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Detroit Red Wings

Detroit’s Surprise Packages

Detroit Red WingsSo here we go again. The season starts, and we all saddle up for this unpredictable and emotional rollercoaster that is the new NHL season.

As you will probably know, my team is the Detroit Red Wings. I’m sure, however, that these experiences are not limited to my team only, and are shared by all NHL fans around the globe. One of the few things that we all have in common are those “Huh?!” moments when you can’t quite take in what just happened. It’s not uncommon for a complete fantasy moment (your star forward netting a shootout win over a playoff rival, meaning you are secured a playoff berth), can be ruined the next day by a total facepalm moment (aforementioned star forward injuring his hand by getting it wedged in a Pringles tube…these are examples and unlikely to happen unless you’re the rotund Kyle Wellwood, or glassjaw Peter Forsberg).

Logic goes straight out of the window. Teams you expect to win without breaking sweat, drop points, and teams you expect to roll over and die, win by several clear goals. Players whose careers should be over, reach big numbers, and those who are expected to be star players, stumble and underachieve.

So what’s the best way to deal with it? What gets you through the season? How are you meant to keep your sanity when you lose to the St Louis Blues, allowing 10 goals, but then in the following game, destroy a team that’s a playoffs shoe-in? I mean really?

Surprises vary in their degree of severity. Small surprises are fine. Fabian Brunnström being one of these. One of only 4 players to score a hat-trick their debut NHL game, Brunnström never really got going in Dallas, and as such, found himself in the AHL, and then a free agent. However, since joining the Red Wings for pre-season, we’ve seen a huge leap forward from the 26-year old Swede. Goals aplenty, and points coming out of his ears (not literally, as although this would be handy, I can’t imagine it would be comfortable) in a manner which must frustrate Dallas fans. It’s OK that it annoys you. We think similar things about Kyle Quincy and Ville Leino. Did very little in Detroit, but go on the bigger and better things elsewhere. Admittedly, Brunnström is yet to show that he can carry his pre-season abilities into the NHL, but you have to be upbeat about a player that’s worked with Franzen and Bertuzzi all pre-season and come out one of the top point-scorers on the team. Also in the category of small surprises is the retention of Jiri Hudler. Last season Hudler performed below his expected points projection. He seemed to be on another planet a lot of the time and found himself a healthy scratch on more than one occasion.

Medium surprises are manageable, but not appreciated. It’s was expected that Osgood and Draper would hang up the skates, no big shock there, since Draper was the same age as the NHL, and Osgood had about as many flaws. However, it is a bit disappointing since Draper was the owner of one of the truly great playoff beards. What ranks as a medium surprise is the retirement of Brian Rafalski due to his continued knee problems, and then the replacing of him with Ian White, a decent and reliable D-man, who was a big reason that Detroit failed to progress in last season’s Playoffs. I’m happy with the replacement, don’t get me wrong, but the medium surprise is definitely the simple fact that it was needed.

Big surprises are hitting one extreme or the other. They can be “SURPRISE! Your team just signed Alex Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos and Sidney Crosby for a combined $9.50 because they decided they liked you as a fan so much, they wanted to play for your team!”, which is the kind of big surprise that only happens in the dreams of Ottawa Senators fans, or in publications by Eklund. They can also be “SURPRISE! Your franchise player has been released to free agency and he’s going to join your most hated rivals for one season, where he’ll most likely win the Cup, and everyone outside of your team will forget he ever played for you!”, which let’s face it, was a very real possibility for Dallas Stars fans last season for some considerable time. Usually, these take the form of trades to dump salary cap (Calgary, step right up!) where you ditch some of your best players due to contract issues, or trades for players you never expect to leave/arrive. The trade of Brett Lebda and young prospect Robert Slaney for Lombardi and Franson must have had Toronto fans hitting the F5 key repeatedly, waiting for the typo’s to be corrected. Lebda is as much use as a one-legged cat trying to bury poop on a frozen pond, whilst Lombardi and Franson are quality additions with both a young defenceman, and an experienced forward. I don’t quite know what Nashville fans did to deserve this.

However, all jokes aside, the loss of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team in Russia early in September, with the deaths of all the players and staff on board, was the biggest, and most upsetting surprise of the post-season. The deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak also put a sombre mood over the summer. All three NHL players were enforcers for their respective teams, and investigations are underway to see if there was anything the NHL management could change to avoid such sad and serious losses to the hockey community in the future.

It usually takes teams about 6-7 games to settle a roster and lines. Then you can start to see definite links emerging between specific players. You’ll find that when the opposition’s top forwards or out, your coach will ice Players A and B all the time, but it takes a few games to figure out that Players A and B are appropriate for that role. With this in mind, nobody ever really believes their divisions take shape until the 10-15 games mark, but let’s face it, nobody will be complaining if your team is top of the Conference come 15 games in!

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