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January 12, 2013 | 4:53pm ET
Season Preview: Detroit
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

They never use the word "rebuild" in Detroit, but it's going to be hard for them to define "replace" in the coming season. The Red Wings haven't opened a season without Niklas Lidstrom on their blueline since the 1990-91 campaign; to put that in perspective, one of the young players expected to fill some of the void left by Lidstrom, Brendan Smith, was born in 1989.

After a third-place finish in the Central Division last year, Detroit was quiet in free agency. Many of their key forwards -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi -- will be in their mid- to late-30s this season, so the transition to youngsters that are ready, willing and able to fill the significant roles of some household names will make for an intriguing dynamic in Detroit this season.

Forwards

Much of the core group of veterans remains in Detroit, with the familiar face of Mikael Samuelsson back in the fold. The only notable addition up front in free agency for the Wings is Jordin Tootoo, who had played his entire career with division rival Nashville. The Red Wings did suffer a significant loss up front, as 25-goal scorer Jiri Hudler signed with Calgary.

As long as Datsyuk and Zetterberg remain among the most lethal two-way players in the league, the Wings can win any game. But Detroit will need their veterans to stay healthy, and increased production from young forwards to stay in the mix in the Central.

Defense

As we already noted, the hole left by Lidstrom will be enormous, but replacing Brad Stuart, who was Detroit's ice time leader on penalty kill, leaves another significant void on the roster. With Niklas Kronwall returning, there will still be a physical force in Detroit, but the roles of veterans Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Ian White will be impacted by the development of Smith and Jakub Kindl. The loss of Lidstrom and Stuart from the Red Wings' special teams will create opportunities for new faces to step into major roles quickly.

Goalies

Jimmy Howard rebounded last year with a strong season, but he has played in 183 games over the last three regular seasons. The lockout will undoubtedly help Howard by reducing his workload, but adding depth behind him will be something Detroit will look for in the coming season. If Howard plays at the elite level he did in 2011-12, it will help ease the transition on the blueline.

Projected Outcome

It's been decades since Detroit wasn't either the clear-cut favorite to win the division or at least a strong candidate, but the dynamics on their blueline open the door for doubt heading into the new season. They'll need to address and answer significant questions with their group of defenseman early in the season in the talented Central. The Red Wings will have their hands full with St. Louis and Chicago, but should be considered a safe bet for the post-season (again).

3 Players to Watch
 
Pavel Datsyuk
He's a magician when he has the puck and a thief when he doesn't. There isn't a better two-way center in the game, and he does something every night that's worth watching. Datsyuk might be the most taken-for-granted star in the league today.
Brendan Smith
The eyes of Detroit's fans will be on the group of defensemen, and Smith is their top blue line prospect. How Mike Babcock uses him, and how Smith responds to the evolution of his role throughout the season, will be a major factor in the Red Wings success.
Valtteri Filppula
After posting 23 goals and 66 points a year ago, it's time for Filppula to emerge as a top-tier scorer. Somehow, there wasn't a single 30-goal scorer on Detroit's roster last year, and the loss of Hudler means the Red Wings will need increased production from Filppula.

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