Different goals for Red Wings, Maple Leafs
The Detroit Red Wings will raise the 2007-08 Stanley Cup championship banner before taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the both clubs' regular season opener (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
Detroit, under coach Mike Babcock, appears poised to make a bid at becoming the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings of 1997-98.
Since last season, the Red Wings only lost aging veterans Dominik Hasek and Dallas Drake and added perhaps the league's most-prized free agent, Marian Hossa.
"I mean, we're deeper now, we're younger and we're faster and bigger than we used to be," Babcock said in a media conference call this week.
Sobering words for other NHL clubs given last year's edition of the Red Wings won 70 games including the regular season and playoffs.
Toronto's new coach, Ron Wilson, meanwhile, is looking to instil a system of defensive responsibility in a young group playing for a franchise that has missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons.
It appears veterans and newcomers alike will have a clean slate under Wilson.
"Anybody who stagnates and doesn't improve himself won't be here," he said. "I don't want anyone around who gets content and stops trying to learn."
For the first time since 1994, the Maple Leafs start a season without Mats Sundin as a key component, and they jettisoned several other veterans in recent months.
The unspoken goal, many hockey observers believe, is for the Maple Leafs to be in the running next June to draft prized prospects John Tavares or Victor Hedman.
Detroit's top two forward lines, led by Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, have 843 career NHL goals to their credit.
Toronto's planned top six, which includes Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski and grinder Dominic Moore, have scored 163 times.
Many Maple Leafs fans would be probably be satisfied this season with a top forward trio such as Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Mikael Samuelsson. They are Detroit's third line.
The Red Wings defence is anchored by Nicklas Lidstrom, winner of the Norris Trophy six times in the past seven seasons. Behind him are underrated Brian Rafalski, emerging star Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart, who used to be a No. 2 defenceman in his previous NHL stops.
Toronto's rearguard corps looks solid, if not quite that talented. Wilson will rely heavily on veterans Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina, while Jonas Frogren, 28, will get a shot after playing in his native Sweden for several seasons. The perennial hope is that Carlo Colaiacovo can somehow stay healthy.
Toronto has elected to keep 18-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn for the beginning of the season. The first-round pick was impressive in preseason, but will probably be sent back down to junior.
If there's one area where the Maple Leafs match up with the defending champs, it is starting goaltending.
After taking some time to adjust to the media glare in his first season in Toronto, Vesa Toskala was tremendous on a bad club, posting a 2.74 goals-against-average. By April, Toskala was even entertaining the daily press throng with his dry humour.
Even at 41, Curtis Joseph represents an upgrade at backup over departed Andrew Raycroft, who won in just two of his 16 starts last season.
Detroit's Chris Osgood will be 36 in November. He enjoyed a comeback season and supplanted Dominik Hasek, but the Red Wings hope he can play at least 50 games, something he hasn't done in five years. The Red Wings acquired Ty Conklin to back up Osgood.
The motivation for the Red Wings to repeat could come from the fact that the team will be broken up to some extent in nine months time, as management won't be able to keep all of the talented players due to the salary cap.
"We've got Samuelsson and Zetterberg and Hossa, [Johan] Franzen, they're unrestricted free agents, [Jiri] Hudler's a restricted free agent," general manager Ken Holland told CBCSports.ca last week.
"We're not keeping everybody here," he added.
Detroit's depth this season is such that there is no room for defenceman Kyle Quincey, who filled in admirably in the 2007 playoffs when a rash of injuries hit. The Red Wings are seeking to do Quincey a favour by trading him to an NHL club in need, while capable forwards Darren Helm and Ville Leino will have to start the season in the American Hockey League.
Wisely, the Leafs management have decided not to burden any of their current players by announcing a new captain to succeed Sundin, who is contemplating his playing future in Sweden.
Five alternating captains have been chosen, but surprisingly, Matt Stajan is not one of them. While line assignments are temporary, Stajan is starting on the third line.
The two clubs played competitive preseason games last week, both won by Detroit.
Toronto won the last regular season meeting last season, 3-2 in overtime.
The Maple Leafs will host Montreal on Saturday night, the early game nationally on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET). HNIC will provide regional coverage of the Red Wings visiting Ottawa.