Another season, another Cup, and the Wings become the instant favorites to repeat next year. Here are some random thoughts on the Wings, with an eye to the future:
Dominic Hasek was great for the Wings this year. He helped to provide the Wings with two strong goalies, which allowed the team to remain strong through various injuries and ailments to two older athletes. He provided strong competition to obtain time in the net, which helped both goalies. He was the ultimate team player, taking his playoffs benching in stride and supporting his teammate as he finished the job. Finally, he knew when to call it quits. He removed any controversy about playing time or roles for next season by ending his career as one of the greatest goalies of all-time. Hasek has certainly caused some raised eyebrows with some odd behavior during his career, but he made a strong contribution to the Wings last two Stanley Cups, and as fans, we should all be be grateful to him.
In the net - No one, not even previous nay-sayers, can argue that Chris Osgood is now the Wings No. 1 guy, but the Wings do need to start thinking about their goalie of the future. Many analysts say the future is not Jimmy Howard, and I can't say he has ever impressed me that much, but if not him, who? Someone else in the minors? Here's where I think the Wings European scouting may come in. My bet is that the Wings have the successor to Osgood identified, either already in their system, playing in Europe, or on the roster of another team. Howard will be given every opportunity to show his stuff as Osgood's back-up, but if he doesn't prove himself, he will be moved out quickly. I don't see the Wings worrying that much about their goaltending. With their team defense, the goalie does not have to be the best player on the team, as they do on other teams, particularly during the playoffs. And, they know that goaltenders, even good, experienced ones, become an obtainable commodity during every free-agent season.
Free Agents - The Wings should have only two priorities: 1) Sign Brad Stuart, who was a great trade deadline pick-up, and a perfect compliment to a pairing with Nik Kronwall, and 2) Pick up a forward to play on one of the top two lines, if they can swing it under the salary cap. I think they will accomplish No. 1. What player wouldn't take a little less to try and win another cup with a great team and organization? On 2, it all depends on how much they have to spend. I am sure I am not the only one who would love to see Marian Hossa as a Red Wing after seeing him perform against them in the finals. Even more than Crosby, he was the opposing player I most feared being out on the ice. Picture him on a line with either Zetterberg or Datsyuk, with the other anchoring a strong second line. If the Wings make this move, or pick up another premier forward, they will solidify their position as the best team in the game.
The Youngsters - The future looks bright for the Wings because of the performance of their young players during the season and in the playoffs. Darren Helm will be a solid two-way player. Val Filppula will continue to improve. Tomas Kopecky will come back from injury to perform. Strong rookie performances will emerge from a group of players that includes Jon Ericsson and Jakub Kindl on defense, and Mattias Ritola and Justin Abdelkader on the forward lines.
Say Goodbye - To make room for younger players, the Wings will say goodbye to some players that have become familiar to Red Wings fans. Dallas Drake may retire, Andreas Lillja will probably not get a contract offer to his liking, and Derek Meech and Aaron Downey probably don't fit into the Wings' plans.
One More Time? Darren McCarty was a feel good story underlying this Stanley Cup run, but it was also clear he does not have a strong future role on the team. With the Wings needing to make room for younger players, it is my guess he will not be offered a spot on the team. If I'm wrong about that, we'll learn more about the class of this organization - they would be keeping him largely for sentimental reasons, and to help him through his personal difficulties. That says a lot about the organization and their commitment to their fans. As a middle-aged guy myself, and again for sentimental reasons, it would be great to see Chris Chelios have an opportunity to play one more season, even if only as a part-time player. He has been, even during the past season, a strong contributor, and could continue to mentor some of the younger players that will be coming up. If it happens, look for the Wings to agree to a deal with Chelios that is contingent on Chelios announcing it will be his last season.
That's the Sports Guy's take on the Red Wings - what do you think?