Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Expect Hasek, Chelios to return to Red Wings next season
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
The Detroit Red Wings have not won an elimination game since the Western Conference finals against the Colorado Avalanche in 2002, when they won two in a row en route to the Stanley Cup.
Since then, the common spring refrain from the Detroit locker room has been, "How could a team this good seem so far away from what really matters?"
After his strong postseason performance, expect goalie Dominik Hasek to return to the Wings next season.
Although there will be questions about the Wings' inability to close the deal in the just-completed Western Conference finals (they outplayed the Ducks in a 5-3 loss in Game 4 and allowed a tying goal in the last minute of Game 5 only to lose in overtime), this Wings team showed the resiliency and maturity of an elite team throughout the playoffs.
Their refusal to quit in the third period when they erased 3-0 and 4-1 leads to come oh-so-close to tying Game 6 against the Ducks is testament to that.
"We had a lot of guys that came a long way this year to say the least," coach Mike Babcock said.
That said, here are a few story lines that will dominate the coming weeks and months:
The old guys
Both Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek faced a non-stop parade of questions about their advancing age (Chelios is 45, Hasek is 42), but they answered those questions with their play on the ice. In the absence of Mathieu Schneider and Niklas Kronwall, both missing because of injury, Chelios was a warrior. Did he get eaten alive a couple of times? Sure. But he was a rock and added an assist on the Wings first goal Tuesday. Hasek, meanwhile, looked like a young man for most of the postseason. Expect both to be back in Motown next season.
The young guns
Both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk revealed themselves to be elite NHL players throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. That said, each player had not scored on the road this spring until Tuesday's Game 6, an indication of the challenge they face before they are ready to take the Red Wings back to the playoff promised land. Before Tuesday's goals, the two combined for just two assists apiece on the road in these playoffs. Still, they represent one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the league.
There is one silver lining in having Todd Bertuzzi produce a rather uneven playoff performance. If GM Ken Holland wants to keep the power forward in the Red Wings fold, he should be able to do it at a bargain price. Bertuzzi was bothered by back spasms in this series and showed flashes of his old, snarly self only occasionally, certainly not enough to make the kind of difference the Wings were hoping for when they acquired him at the trade deadline.
One reason Bertuzzi might have a place in Detroit is the Wings will almost certainly cut ties with veteran Robert Lang. Lang's usefulness has declined precipitously in the past couple of seasons. He had just two goals in 18 postseason games and seems often unable to get into position because of his lack of foot speed.
The perception is that the Red Wings are a team of greybeards. Yet, along with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, there is an interesting crop of young talent waiting to play a more significant role next season. Valtteri Filppula showed flashes in the conference finals, while Kyle Quincey, Tomas Kopecky and Jiri Hudler received invaluable experience from their limited roles in these playoffs. "Everyone talks about how old we are, yet we've added a lot of young people that have done a real good job for us," Babcock said. "And we think we're a team that's rebuilding and still trying to stay on top."
After last season's first-round debacle against the Edmonton Oilers, the pressure was squarely on Babcock to somehow push the Red Wings to a different playoff level. He did that with grace and good humor and a deft eye for finding the right combinations, especially among his forward contingent.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.