As the Detroit Red Wings celebrate their past Thursday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs will hope they are preparing for the future as the Original Six franchises face off in their season opener in Detroit.
The Leafs will be forced to watch the Red Wings raise the Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena, the team’s fourth Cup in the past 11 seasons.
And while many experts predict the Red Wings will repeat the ceremony next October, the Maple Leafs have stripped their team to the bone in GM Cliff Fletcher’s renovation of the moribund club.
One of the key building blocks is rookie defenceman Luke Schenn, who will be paired with veteran Tomas Kaberle in his NHL debut, Sportsnet’s Dave Bastl is reporting.
The 18-year-old has earned at least a 10-game extended look after impressing Leaf management in training camp. Completing the back end for Toronto are Pavel Kubina with Jonas Frogren and Mike Van Ryn – acquired in the trade that sent Bryan McCabe to Florida – with Carlo Colaiacovo.
The forward lines will be: Nik Antropov with Jason Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky; Mikhail Grabovski with Jiri Tlusty and Niklas Hagman; Dominik Moore with Alex Steen and Nikolai Kulemin; and Matt Stajan with John Mitchell and Jamal Mayers.
Detroit (54-21-7) led the league in wins and points last season, and its 257 goals scored were a Western Conference-best.
Its playoff run included a four-game sweep of bitter rival Colorado before eventually defeating Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh in six games to capture the 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
While the Red Wings can count on offense from forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and six-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, they still were able to lure Marian Hossa away from the Penguins just weeks after raising the Cup.
Arguably the best forward available in free agency, Hossa agreed to a one-year deal worth just under $7.5 million to try and win a Cup in Detroit instead of a signing a contract with Pittsburgh worth roughly $30 million more.
“I didn’t make the decision to be proud of myself,” he said. “I did it because I had a choice to go wherever I wanted, and this is the place where I think I have the best chance to win.”
At just 29, Hossa has scored at least 29 goals each of the past eight seasons, and his next goal will be the 300th of his career.
While the Red Wings appear to have a good chance to become the first repeat champion since they did so in 1998, general manager Ken Holland said it’s way too early to consider making plans for another Stanley Cup parade.
“On paper, this team is much stronger than it was a year ago,” he said. “I hate talking about the Stanley Cup in October, but we certainly feel like we’re a legitimate contender. It’s hard to repeat because you have to be motivated, healthy and at your best at the end of a 10-month process that begins with training camp.”
The Red Wings, though, will start the season without two of their grittiest players in Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty. Chelios – who at 46 is entering his 25th NHL season – will miss three to six weeks with a fractured shin. McCarty, a 14-year veteran, is out with a groin injury.
Toronto will have 10 players age 25 and under on the opening-night roster, including 18-year-old defenseman Luke Schenn, picked fifth overall in the 2008 entry draft.
The Leafs can play him for nine games before possibly returning him back to juniors. Despite excelling in camp, Schenn understands that is an option.
“I don’t think I’ve made the team yet,” he said. “I’m just starting the season here and I’ve got to keep proving that hopefully I belong and (that I can) keep getting better.”