It wasn't easy, but the Detroit Red Wings managed to keep their playoff streak alive in 2013, winning their last four games of the season to earn a spot in the postseason tournament for a 22nd straight time.
After bringing in longtime Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson and former Florida Panthers centerman Stephen Weiss through free agency, the Red Wings have an excellent chance to make it 23 consecutive playoff appearances in the spring of 2014.
While a playoff-bound Red Wings team obviously would be nothing new, the club will make a big change this season when they swap divisions, and conferences, by moving from the West's Central Division to the East's Atlantic Division. As part of the NHL's radical realignment for the upcoming season, Detroit will join Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Florida to make up the new Atlantic.
The division change separates Detroit from its bitter rivals in Chicago, which remains in the Central, but it also re-joins the Red Wings with Original Six foes in Boston, Montreal and Toronto. There is also the presence of the Senators, who were less than pleased at Alfredsson's departure for the Motor City.
While Alfredsson is past his prime he could be rejuvenated by this move, or at least that's what Detroit hopes happens. However, with head coach Mike Babcock back behind the bench and superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg still in the fold, even a poor season from Alfredsson isn't likely to end Detroit's postseason streak.
FORWARDS - When Alfredsson shunned the Senators in favor of signing a one- year, $5.5 million contract with Detroit it sent the city of Ottawa into a state of shock.
After all, it almost had become a foregone conclusion that Alfredsson was destined to be an Ottawa lifer, but his decision to leave the Senators has practically turned the Swede into a pariah in Canada's capital city.
Although, the Sens' franchise seemed to take Alfredsson's decision as personal, the club's former captain said the decision had everything to do with hockey. That's hardly a consolation for Senators' fans, who feel betrayed and are likely to boo their former hero with vigor when Alfie takes the ice in Ottawa as an enemy combatant for the first time. In case you want to mark your calendars, Alfie and the Red Wings are scheduled to make the first of two stops in Ottawa this season on Dec. 1.
Although he'll turn 41 years of age in December, there is reason to believe Alfredsson could have a productive year in Motown. He had 10 goals and 16 assists for the Senators last season -- his 17th with Ottawa -- during a lockout-shortened campaign and is not that far removed from a 27-goal, 59- point showing in 2011-12.
At the very least the Red Wings hope Alfredsson can make up for the offense lost when Valtteri Filppula left Detroit this summer to sign a five-year, $25 million deal with Tampa Bay. Filppula had nine goals and eight assists over 41 games for the Red Wings in 2013.
Alfredsson, a steady two-way right winger throughout his career, has joined a line with centerman Stephen Weiss and left wing Johan Franzen. The unit figures to be second behind Detroit's projected top line of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.
Datsyuk was rumored to be considering a move to Russia's KHL over the offseason, but he ended that speculation by inking a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Red Wings instead. Considered by some to be the best all-around player in the world, the 35-year-old Russian commands the undivided attention of everybody on the ice with his electrifying combination of stellar defensive play and amazing offensive skill.
Last season, Datsyuk led the Red Wings with 15 goals and 49 points from the center position. His plus-21 rating was also the best mark on the team. Meanwhile, Zetterberg finished second in scoring for Detroit, notching 48 points (11G, 37A) in 46 games.
Abdelkader, who posted a career-best 10 goals in 48 games last season, is projected to play right wing opposite Zetterberg. The Red Wings are hoping Abdelkader can benefit from skating with better linemates in 2013-14.
While his signing was overshadowed by Alfredsson's, Weiss is a big pickup for the Red Wings. The former Florida Panthers centerman posted 20 or more goals in three straight seasons before playing in only 17 games last year due mostly to a broken wrist that ended his season in early March.
Weiss finished the difficult season with one goal and three assists, but still managed to command a five-year, $24.5 million contract from the Red Wings on the open market.
Johan Franzen, a man affectionately known as "Mule," expects to round out the Alfredsson line, giving the unit its iteration of an immovable object. The 6- foot-3, 233-pound Swede bullied his way to 14 goals and 31 points in 41 games for the Red Wings last season. If healthy, he is almost a lock to reach the 20-goal mark for the fifth time in his career in 2013-14.
Detroit's depth up front will be among the best in the Atlantic Division this season, as the club also returns veterans like Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Darren Helm and Jordin Tootoo this season. Helm is questionable for the start of the season, however, with a back injury.
DEFENSE - While Babcock's offense ranked a below-average 19th in the NHL last season, the coach is more concerned with getting a concerted, and consistent, defensive effort from both his forwards and defensemen.
Heading into last season, the Red Wings' defensive situation was in flux thanks to the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the best blueliners in NHL history, in the spring of 2012. As it turns out, the club did fine without its former captain and superstar defenseman, finishing fifth in the NHL with an average of 2.29 goals surrendered per game.
Detroit's top pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, who both hail from Lidstrom's native country of Sweden, are the biggest reason the Red Wings were able to get along without the man known as "The Perfect Human."
Kronwall, a big-hitter with strong puck-moving skills, led Detroit in ice time last season and also paced the blue line in goals (5) and assists (24). Ericsson added three goals and 10 assists to finish tied with Jakub Kindl for second among the club's defensemen in points.
Kindl is usually paired with Kyle Quincey, while Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser provide depth at the back end.
GOALTENDING - Detroit's goaltending situation was already solidified heading into last season and Jimmy Howard only tightened his grip on the top spot with a spectacular 2013.
Howard arguably had his best season as an NHLer last season, going 21-13-7 with a 2.13 goals against average and .923 save percentage in 42 appearances. The 29-year-old also tied with four other players for the league lead with five shutouts, giving Howard 11 white-washings over his last two seasons.
The American backstop also played very well in the playoffs, recording a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage in 14 games for the Red Wings, who pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime of Game 7 before bowing out in the second round.
Returning as Howard's backup is Jonas Gustavsson, who went 2-2-1 with a 2.92 GAA and .879 save percentage in just seven appearances, only four of which were starts.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The move from West to East could benefit the Red Wings, who are heading to a division that appears to be easier on paper. The days of Detroit being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender seem to be in the past for now, but there is still a great deal to like about Babcock's squad. A 23rd straight trip to the playoffs is certainly no guarantee, but at this point it'd also be folly to bet against it.