Thursday, July 03, 2008

Detroit: Early 2009 Stanley Cup Favorite

One often looks foolish trying to pick a Stanley Cup favorite for the next season this early in the summer, but nevertheless I think a clear favorite exists. The Detroit Red Wings have to be considered the favorite to win the 2009 Stanley Cup.

The first reason for this prediction is that Detroit won the 2008 Stanley Cup. That proves that they have a good enough team that they could win the cup if they can keep that team together. Although it is hard to keep successful teams together in the salary cap era, the Detroit Red Wings are doing an incredible job. They entered the summer where the most important player who was an unrestricted free agent was Brad Stuart, who had acquired from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline. The core of players who were important in the Stanley Cup run was set to return for another season. A few of the players who were not in the core at playoff time may not be back (for example goaltender Dominik Hasek is retiring - he did not play at all in the finals).

The returning core definitely does not guarantee Detroit's position as the cup favorite. There are always other teams that are improving and may catch them (and may have been unlucky not to have caught them last season). It is hard to remain the best. If you return with the same core next year, everyone will be a year older and sooner or later they will be too old to play at that level.

Detroit has done very well to improve their position with free agency. They started by re-signing defenceman Andreas Lilja to a two year contract. Lilja was a regular on their defence who played 79 games (and twelve more in the playoffs). He contributed 12 points this season (tying his career best). He is a solid depth player but no superstar.

Detroit's next move was to re-sign Brad Stuart to a four year $15 million contract. Most people had predicted Stuart was a rental who was acquired for the 2008 playoff run but would not be around long. He was one of the better UFAs this summer. Stuart is a good defenceman who has the potential to appear in an NHL All Star Game, though may not on a deep Detroit team where he is likely on the second pairing.

Detroit then addressed their lack of a backup goalie (due to Hasek's retirement) by signing Ty Conklin to a one year $750,000 contract. Conklin and rookie Jim Howard are expected to battle for the right to backup Chris Osgood. Conklin had a good year last year when he resurrected his career after being recalled from the m7.4inors and was very important to the Pittsburgh Penguins down the stretch when Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt. This provides a relatively deep cast of goaltenders who might succeed at the NHL level, but no clear superstars.

Their biggest move was to sign Marian Hossa to a one year $7.4 million contract. Hossa was one of the key players on Pittsburgh's playoff run (to face Detroit in the finals) and had been acquired from Atlanta at the trade deadline. Hossa may be the most talented player who was available as a free agent this year and he joins the Stanley Cup champions. That should help to keep them a very strong team. Hossa was only offered a one year contract in part because Henrik Zetterberg is a free agent next year and Detroit wants to maintain salary cap space to re-sign him.

Of course this does not guarantee Detroit will win the 2009 Stanley Cup, but I think it makes them a strong favorite. There are still two key questions that the Detroit Red Wings will need to answer next season. First, can they win without elite goaltending? They did this year. Chris Osgood was not good enough to steal games for the Wings when it mattered, but fortunately they were a good enough team that it didn't stop them. Will that remain true? Second, Nicklas Lidstrom, the Wings best player, is 38 years old. He will slow down and it might happen in the upcoming season. If that happens how can Detroit remain as good a team?

The Detroit Red Wings have been very smart at building their team. They have created an atmosphere where players want to be. One where player believe they have a very good chance of winning and will be treated fairly. This makes them a first choice for many players. This means Detroit can get players without having to overspend to acquire them. Nevertheless, they have always been smart to fill holes before they become big weaknesses and to not run into salary cap troubles. Detroit is a very well run hockey team and that is why they won four Stanley Cups in the last eleven years (while turning over most of their roster). With the way things look in early July, they look like Stanley Cup favorites again, but it is a long season and likely one full of surprises.

1) Making Detroit the odds on favourite to repeat will be a VERY popular prediction from here on out.
2) They lost almost nothing, and added payers that make them even better. If they avoid the injury bug and the post-Cup hangover that has plagued teams as of late, they should be the favourites of most come October
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?