Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Prediction, A Retort

As I drove in to work today, I did the same thing I always do; drink my coffee and listen to NHL Home Ice Radio on XM. Usually the morning shows are good for recapping last night's games and maybe an interesting talking point or two. Today was similar, with one frustrating exception. Denis Potvin, Hall of Fame defenseman from the New York Islanders, was a guest on the show.

Potvin was on to predict the Western Conference this season. According to him, the Sharks will represent the West in the Cup Finals this year, the Canucks will take a step back, and the Wings won't make the playoffs.

Won't make the playoffs? Doesn't that seem a little drastic? Apparently not to Potvin, who was lukewarm at best when running through Detroit's blueliners after Lidstrom. Compare this with his rationale for the Sharks winning the West (adding Brent Burns to their defense corps) and we can see that his predictions are skewed towards overvaluing a certain position.

Moving past the defensemen-make-the-world-go-round bias, Potvin said something that struck a nerve with me, and has been frustrating Wings fans for the past decade. He said the team was too old. That's right, this season's team is too old. The examples he cited? Lidstrom, Holmstrom, and Bertuzzi.

Allow me to break this down player-by-player.
Lidstrom- The reigning Norris trophy winner is still the best in the game despite his age. He showed no signs of regression during the preseason, and there's no reason to believe he won't be the best defenseman in the world again this season. He emphatically stated in the offseason that he wouldn't have returned for another year if he didn't feel that he could compete at the most elite level, continuing to match up against the other team's top forwards. No worries here.
Holmstrom- He's older, yes, but he's still one of the best net front players in the game today. Playing on the 4th line to start the season doesn't diminish his value in my eyes, as he's still going to get his powerplay minutes. Homer's a specialist who has a certain very finely tuned skillset. He's never been a great skater, he's never been an elite defender, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a very valuable role on the team.
Bertuzzi- I don't think it's wise to call this guy old. He's experiencing something of a renaissance in his second stint with Detroit, improving on both sides of the puck each season. Anyone who wants evidence of his immense offensive talent need only look at his shootout goal against Chicago this preseason (shameless plug: I blogged about the game here). Defensively, he's good in coverage and knows how to throw a hit. Now all we need is someone to make a photoshopped "The Curious Case of Benjamin Bert-on" poster.

If there are going to be older players on your roster, I can't think of better ones to have.

There's another side to Potvin's age argument. It's not just about how old your roster is, but about how young it is as well. This may be one of the youngest Wings teams we've seen in some time. Breaking the typical formula of bringing 1-2 rookies into the fold each season, this year's squad could utilize as many as 5 first year skaters depending on injuries.

Yes, the Wings lost some valuable players in the offseason. The retirements of Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper, and Chris Osgood changed the average age of the club, but I would argue that there won't be much of a change in terms of skill or productivity. Draper and Osgood were at a point in their careers where they were valued more for their ability to mentor younger players than their on-ice play, and they stay with the club in a capacity that allows them to continue their mentorship of guys like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Jimmy Howard. Rafalski was a great compliment to Lidstrom on the blue line, but the injury diminished version of Rafi is easily replaced by the newly acquired Ian White. Essentially, this roster turnover opens up spots for younger skaters while simultaneously allowing the veterans to stay involved behind the scenes. It's a win-win for the Wings.

With a returning core of skilled veterans, a smattering of elder statesman, and a few hungry rookies, where will the Wings end up? I believe they'll make their farthest postseason run since 2008-09, making it at least to the Western Conference Finals. Will they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals? That's to be determined. If they play the Canucks or Sharks in the Conference Finals, I don't like their chances. If they're playing anyone else then I expect the Wings to be stitching a Cup Finals patch on their sweaters for the first time in three years.

Don't believe the old guys still have it? Worried about too many rookies? Not a fan of the veteran core? That's fine. But ask yourselves, ladies and gentlemen....
Do you trust the judgement of this man?

No comments:

Post a Comment