A cold winter is just around the corner and the city is in bankruptcy. The city of Detroit has turned into the butt of every joke. Well, even more than usual. An emergency manager looms over selling off assets to get the city back on financial track and there are rumblings of everything from privatizing the Detroit-Windsor tunnel to selling artwork and the animals at the zoo. And yet, for Red Wings fans, it is a time of great optimism.
I was born into a Michigan family and although I wasn’t in the state at the time, I started watching hockey and the Red Wings in the spring of 2002. I was quickly spoiled on the team with future hall-of-famers on the 4th line and the Stanley Cup victory. I enjoyed how the Red Wings were considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders year after year, and how I could strongly believe my team was going to make it to the finals without much ridicule. It was fun to walk into every season thinking ‘this could be the year’. People couldn’t help but agree. It was a serious possibility. After watching the Wings lift the cup in 2008 with my dad and come within a game of doing so in 2009, the Wings started to dip down hill. Granted it was only a couple of years and I may come off sounding spoiled and privileged to an Islanders fan or an Oilers fan. I watched my favorite team go from legitimate contenders, to being a team you probably didn’t want to face in the playoffs, to hearing the general manager declare the team may not make the playoffs. So why do I feel like it’s all turning around this year? It’s hard to say.
Maybe it’s being in the East again, a conference I’ve always felt is much weaker pound-for-pound than the West. The fact that analysts are throwing around the term ‘favorites in the East’ certainly doesn’t hurt either. Maybe it’s looking at the Wings’ new division and feeling like Boston is the only other team that might have a legitimate shot at winning the division. Montreal and Toronto are strong but I believe the Wings outmatch them both in forwards and goaltending (though that Canadians defense may have a leg up on Detroit’s). Ottawa’s owner Eugene Melnyk may think the Senators will finish ahead of Detroit in the standings but unless he’s talking about the draft standings he’s sadly mistaken. Tampa’s forward core will carry them far, but their defense and goal tending is too broken to be a legitimate threat. Florida might as well be setting their sights on drafting Conner McDavid and the Buffalo Sabers are so far off the radar I legitimately forgot they were in the Atlantic Division. Calling Detroit the favorites in the East is a bit of a stretch, but finishing first or second in the Atlantic is well within the realm of possibility.
Maybe it was the strong off-season acquisitions that made me sad to see a few forwards go, but I can’t help but feel that Alfredsson and Weiss are legitimate upgrades to a team that almost went to the conference finals this year. No one expected this team to do well in the playoffs, myself included, and they knocked off the #2 seed Ducks and came within a game of doing the same to the #1 seeded Blackhawks, and that still took a bunch of overtimes. I would have preferred some defensive upgrades but there wasn’t a tremendous crop to harvest from in free agency this year. It’s tough to argue that this surprisingly strong team just got stronger.
Maybe it’s the fact that everyone is looking to Jimmy Howard as the potential starting goaltender for team USA in the Olympics. That may not translate to regular season success but it’s still really exciting. I’ve always felt like he was really underrated for a while, (Remember when he lost out on the Calder Trophy to Tyler Myers? How’s that working out?) and he seems like he’s getting the respect he deserves. Ryan Lambert laid out a good look at why Jimmy Howard is the go-to American goalie over Jonathan Quick, and I encourage you to see his entire take on the Olympic roster . A synopsis: Howard has done more with less. He’s played out of his mind behind a mediocre defense. And you know if you’re a forward on that team, having a goalie behind you that you’re confident will get the job done can make all the difference in the world.
It’s probably a combination of several of these things, and it’s all rolling into one big ball of excitement for the coming of the new NHL season. So I say bring on the new year already! (What a unique perspective, right?) I want to see the games where Datsyuk scores in overtime to put away a pesky opponent. I’m ready for Todd Bertuzzi to dazzle in the shootout. I can’t wait for the games against Pittsburgh that go back and forth until one team comes out on top. And of course, nothing beats a nine-goal blowout against Vancouver. Call me spoiled, accuse me of not knowing what it’s really like to go through a rebuild and suffer along with my team, maybe even mention how I never played the game. I don’t care. Wake Me Up When September Ends may be a horrible song, but damn it all if it doesn’t apply to hockey right now.
Let’s Go Red Wings!