FOR A TEAM whose pregame meals could be mistaken for early-bird dinners—Detroit starts the season with eight players 35 or older—it may seem implausible to think time could work in its favor. But after playing more games than any other team over the last four seasons, the Red Wings could only welcome a longer summer break. "We needed it badly," says coach Mike Babcock. "The reality is, the kind of [playoff] runs we had the previous three years, we needed a break to refresh." And to heal.
Beset by injuries all season, most notably to emerging contributors like forwards Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (all 40-point scorers in 2008--09), Detroit wasn't able to field a healthy squad until the Olympic break. Once the season resumed, the Red Wings went on a 16-3-2 tear to secure a playoff spot.
This squad is essentially the same as the '09--10 version, along with some scoring depth that G.M. Ken Holland thought his team lacked last season. In August he landed aging superstar, and Michigan native, Mike Modano, whom the Stars chose not to re-sign after 20 seasons. At 40 Modano isn't the same player he was in his prime, but he still skates like players half his age and will center the Wings' third line with Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler. There are now viable scoring options on every line. "I think we'll be able to come at you in waves," Babcock says.
An ultraexperienced defense (Detroit's top six share 60 NHL seasons among them) will help insulate second-year goalie Jimmy Howard, 26, whose fabulous 2.26 GAA and .924 save percentage as a rookie (see, even their rookies are old) earned him Calder consideration and the starter's job.
But questions about the team's rising age (average 30.8 years) will persist. "Experience helps," captain Nicklas Lidstrom, 40, says. "Once you get down to it, age can work to your advantage."
Joel Quenneville (3rd season)