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Cloudy future

Offseason changes likely for Red Wings

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Saturday May 06, 2000 08:10 PM

  Sergei Fedorov The Colorado Avalanche has eliminated Sergei Fedorov and the Red Wings from two consecutive playoffs. Robert Laberge/Allsport

DETROIT (AP) -- They scored far more goals than any NHL team and finished second in points only to St. Louis. Still, the Detroit Red Wings are gone, eliminated in the second round of the playoff again by the Colorado Avalanche.

Clearly, this is not acceptable to an organization that was trying to regain the Stanley Cup championships it won in 1997 and 1998. Changes are almost a certainty before the Red Wings gather for training camp in September.

The thinking when the Avs eliminated Detroit in six games in 1999 was that it wasn't a fair fight. The Red Wings had been hit by injuries and were especially vulnerable without goaltender Chris Osgood.

But this year, everyone was reportedly healthy. Steve Yzerman had missed the last few regular season games with a sprained knee. Yzerman, the Red Wings' captain, played in the playoffs and said he was fine.

The record, however, will show that Yzerman didn't score a goal during the playoffs. During the season, he led the Red Wings with 35 goals and 44 assists for 79 points.

Yzerman didn't struggle alone.

Virtually all of Detroit's top scorers had trouble. Brendan Shanahan, who scored 41 goals during the season, had three. Nicklas Lidstrom scored 20 goals during the season, but two in the playoffs. And Pat Verbeek had 22 but one in the playoffs.

Of all the Red Wings' talented and high-priced stars, only Sergei Fedorov performed up to his ability with four playoff goals.

General manager Ken Holland went to great lengths to put this team together and keep it that way. But the Detroit roster has three of the eight oldest players in the league. Igor Larionov and Larry Murphy both are 39. Chris Chelios is 38.

Colorado had a similar problem a few years ago. But the Avs were able to add some younger legs while holding the nucleus together. Chances are Detroit will begin a similar restructuring.

Yzerman knows changes are coming.

"I look at Colorado as a team that is able to walk the fine line and replace some older guys with some young guys, and at some point we need good young guys to come in and produce for us. Whether they are ready now or we get them from somewhere else, that is a management decision."

Holland had minor-leaguers Jiri Fischer, Darryl Laplante, Yuri Butsayev and Yan Golubovsky on hand to watch these playoffs. None played, but the experience of seeing how things change once the regular season ends should prove valuable.

"One or two guys -- whether they come from the draft, trades or are surprises -- we need them to come in," Yzerman said.

Perhaps it is more than just coincidence that the Blues were eliminated in the first round by San Jose.

What the Red Wings seem to lack is toughness. That was the key ingredient they lost when Vladimir Konstantinov had his career tragically cut short in a limo accident following the 1997 Cup triumph.

Osgood, like most NHL goalies, isn't without his critics. But he was 30-14-8 during the season, allowing an average of 2.30 goals. And he played well during the playoffs.

Another major issue, of course, is the fate of coach Scotty Bowman. He takes the seasons one at a time now.

Bowman, 66, has been the subject of retirement speculation since having knee-replacement surgery and an angioplasty that caused him to miss the early part of the 1998-99 season.

"I guess the first thing I'll do is get a physical," Bowman said. "There are five ingredients, and the most important is my health."

Holland has made it clear he wants Bowman back.

Already a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Bowman has coached eight teams to Stanley Cup titles, and is the winningest coach in NHL regular-season (1,144) and playoff (205) history.


 
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