Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Detroit Red Wings. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
And why not? The team has not missed the playoffs since 1990, has won at least one playoff round every year since 2006 and seems perpetually able to stock its roster with elite talent through even the latest rounds of the draft.
This off-season saw even more pieces from their great Wings teams from the 1990s head off into the sunset with the retirements of Kris Draper and Chris Osgood. But still, last season the team rode the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom, who won his seventh Norris Trophy and the always solid play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to yet another Central Division title, their ninth in the past ten seasons.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: The Wings have a pair of players from the Grand Rapids Griffins that should be ready to make the jump to the bigs in the very near future. Tomas Tatar was second in team scoring in his sophomore season with the club with 57 points in 70 games, while mobile blueliner and former first-rounder Brendan Smith is the type of player the Wings may be looking to as insurance for life after Nicklas Lidstrom.
As for the rest of the system, it is unsurprisingly loaded with high-end talent taken outside the first round. Jan Mursak, Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Jurco all have the potential to be the next great Red Wings draft day steals, while Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet and Gustav Nyquist could one day help the team at both ends of the ice.
Breakout Player to Watch: Though he won't help your fantasy team, this could be the year that Darren Helm becomes one of the league's premier shutdown forwards.
Helm averaged over three minutes of shorthanded ice time per game last season - more than even Nicklas Lidstrom averaged. In a town where everyone's expected to do at least one thing at an elite level, Helm could become the league's next great neutralizer along the line of Kris Draper.
Marquee Match-Up: Nov. 17 at San Jose - 'Tanks' for the Memories
The Wings have a long memory for their playoff triumphs and failures. They're not likely to forget being edged out by the Sharks in a Game 7 last season and will look to this matchup to try to exorcise those ghosts.
Other Dates to Watch: Jan. 12 vs. Phoenix - Should he stay healthy, this will mark Tomas Holmstrom's 48th game of the season and 1,000th career NHL game. That's an estimated 500 hours spent standing in front of the net and doing what he does best – being a sold physical presence and creating great scoring opportunities.
Reason to Get Excited: Unlike some teams, the Wings don't need to make promises. They should contend for the division crown and they should be among the top teams in the West. Detroit has the luxury of giving their fans some level of certainty in those regards.
What could really be worth watching is how the next generation of Wings talent integrates itself into a lineup that has been driven by some of the best, high end talent in the league for over a decade. Names like Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg will be counted not only for production this season but also to be bridge to the future for the younger players that are starting to find their place in the Motor City.
Home Hardware: If Nicklas Lidstrom can just win one more Norris Trophy, he'll tie Bobby Orr for the most all-time with eight.
Most Wings fans would like to think Lidstrom will play forever, but with the end of the line drawing nearer each season, he continues to pad his file as to why he's one of the greatest defenders of all-time.
Pavel Datsyuk is always a favourite on awards night, having captured three straight Selke awards from 2008 to 2010. With another stellar season, he can take it home once again.
On The Hot Seat: The impressive thing about the Red Wings is that they're such a balanced team that no one player is ever truly a make-or-break piece by himself. That said, if anyone's feeling the pressure, it's Jimmy Howard.
He posted an almost-identical won-loss record last season to his phenomenal rookie campaign with 37 wins in 63 games. However, his goals-against average rose by .53 and his save percentage took a .016 hit.
With Osgood headed into the sunset, Ty Conklin in the back-up role and Thomas McCollum plying his trade in the AHL, a lot of the Wings' future could hinge on Howard maintaining a high level of play between the pipes.
It's Your! Call: How long can the Red Wings dominance possibly last?
The last time the team missed the playoffs, they turned around and drafted Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov. The pipeline has kept flowing ever since and has been augmented generously by free agent acquisitions whenever the team needed an extra boost.
The problem is, the team hasn't produced the kind of dominant player it used to have a patent on since Zetterberg and Datsyuk exploded out of the gate together prior to the lockout. Other top prospects have contributed since, but there isn't a young impact player behind the team's aging core.
At what point should the team worry about that pair being in their 30s without the sudden breakout of another young offensive weapon?
There's potential in the likes of Helm and Justin Abdelkader, but not enough to project either as the next big thing and who knows how players like Tatar, Pulkkinen or Jurco will fare against NHL competition?
Are the Wings starting to reach a stage where the lack of young 'can't-miss' talent is a concern?