Hockey is back in Hockeytown

By CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Sports Editor

Hockey fans around the country, and in Canada are rejoicing. The NHL reached an agreement with the Player’s Association to end the 113-day lockout and resume the game that has been hit with three different lockouts in the past 20 years.

The hometown Detroit Red Wings will look a little different this year. For the first time in 30 years, #19 or #5 will not be on the ice in the red and white.

All-Star and sure-fire Hall of Fame defenseman, Nicklas Lidstrom retired after last season. He hung up the skates after 20 seasons donning the winged wheel, and at 42 years old, who’s going to blame him?

The Red Wings also lost gritty forward Tomas Holmstrom, who has been with the Red Wings since he was drafted in 1994. He was a late round draft pick, who turned into the best net-front presence player to ever play game.

Joe Louis Arena during a playoff game (Chris Zadorozny)

Joe Louis Arena during a playoff game (Chris Zadorozny)

The now 39-year old hung up his skates soon after the CBA was ratified by both the owners and players. It’s official now, as the season will start this week. The Red Wings are going to open up the season in St. Louis on Saturday, travel to Columbus for a game on Monday, before returning home on Tuesday with their home opener against the Dallas Stars.

It’s quite unusual for the Red Wings to not open the season against a division rival, but with a 48-game schedule now in place, the Wings will definitely play their division rivals. The final game of the shortened season will be against the same Dallas Stars on Saturday, April 27. That is about two weeks longer than when the normal regular season would end and the Stanley Cup Finals could end in late June if it goes that long.

Many fans are expected to boycott the season, as in not going to the games, showing that the NHL can’t just throw fans away. There are die-hards though, always the die-hards that will follow their teams no matter what.

So with the lockout, many of you probably forgot what the Red Wings did in the offseason that didn’t involve Lidstrom retiring.

Ken Holland and company looked to sign both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, but both decided against that and went to the Minnesota Wild.

Their first move was on the opening day of free agency, signing a backup goaltender to Jimmy Howard. Former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender, Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson signed a two-year, $3 million deal to be Howard’s backup.

He wasn’t a free agent, but his rights were traded to the Winnipeg Jets by the Leafs, who in turn, bought out his contract, thus making him a free agent. He is 39-45-15 with five shutouts in 107 games for the Maple Leafs with a 2.98 GAA and a .900 SV%.

On that very same day, the Red Wings signed two forwards, one rival, and one more familiar with the team.

Jordin Tootoo, formerly of the Nashville Predators, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal to be the next Red Wings tough guy. Not only that though, he can score. The 29-year old from Manitoba was actually born on February 2, 1983 (2/2/83) and wears the number 22 along with his last name as Tootoo (two-two). In 486 games with the Predators, he has 46 goals, 79 assists, and 725 penalty minutes.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk

Captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk

Mikael Samuelsson, the right-winger who helped the Red Wings win the 2008 Stanley Cup is back with his former team after stints with the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers. In 540 games in the NHL, he has 116 goals, 145 assists and 308 penalty minutes. In addition, he has also played in 92 playoff games.

In those games, he has 22 goals and 31 assists, in which two of those goals came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.

Also on July 1, 2012, the Red Wings signed an unknown player from Europe; Damien Brunner. In 271 games in the Swiss National League, he has 92 goals and 123 assists. Holland is hoping he will fill the gap that was supposed to be filled by Jiri Hudler who signed a four-year deal with the Calgary Flames.

Brunner and Zetterberg played together during the lockout and has reportedly connected on the same line with much chemistry.

The one big problem was still not filled though. After days of waiting, the news was finally out that the Red Wings weren’t going to get Suter, the high-prized free agent defenseman formerly of the Predators.

The Wings had no backup plans and actually didn’t sign anyone until September, the same week training camp was supposed to start. Carlo Colaiacovo, a 29-year old defensemen formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues, signed a two-year, $5 million deal to help shore up the Red Wings back-end.

He won’t fill the void left by Lidstrom, as the defense will rely on each other to fill his shoes. In 370 NHL games, he has 30 goals, 109 assists and 191 penalty minutes. He’s only participated in two playoff runs in his career, and that is only one of a few weak points. He is also prone to injury, but should help the Wings on the power-play.

Other than those changes, the only other one left is the void left by Brad Stuart, who was traded to San Jose in the offseason, after his contract was up in Detroit. He wanted to move back to California to be closer to his family, who couldn’t move to Metro Detroit for personal reasons.

For the first time in nearly 20-some years, the Red Wings won’t, or aren’t expected to be the contenders they have been in the past. That’s OK though, because the NHL is changing and the Red Wings won’t be at the top every year. For die-hard hockey fans, they are just glad to have their Red Wings back.

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