Updated: January 16, 2013, 1:00 PM ET
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty Images Henrik Zetterberg will wear the "C" this season since Nicklas Lidstrom retired.

Red Wings: Five Things You Need To Know

By Craig Custance

The Red Wings' playoff run has extended for so long that it's become a bit numbing every time the number reaches new heights. Last year, after Detroit clinched its 21st consecutive (21!) playoff berth, video highlights of each season were shown on the Joe Louis Arena scoreboard.

Images of some of the greats who played for the Red Wings flashed above -- Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Chris Chelios, Igor Larionov, Chris Osgood -- on and on it went.

But the one constant in nearly all of those years was Nicklas Lidstrom. Stars came and went, but the anchor of Detroit's defense remained. Until now.

There's no point in asking anyone close to the Red Wings' organization for their thoughts on the notion that his retirement will break the streak. The Red Wings' demise has been predicted with the retirement or relocation of each of the aforementioned players, yet it has never happened.

The franchise moves forward, the expectations don't change. Yet the reality is that one of these years the streak will come to an end. Is a shortened season following the first year after Lidstrom's retirement the perfect storm to snap the streak? That's one of many questions facing this franchise in a year of uncertainty.

1. Brendan Smith Needs To Be Ready
When it was clear Lidstrom wasn't coming back, at least there was a strong contingency plan. The Red Wings could make a run at college defensive prospect Justin Schultz and sell him on seizing Lidstrom's lost minutes. Then they would sign free agent Ryan Suter and bring up Smith. Lidstrom is irreplaceable, but that trio would have come pretty close. Instead, Schultz signed with Edmonton and Suter joined the Wild. That leaves Smith. More than ever, they need the longtime prospect not only to play but to contribute significantly. "What they've told me is they want me to be an impact player," Smith told ESPN The Magazine. "They don't want me to fly under the radar and just be another defenseman there. They want me to play minutes and produce. That's what I want."

2. Damien Brunner Is Wild Card
Lighting up the Swiss league isn't a guarantee for success, but Brunner spent time during the lockout building chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg, his teammate with EV Zug. Brunner produced again in a big way this year in Switzerland (25 goals in 33 games) but will have to make the adjustment to the smaller rink and NHL grind. He's got a great shot and will get ice time with some gifted passers.

3. Helm's Health A Must
On a team with stars like Zetterberg and Datsyuk, the contributions of third-line center Darren Helm are often overlooked. But his absence during the playoffs last spring really exposed how crucial he is to the Red Wings' success. Without him, the bottom six is thrown into chaos, and lately the Red Wings have had to find ways to play without him. He is currently recovering from a back injury and has dealt with a wide assortment of injuries in his young career, from lacerated tendons in his arm to a sprained MCL. The Red Wings need his bad injury luck to end.

4. Young Help Is On The Way
The Red Wings may prefer to lean on veterans early in the shortened season, and inviting Mike Knuble to training camp was a move right out of the Ken Holland handbook, but there is some high-end talent ready to jump in. Among those talented youngsters, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are the closest to contributing in the NHL, and Riley Sheahan's play started to pick up in Grand Rapids the past few weeks. With injuries expected to hit the league hard, all three may play a big role at some point this season.

5. Veterans Have To Shake Off Rust
Despite the fact that the Red Wings' stars played in Europe, there has to be concern that a large number of their veterans opted to train and work out locally. As diligent as they are in their training, it's impossible to replicate game conditions, so guys like 37-year-old Todd Bertuzzi, 32-year-old Niklas Kronwall and 33-year-old Johan Franzen may take a few games to get going. Another player who stayed in metro Detroit, Mikael Samuelsson, is already dealing with a groin injury, one of many we'll see around the NHL in early action. "I'm pretty thankful our two superstars were playing and can carry the load until the rest of us catch up," Bertuzzi said. "We're all professional athletes. We're all in tip-top shape."

Craig Custance covers the NHL for ESPN the Magazine.


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