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DETROIT RED WINGS
LAST SEASON 50-19-13 (first in West); lost in conference finals to Anaheim
KEY ADDITIONS RW Dallas Drake, D Brian Rafalski
If there is a negative to running a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Red Wings G.M. Ken Holland has found it. "You get a late start on your tan," Holland said last spring, before his team's ouster in the conference finals. It's an acceptable consequence for a team that has made the playoffs every year since 1991 and amassed a league-high 11 100-point seasons during that stretch.
Will the postseason streak continue in 2008? The rub this year is that the team's key components are too old in the back and too small up front. Detroit's three future Hall of Famers on the defensive end--goalie Dominik Hasek and blueliners Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom--average nearly 42 years in age and at some point will begin showing it. The team's biggest forwards last season, Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang, departed as free agents, leaving 5' 11" Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and 6-foot Tomas Holmstrom to create offense with little protection. "Are we big enough?" Holland asks. "We've heard that criticism since 2000. In a cap world you can't address every need."
The Red Wings addressed one by signing free-agent defenseman Brian Rafalski from the Devils. He should step in for the departed Mathieu Schneider on the power play, but Detroit will still need a boost from unproven sources. To that end the Red Wings have high hopes for Valtteri Filppula, a smart, two-way Finnish center entering his second full year, and Igor Grigorenko, a forward who has been honing his skills in the Russian Super League.
This Detroit team may not be as good as those of recent vintage, but it is still the best the division has to offer.
LAST SEASON 51-23-8 (fourth in West); lost in first round to San Jose