Wings eye back-to-back Cups

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Ken Holland looks at the mass exodus of key players from the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer and predicts the same fate is in store for his Detroit Red Wings.

Next year.

"Very much so," the best general manager in the hockey biz said last night. "We understand that we have a one-year window of opportunity here."

To win the Stanley Cup.

Again.

Back to back.

Excuse us, but this is not the way it is supposed to work in the salary-cap era. Stanley Cup champions are supposed to lose players, not get better.

Like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes who, after shocking the hockey world by bringing the coveted silver mug to Tobacco Road, watched key trade-deadline pickups Mark Recchi and Doug Weight bolt for Pittsburgh and St. Louis, respectively; saw forward Matt Cullen and blueliner Aaron Ward join the New York Rangers; and stood by as goalie Martin Gerber went to Ottawa.

Or like the Anaheim Ducks who, after winning the title, started the '07-08 campaign without the services of defenceman Scott Niedermayer and forward Teemu Selanne, a pair of veterans who flirted with retirement for months before opting to return later in the season.

The Ducks did land greybeard defenceman Mathieu Schneider but their other key off-season acquisition, Todd Bertuzzi, was hardly the force he was during his days in Vancouver.

Even the Penguins, who finished runners-up to the Wings in the '08 final, were depleted of talent when the likes of Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Jarkko Ruutu and Ty Conklin hit the road.

Meanwhile, in the case of the 2008 champion Wings, the rich got richer. Especially with the acquisition of Hossa.

Here's a hint to the city of Detroit: You might want to keep those bleachers handy that were used at the Cup parade this summer. There's a good chance you might need them again eight months from now.

Holland and his lieutenants, Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman, could not believe it when Hossa opted to join Detroit for a one-year, $7.4 million US deal, leaving offers with longer tenure and more money on the table.

Last February, Hossa told Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell that his first choice for a possible trade destination was Detroit. Waddell, Holland's assistant with Detroit in 1998, gave the Wings permission to talk to Hossa at the time, but, in the end, Holland was not willing to give up the on-ice assets Waddell was looking for.

Once free agency came around July 1, Ritch Winter, Hossa's agent, told Holland that, while Detroit remained his preferred team, Hossa was going to weigh all his options.

"I went to bed that night thinking: 'He's done, he's going somewhere else,' " Holland said. "I read the internet and hear things too. There were offers for more years and more money out there. So when the call came in the next day saying he was coming to us, Jimmy Nill, Stevie Y and I were in shock.

"I'm like everyone else. I thought he would stay in Pittsburgh with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby."

Acquiring Hossa was not Holland's only key move. He also brought in Conklin, a goalie the Wings brass had liked since he came out of college, to back up incumbent Chris Osgood.

The Wings' goalie situation underscores the success of Holland. Between Osgood and Conklin, who carried the Pens last season when starter Marc-Andre Fleury was out with a knee injury, the Wings have just $2.167 million of cap space dedicated to goaltenders.

Compare that to, say, the Maple Leafs, who begin the front end of a home-and-home pre-season series with the Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena. In Toronto, Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph combine for an estimated cap hit of about $5.2 million this season, more than twice the hit Detroit is taking.

The Wings' best bargain might be Swedish centre Johan Franzen who, after scoring 27 times during the regular season and 13 more in the playoffs, will only cost the Wings $942,000 in '08-09.

"Yeah, but our window is closing come next summer," Holland repeated, pointing out that Hossa, Franzen, Conklin, Chris Chelios, Henrik Zetterberg and Mikael Samuelsson are all eligible for unrestricted free agency in July '09.

Holland's "priority" is to re-sign Zetterberg, with preliminary talks already having started.

In the meantime, Holland's "window" for the Wings to win the Cup -- again -- is wide open. Given Holland's shrewd off-season moves, they must be considered the prohibitive favourites to do exactly that.


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