With 2008 officially coming to a close tonight, it is time to start looking forward to 2009, and time again for all the prognosticators to pull out their crystal balls and make their predictions on the sport of hockey, and which players and teams will be dominating the NHL in the year to come.
Over the first 35 games of the season teams like the red hot San Jose Sharks, the surprising Boston Bruins and the young, exciting Chicago Blackhawks have been grabbing the lion's share of the headlines. San Jose and Boston lead their respective conferences and are deadlocked for the lead league with 60 points. The Chicago Blackhawks, though not quite in that same class as San Jose and Boston to this point in the season, recently came off a 9 game winning streak, and young stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been among the most dominant players in the league this year. All three of these teams have had the media's full attention, and with good reason, as they continue to dominate most of the league.
Overlooked, and all but forgotten in this media frenzy are the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Being overlooked is not something the Detroit Red Wings are used to, but they are likely basking in the relative anonymity, enjoying the relief from the constant pressure that goes along with being the defending champs.
There is no reason the Red Wings should be under the radar. They currently sit 3rd in the league with 53 points, and a more than respectable 24-7-5 record. However, they almost seem to be on cruise control right now, going through the motions, and winning consistently enough to stay within striking distance of San Jose. Their record, despite their seemingly sleepy contentment to this point in the season should have their competitors very, very worried.
Yes, their goaltending remains a question mark, and their defense hasn't performed to its usual standards this season, but for my money the Detroit Red Wings are a far better bet to take home the Stanley Cup this year than San Jose, Boston, or Chicago. To find evidence of this you just need to look at their previous games against both Chicago and San Jose. Detroit may be sleepwalking their way through most of the season, but they showed they can wake up and make a statement when faced with a contender to their throne. They demolished San Jose 6-0 the last time the two clubs met, and they poured ice water on the red hot Chicago Blackhawks last night, dominating them in all facets of the game as they stopped the Hawks' 9 game winning streak with a 4-0 victory.
It will be interesting to see how Chicago responds in the Winter Classic Game tomorrow at Wrigley Field. If Detroit dominates them a second time it will be a huge psychological blow to the young Blackhawks, and Detroit will gain an immediate mental advantage should the two eventually clash in this spring's playoffs.
I believe Detroit is putting on a clinic in how to play possum, and when the playoffs roll around in April their unfortunate opponents will find out how good this team still is. With their skill, grit, and unmatched playoff experience the Wings will still be the team to beat come playoff time, no matter how far behind San Jose they may finish in the standings. They are the Stanley Cup champs until someone dethrones them, and if I were a betting man my money would be on the Detroit Red Wings to be hoisting the cup again come June. Yes, San Jose, Boston and Chicago may very well get their turns at Lord Stanley's famous mug, I just don't think it will be this season.