Sunday, January 27, 2008

Can Detroit Win The Stanley Cup?

The All Star break is a natural time to look at the season so far and reflect on what has happened and look to the future. Right now, the Detroit Red Wings lead the NHL with a record of 37-14 (four losses count as regulation ties) and must be considered the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. How likely are they to be the eventual winners?

The Wings have a strong team, but there are several issues that they will have to address to actually win the cup. First is goaltending. Dominik Hasek is a very good goaltender who will eventually go to the Hall of Fame. However, he turns 43 in a few days and has injury problems. He must remain healthy for Detroit to have a serious run at the Stanley Cup. He is their elite level goalie when he is healthy. Sure, Chris Osgood has played well this year and is appearing in the All Star Game, but he doesn't have the recent track record to suggest he is likely to provide Stanley Cup level goaltending. I think goaltending is the most likely place where Detroit could break down if they fail to win the cup.

Detroit has a good forward unit led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Both might be on the early parts of Hall of Fame tracks in their careers. The question mark is that neither has ever led their team with very successful runs in the playoffs yet and thus it is unclear if they have that ability. Beyond them, Detroit has considerable depth with Tomas Holmstrom, Daniel Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Valtteri Filppula as well as checkers Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. If things go well, this is a forward unit that could win the cup, but questions do exist.

Mike Babcock may be a solid coach, but he can be outcoached. It remains to be seen if he can provide the coaching for Detroit to win the cup.

I think their defence is the part of the roster that has the least questions. Detroit's defence is led by Nicklas Lidstrom the man who should win MVP and has several other playoff tested players including Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios. They also have talented younger players in Niklas Kronwall and Brett Lebda playing significant minutes for the team. The Red Wings defence looks good enough to win the Stanley Cup.

The next question is: Are the Wings a good enough team to be considered among the historically elite teams that might be considered the best ever in NHL history? As necessary conditions (but not sufficient conditions) for this status, I claim such a team must have top level goaltending and several players who either are Hall of Famers (regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers) or are on Hall of Fame tracks (likely to get there if they continue their careers in the manner they are expected to). Detroit has Niklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek. All of whom are players I think will make the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers. The problem is Chelios and Hasek are both well into their 40s and are no longer at the top of their games. They also have Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk who look like they could one day make it to that level. Will they? One significant answer to that question may come in this years playoffs if they are the leaders of a successful Stanley Cup run. As for goaltending, Hasek is capable of providing top level goaltending if he is healthy and on top of his game, but at his age both of those conditions are not givens. Detroit has the pieces to be an elite team, but it is not clear if they will put it all together.

There are other teams with good chances of winning the Stanley Cup as well. At the top of the list is the Ottawa Senators who have a good core in Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Wade Redden. The biggest question is goaltending. Neither Martin Gerber nor Ray Emery has ever proven they can be elite level goalies. The Anaheim Ducks could also win the cup. They are the defending champions and with the return of Scott Niedermayer and likely return of Teemu Selanne, they will have all their important pieces back from last season. The main question is will Niedermayer and Selanne get to the same level they were at last year with their extended layoffs. There are any number of other teams that could also be surprise winners, though none look as strong as those three.

I think Detroit is the team in the NHL with the best shot at winning this year's Stanley Cup. I do not think it is a 50% chance. Thus, if I had to bet, I would bet against Detroit winning (if I can get the rest of the league in my bet), but if I was forced to bet on only one team, Detroit is the safest bet.

1) It would be silly to try to make a case for Detroit being a 'historically elite team' until they actually won something.
2) Detroit has had some great regular seasons the past 13-14 years, and have 3 Cups in that time frame, so even a great regular season does NOT automatically mean a Cup win
3) As for Osgood, much like this year he back stopped a very high powered Wing team to a Cup in 1998. Other than Giguere, and possibly Kipper in calgary, no other goalie out west has had major playoff success/led his team to a championship.
4) Right now the teams we'd say are 'favourites: Detroit, SJ, Calgary, Anaheim in the West, and NJ and Montreal in the East! (yes we omitted Ottawa intentionally because we don't like their goaltending)!

January 28, 2008 8:34 AM
Faux: We didn't win a cup every year we won the Presidents Trophy, but 3 cups in 15 or so years aint shabby ina 30 team league!
I like our chances come April, but I fear the Ducks the most. I think we can handle every other team in the west
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