Red Wings not to be underestimated

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:25 PM ET

DETROIT -- So the Red Wings have sipped from the fountain of youth and the many years, miles and injuries have all been washed away, replaced by young legs and youthful enthusiasm.

OK, so maybe not all that has happened.

But a word of warning before the National Hockey League season opens: Write the Detroit Red Wings off at your peril. This is a team that not only will be better than many expect but also might well return to the upper echelon of the NHL ranks.

"People look at us and say we're an old team but I've been here a long time and I've been hearing that in '02 that we were too old and we wound up winning a Cup that year," Red Wings' captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "If you look at the players, we're all in good shape, ready to play the season."

There may be a misconception that it's an old team simply because the key players on this team have been together for a number of years. Yes, some of the Red Wings' are considered old by hockey standards with Lidstrom, 40; Tomas Holmstrom, 37; and Brian Rafalski. 36. And they added 40-year-old Mike Modano from the Dallas Stars.

But Pavel Datsyuk is 32, Henrik Zetterberg 29, Johan Franzen 30 and Valttere Filippula 26. They still have a lot of hockey in them. The older Wings such as Lidstrom and Holmstrom are in tremendous shape and actually got stronger as the season progressed last year.

But when a team that is a regular visitor to the Stanley Cup final fails to make it out of the second round as the Wings did last year and looked tired by the end of it all, the old tag comes out in a hurry.

"There were a lot of things that happened last year that all happened at once," Lidstrom said.

Injuries were a major factor. Flilpula, Franzen and Niklas Kronwall missed big chunks of the season. The Wings had also played a great deal of hockey in the previous three and four years and it caught up to them.

"There's nothing good about losing, but if there is a little good part to losing in the second round, is that we had a little bit of a longer rest," Lidstrom said. "It can help a team that had a lot of guys hurt through the season. It can set you up for long term success and another long season."

The Red Wings added depth with Jiri Hudler returning from the Kontinental Hockey League, signing Modano and adding defenceman Ruslan Salei from Colorado.

If the Modano experiment works, Wings' coach Mike Babcock is immediately more flexible. Datsyuk and Zetterberg can play together with Holmstrom, Franzen and Filippula may be joined by Hudler, leaving Modano to play with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi.

There are several movable parts in that scenario.

The Wings have never had to worry much about giving up goals. With the addition of Salei to a blueline that already has Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson, that shouldn't be a worry this year.

"Salei at the back end, adds some grit and toughness," Lidstrom said. "The opposition will know he's out there and he's hard to play against."

And going into this season, there is no debate that Jimmy Howard is the No. 1 netminder after a strong rookie year. Both Howard and Chris Osgood have had good camps.

Babcock was questioned about the sophomore jinx hitting his goaltender with Columbus netminder Steve Mason being used as a prime example.

"Mason came in 19 or 20 and was a superstar his first year," Babcock said. "Howard had five years in the minors to catch on. It's a slow process but saying that, you're going to watch just like me."

Howard knows he'll be under the microscope.

"I learned a lot from this guy," Howard said pointing to Osgood's stall. "He just let things roll of his back. When it's done, it done. I just want to get off to a good start.

"There's a comfort factor this year. Being the younger guy last year I had a lot of emotions. This year I'm a little more relaxed and excited."

It's a word the Red Wings are using a lot at camp. They are excited to get going and prove they are a long way from being done.


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