To hear Detroit's critics tell it, you'd think the Red Wings'
first line consists of Methuselah, Father Time and Strom
Thurmond. While Detroit is the NHL's most mature team, with 10
players age 30 or older--including marquee names such as
defensemen Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Sergei
Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman--none of these guys
are checking into the perks of AARP. The Red Wings' front office
accepts the inherent risk. "With older players we live with the
understanding that quickly we can go from a team of wily,
experienced veterans to a bunch of old, tired, slow guys," says
general manager Ken Holland. "Obviously, with our nucleus, we
know we are going to slip sometime, but we hope that's still a
few years off."
The 2000-01 Red Wings are essentially the same team that won
back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and '98 and lost back-to-back
second-round series to archrival Colorado in the past two
seasons. While Detroit finished with 108 points and led the
league with 278 goals scored a year ago, coach Scotty Bowman is
concerned that the club's five highest point producers come from
the thirtysomething crowd. He also blames aging legs for last
season's spotty defense that yielded a 2.53 goals-against average
to rank ninth in the NHL.
The Red Wings need more offense from twentysomething wings Darren
McCarty, Martin Lapointe, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby, none
of whom has yet produced 20 goals in an NHL season. The club
expects a breakthrough year from 6'5", 210-pound second-year
defenseman Jiri Fischer, 20, whose size and skill have some
scouts comparing him with a young Chris Pronger. "I don't think
this club's time has come and gone," Yzerman says. "Our younger
guys are more than good enough to excel in an increased role."
Fearing his team has become too predictable, Bowman plans to
experiment with new breakout plays and coverage schemes, and he
hopes to shift more ice time to younger players. However, he and
Holland remain believers in experience at playoff time. "They've
been saying we're too old since the day we surrendered the
Stanley Cup in '99," Holland says. "I think there's a sense of
urgency in our veterans to prove that we're not as long in the
tooth as people think we are."
With a combined 2,715 games coming into this season, Larry Murphy
(1,558) and Chris Chelios (1,157) were the most experienced
defensive duo to play on the same NHL team.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 2 Unit should score tons of goals
DEFENSE 6 Dominated by vets; expect youngster to
GOALTENDING 13 With Osgood, this area needs upgrading
SPECIAL TEAMS 6 Lidstrom runs PP as well as any
MANAGEMENT 3 Bowman still best coach in the league