Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Oh, By The Way Department: Red Wings Open Tonight

In case you missed it, the Red Wings begin their 85th season tonight.

Remember them?

The last time the Red Wings competed with the Tigers for October ink, Jacques Demers was starting his second season as coach, Steve Yzerman his second season as captain, and Chris Chelios was only a ten year veteran.

Sorry, Cheli.

No, Chelios was 25, and a Montreal Canadien. Talk to today's young Red Wings fans, and to some of them, finding out that Chelios played for a team before the Blackhawks is like them being told that Paul McCartney was in a group before Wings.

It's fitting that the curtain goes up tonight on the Red Wings season with not a lot of fanfare, because I think that's how the team will be regarded this season on the ice. They'll make the playoffs, but don't be surprised, or dismayed, to see them ride in as the #5 or 6 seed. And that's just fine with me. All that Presidents' Trophy, almost-60 wins stuff is for the birds. Just sets you up for major disappointment. Tell me, how good did the Red Wings' 58 wins last season look on the morning of May 2, the day after the Edmonton Oilers drummed them out of the playoffs in the first round?

No, to lie in the weeds and be able to sneak up on people would be nice for a change. Some say that it's impossible for an NHL team that wears the winged wheel on the front of its sweater to lie low, no matter what their record may be. They're the Red Wings, and they have a mystique. But we'd know better here. We'd know whether the Red Wings are worthy of being an elite NHL team that can do damage in the playoffs. We'd know if the first round should be a struggle.

Look, the team lost Brendan Shanahan and his 40 goals, and the irreplaceable Yzerman, whose worth can't be measured by numbers. Their best bet is to keep the goals against down, and the four men who are most responsible for that are the following: goalie Dominik Hasek, age 41 (42 in January); defensemen Nick Lidstrom (36); Mathieu Schneider (37); and Chris Chelios (44; 45 in January). That's an average age of about 40 years old. But we won't call them "old"; rather, let's use the term "youth challenged."

Ahh, but with that age comes experience. And each of the above keeps themselves in supreme physical condition, Hasek's temperamental groin nothwithstanding. So if having mental files means anything, Hasek, Lidstrom, Schneider, and Chelios are hockey's Library of Congress. Some of the stuff they've got stored is so old, it's probably on microfiche somewhere.

But there's some under-30 guys, too. Henrik Zetterberg; Pavel Datsyuk; Mikael Samuelsson; Brett Lebda; Niklas Kronwall; Jiri Hudler; and Tomas Kopecky are all capable of being key components, in one way or another. This isn't chopped liver; it's just not a 55+ win team anymore. And the sooner all of Hockeytown accepts that, then the more enjoyable this season will be to the denizens.

Besides, there's also this forward who had a strong training camp, according to observers. His name is Robert Lang, and he's just a 35 year-old kid.

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