Red Wings begin Cup defense at training camp
Being as motivated as they take the ice for the first time at training camp in Traverse City, Saturday, as they were during last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run is the team's first challenge.
"Emotion is such a big part of our sport," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "When you've been playing games in May and June and on every other night in the playoffs, the media doubles, quadruples and all of a sudden you're coming back in October … the games don't feel quite as big. But they're important because it's hard to make the playoffs. I think the biggest challenge for any Stanley Cup team is to find that emotion, that motivation. It's a fine line between winning and losing and a one-goal win last year could be a one-goal loss this year."
Returning from a championship summer of Stanley Cup parties is something with which Holland is familiar, having been with the organization for titles in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
Experience with success permeates the Red Wings' organization, which is the last NHL club to repeat as champion (1997 and 1998). Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty have won four Stanley Cups with the organization. Chris Osgood, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski have won three Stanley Cups each.
So for a first-time Stanley Cup winner like head coach Mike Babcock, there were plenty of numbers on speed-dial to call heading into training camp to find out about repeating as champions. To prepare for this weekend, Babcock spoke with Holland, Lidstrom, Draper, team vice president Steve Yzerman and recently departed vice president Scotty Bowman.
"How do you make the games in October just as important as the ones in June?" said Babcock. "That's part of the mental battle and we'll go through that. … We're just going to try to create normalcy. We're coming back to training camp. We get back to work, establish work ethic and structure and let our skill come out, just like we do every single year. We won the Cup last year. I know it. We're very proud of it. The bottom line is we have a job to do."
And the Red Wings are well tooled for the job.
Gone from last spring's lineup are two players who retired -- forward Dallas Drake and goalie Dominik Hasek. Coming to Detroit's camp for the first time, however, are forward Marian Hossa and goalie Ty Conklin, both NHL veterans who played for Stanley Cup finalist Pittsburgh last season.
"Everything that we do from camp on is to win the Stanley Cup again," said Draper. "It's not too often that a Stanley Cup team doesn't lose players in the off-season. Then the exciting thing is to add Marian Hossa. He's really excited to be part of the Red Wings."
Also new to camp is 24-year-old (turning 25 on Oct. 6) forward Ville Leino, the Finnish elite league's (SM-Liiga) player of the year.
But with Holland estimating that the Red Wings have 28 to 32 players capable of playing in the NHL, there won't be any free agents brought in as tryouts to training camp this year, seeking one of 23 NHL jobs. Last season, Aaron Downey earned a roster spot that way and Jassen Cullimore and Brent Sopel went from Detroit's camp to contracts with Florida and Chicago, respectively.
Ten defensemen will be vying for the eight blue-line roster spots. There will likely be just one forward spot up for contention with Downey, McCarty, Leino and Darren Helm fighting for the spot.
"Our hope is that we have a lot of younger players on our team that are really hoping to establish how good they are," said Holland. "When you think about (Niklas) Kronwall and (Valtteri) Filppula and (Johan) Franzen. I think even Dan Cleary has another level or two. (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk are still really coming into the prime of their careers. The hope is that they're still motivated to take their career to another level. The other thing is that we have these young people coming in that we think are ready to compete for jobs. If somebody should slip, they're looking to take someone's job. We're hoping internal competition and players who can take their career up another rung or two."