a team and has gained a few years of NHL experience, it wouldn’t be surprising to see White take a huge step. Breaking his career high of 38 points in 2009-10 is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Best-case scenario

For the Red Wings, the best-case scenario is always the Stanley Cup. With the overall depth of established players all over the roster, surviving the playoffs could be in the cards. They don’t have many question marks: the Red Wings just need their established players to play the best of their ability. If they do, the Central Division and Western Conference crowns are reachable goals.

Reality

The Red Wings are certainly one of the very good teams in the league. If the team stays healthy, Detroit should make it back to the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season (the longest active streak in major pro sports). The Red Wings should compete with the Blackhawks (and perhaps the Predators) for the Central Division crown — even if they fall short, they should battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Look for the Wings to have yet another 100-point season, but fall just behind the Blackhawks in the Central race.

Johansen wishes he was there to shake Kesler’s hand after Predators won

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Ryan Johansen isn’t backing down about his criticisms of the way Ryan Kesler plays. Not after the Nashville Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks. Not as he recovers from emergency surgery.

That was the top bulletin-board material from a great interview Johansen with TSN 1040 Vancouver on Wednesday, as the refreshingly candid forward discussed a wide array of topics.

For instance, Johansen:

  • Praised the hockey acumen of Nashville fans, backing up P.K. Subban‘s praise of the market.
  • Went into detail about his harrowing injury. Johansen explained that, at first, the seemingly innocent hit by Josh Manson would just be one of those “that’s going to leave a bad bruise” moments. Toward the end of the game, he was a shift or two from telling Peter Laviolette that he’d be a liability to his team. After the contest, he couldn’t even walk out of the shower, and that’s when medical staff determined that a painful injury required emergency surgery.
  • The bittersweet feelings of seeing his team advance to a Stanley Cup Final without him.
  • He spoke about how confident he felt during a postseason run that’s drawn rave reviews.

Still, the juicy stuff was about Kesler. That comes at around the 10:50 mark of an interview worth listening to in its entirety.

Nice. That’s basically the opposite of Detroit Red Wings players regretting shaking Claude Lemieux’s hand and maybe the other extreme of Martin Brodeur snubbing Sean Avery, right?

(It feels necessary to discuss Milan Lucic getting weird during the handshake lines, too. Ah, memories.)

Johansen admits that he was a Vancouver Canucks fan growing up, and while Kesler wasn’t one of his favorite players, he certainly cheered his endeavors. That … won’t happen again anytime soon, as you can note.

Johansen expects a full recovery from that surgery, so yes, we can all pencil in the rematch between those two Ryans in 2017-18.

Hot take: there won’t be handshakes.

Blues add Darryl Sydor as assistant coach

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The St. Louis Blues continued to assemble the coaching staff for Mike Yeo on Wednesday when they announced the hiring of former NHL defenseman Darryl Sydor.

Sydor previously served as an assistant on Yeo’s staff for several years when he was the head coach of the Minnesota Wild. Before joining the Blues, Sydor was an assistant coach for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this past season.

“I am excited to have Darryl back on my staff,” Yeo said in a statement released by the team. “He was an outstanding teacher during our time in Minnesota and will add a wealth of experience and knowledge to our team.”

Before joining the coaching ranks Sydor was a defenseman in the NHL for 18 seasons, playing 1,291 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. The Blues were his final stop in the NHL, playing 47 games for the team during the 2009-10 season. He was a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams, winning it with the Stars in 1998-99 and then with the Lightning in 2003-04.

The Blues hired Yeo to be their coach-in-waiting to work alongside Ken Hitchcock before the start of the 2016-17 season, but when Hitchcock was fired in the middle of the season Yeo was promoted a few months earlier than expected.

The Blues eliminated the Wild in the first-round of the playoffs this season but were defeated by the Nashville Predators in the second round.

For fourth time in five years Sergei Mozyakin is the KHL’s MVP

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The KHL handed out its awards for the 2016-17 season on Wednesday and it was Magnitogorsk Metallurg forward Sergei Mozyakin taking home the Golden Stick Trophy as the league MVP.

Given the season he had, and the career he has had in the KHL, this should not really be much of a surprise.

Mozyakin turned in one of the greatest performances in the history of the league this season by scoring 48 goals and recording 85 total points (both league records) in only 60 games.

Since the KHL formed in 2008-09 only three different players have won the Golden Stick award. Danis Zaripov won it during the inaugural season, while Alexander Radulov won it four times (three years in a row between 2009-10 and 2011-12, then again in 2014-15).

Mozyakin won it in 2012-13 and 2014-15, then in each of the past two seasons.

The 36-year-old forward was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the ninth-round (No. 262 overall) of the 2002 draft by never played a game in the NHL. He has spent his entire professional career playing in Russia where he has consistently been one of the best, most productive players in the league.

Among the KHL’s other award winners, Vasily Koshechkin was named the league’s top goalie, Oleg Znarok was the coach of the year, while Vladimir Tkachyov is the rookie of the year.

Mike Fisher could return for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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One of the more impressive things about the Nashville Predators’ ability to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals was the way they won the last two games of the series without the services of their top two centers, Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher.

They will still be without Johansen in the Stanley Cup Final as his postseason has come to an end, but they could get Fisher back when the series begins on Monday night.

General manager David Poile said on Wednesday that he is hopeful Fisher can participate in practice on Thursday and that there is “a real good chance” he will be ready to play in Game 1 of the series. The Predators will play the winner of Thursday’s Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. The Predators will open the series on the road no matter who they play.

Fisher suffered an apparent head injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final but was able to be on the ice to take part in the trophy celebration following Game 6.

The Predators’ captain has yet to record a point in 14 games this postseason, but did score 18 goals and add 24 assists in 72 games during the regular season.

In other injury news, Craig Smith, who also missed Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, has seen his health improve and could also be getting closer to a return. Smith has only played in four games for the Predators this postseason and has not played since Game 6 in the second-round against the St. Louis Blues.