Newly acquired Red Wings Marian Hossa (left) and Ty Conklin should be laughing all the way to the Cup (photo courtesy of the Detroit News)
I know, I'm really going out on a limb here. With the Wings opening their season next Thursday against the Maple Leafs, I was going to do a detailed preview of Detroit's team. However, I'm sure Christy at BTJ and Dave at Gorilla Crouch will have me covered on that one, and probably do it way better than I could. Plus, you can sum up this Detroit team in a couple of sentences: They're the same team that coasted through the regular season and playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup. Oh, and they added Marian Hossa. There, Red Wings covered.
With that done, I decided to take a look at the other contenders in the West, to see if anyone has a shot at knocking off Detroit.
Anaheim Ducks: Yes, the Ducks are very solid defensively. Chris Pronger may be everybody's least favorite NHL player, but he's still a very solid presense on the blue line and an underrated offensive threat. Jean-Sebastian Giguere is one of the better goaltenders in the league. Scott Niedermeyer came back. However, they had the 28th best offense in the NHL last season, and only had one player score more than 54 points (C Ryan Getzlaf). Even with the addition of Brendan Morrison, that's not going to cut it. For the Ducks to beat the Wings in the playoffs, they'd need Osgood to turn in a subpar series while Giguere plays out of his mind. Next.
San Jose Sharks: I find this team to be quite similar to the Ducks. Solid defense and goaltending (3rd in the NHL in goals against last season, behind Detroit and Anaheim) with a subpar offense (19th in the league in goals for). Like Anaheim, San Jose relied heavily on one player to carry the scoring load. Joe Thornton had 29 goals and 96 points, and the Sharks next leading scorer, Milan Michalek, had 24 goals and 55 points. If a team can shut down Thornton's line, they'll beat the Sharks. Detroit can do that. Let's move on.
Edmonton Oilers: This is a team that a lot of people expect to make a run in the West after disappointing the last two seasons. They have a lot of young talent up front, led by forward Ales Hemsky. However, their goalies are Matieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson. I don't see this team advancing much further than the second round, if they even get that far.
Chicago Blackhawks: Here's another team being mentioned as a potential sleeper in the West. They have a ton of young talent, with second-year forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leading the charge. Even with all that talent, however, the 'Hawks mustered only the NHL's 24th best power play. Also, goaltenders Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin both consider themselves deserving of the starting spot, which could prove to be an unneeded distraction on a young team. Chicago will be a team to watch down the road, but this won't be their year.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews give Chicago one of the league's most exciting young duos (Getty Images)
Dallas Stars: The Red Wings' foe in the 2008 Western Conference Finals look poised to return to the same position in 2009. The Stars are definitely the most likely team in the West to knock off Detroit. They added Brad Richards and Sean Avery to an already potent offensive attack, which features Mike Modano, Mike Ribiero, and Brendan Morrow. However, the concerns for the Stars start on the blue line. Sergei Zubov, who has been a mainstay on the Dallas D since the mid-nineties, is out for at least a month with a hip injury, and at 38 years old, who knows if he'll be the same player when he returns. Marty Turco has always been a great regular season goaltender, but he's been inconsistent in the playoffs (although he has greatly improved in that respect in the last two postseasons). I'll admit that Dallas scares me a bit, but when stacked up against the ridiculous Red Wings lineup, my fears are quelled for the time being.
The Flames, Predators and Wild probably also deserve mention as potential contenders, but let's be honest: if those teams beat Detroit, we've either fallen victim to devastating injuries or a Tim Donaghy-style officiating conspiracy.
As for the East, we beat Pittsburgh last season and then stole one of their top forwards, Montreal starts a 21-year old in net, and nobody else is worth talking about. What does it all add up to? A second straight visit from Stanley.