The two-time Western Conference Champions have fallen and we're guaranteed we won't have a third consecutive Stanley Cup Final match-up. Things could have been different, however, if the Wings didn't have the injuries and slumps they had in the start of the season. Even so, the Wings should get used to the make-up of the team, as they have to start going with a fresher look in the years to come.
One of those immediate changes was the arrival of Jimmy Howard. Many wondered if he would ever get a chance in the Wings organization. Yet, when Chris Osgood struggled, Howard was able to come in and pick up the pieces to lead the team to the next level, as well as getting himself a nod for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. His 37 wins started to show his potential that the Wings were hoping for. The question is what to do with Osgood, who has one year left at over a million dollars tied up. The decision will have to be if they should keep Osgood around to teach Howard more, or move up either Daniel Larsson or Thomas McCollum to have another young tandem. Expect the former to happen, especially with the thought of a sophomore slump.
Defense is going to hinge on what happens with Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is 40 years old now and you have to wonder how much gas he has left. He showed that he can still contribute and still be solid in his own end, but will his body allow him to go on. He could go to a year-by-year contract, but who knows how much he'd be looking for. That notwithstanding, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, and Jonathan Ericsson will all be back for another season and should be the core going forward. How they fill out the rest of the blue line will depend on Lidstrom.
Up front, a shot in the arm could come with Jiri Hudler coming back from the KHL, but it'll be interesting what kind of reception he'll get from his team and from the crowd. If he can spark himself to solid secondary scoring way, he should be welcomed back, no problem. If he doesn't-- not so much. With or without Hudler, the load will be on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk had a huge 27 point drop off in only one less game from his season last year. The heat will be on Datsyuk to get back into form for the success of the Wings. Zetterberg kept pace with last season, but dealt with a shoulder injury for the mid-part of the season, which slowed any momentum he had. Johan Franzen had a lot of injury issues, playing only 27 games, but the Mule was big when called upon. He should be ready, and hopefully healthy, to help take the pressure off the big guns.
The big questions will be what to do with the old-guards of the Wings front line. Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Todd Bertuzzi, and Jason Williams are all UFAs, with Kris Draper having another year left on his contract. While Holmstrom seems the lock to stay, you wonder if they will not re-sign the others and buy-out Draper in order to bring up Justin Abdelkader and Cory Emmerton to the main squad. While the Wings want to respect their old veterans, they can't keep the rookies down for long.
The Wings should have a whole new look to them come the fall, maybe with guys retiring, maybe with some coming back, maybe some bring brought in to fill the void the vets left. One thing is for sure, there's going to be a new look in Motown next season. Whether it will pay off or not remains to be seen. You can never count out a Ken Holland team, especially with Mike Babcock at the helm. They went to the last two Finals before this, so they must be doing something right.