LARRY LAGE, AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings seem to have set themselves up for success as they shift to the Eastern Conference.
Detroit added Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to a roster that includes most of the key players from last year’s team. The Red Wings extended the franchise’s playoff streak to 22 last season and were a win away from eliminating Chicago and advancing to the conference finals.
General manager Ken Holland accomplished his No. 1 goal of the offseason, re-signing Pavel Datsyuk to prevent the superstar from becoming a free agent next summer. Holland also boosted the team’s ability to score with a surprising acquisition, adding Alfredsson after he spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators, and a subtle one, signing Weiss away from Florida.
“They’re going to have as good of a team as anyone arguably in the league,” said Joel Quenneville, coach of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
The Red Wings, though, haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since 2009 when they were a win away from hosting the Cup for a second straight year. Detroit opens the season at home Oct. 2 against Buffalo.
Here are five things to watch when the puck drops for the Red Wings:
NEW FACES, NEW PLACE: The 40-year-old Alfredsson was expected to stay in Ottawa, where his NHL career began in 1995, but he stunned many by bolting for the Red Wings. Alfredsson said he made the move to chase his lifelong dream of winning a Stanley Cup, something the six-time All-Star never did with the Senators. Detroit was happy to give him a shot at his quest, signing him to a $5.5 million, one-year contract just minutes after teams could sign free agents.
A couple hours later, with much less fanfare, Detroit reached a $24.5 million, five-year deal with the 30-year-old Weiss after he spent his entire career with the Panthers. The Red Wings didn’t keep all of their players in free agency. They lost last season’s fifth- and sixth-leading scorers — Valtteri Filppula (Tampa Bay) and Damien Brunner (New Jersey).
TRAVEL MADE EASIER: After years of lobbying, Detroit will move from the Western to Eastern Conference as part of the NHL’s realignment plan this season. Instead of making multiple trips out to California and western Canada, the Red Wings will spend a lot less time on planes by playing teams in their time zone more frequently. Detroit is in the new Atlantic Division with three other Original Six franchises — Boston, Montreal and Toronto — along with the Sabres, Senators, Panthers and Lightning.
“It’s a good thing for hockey, it’s great for our fans,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They’re going to see a lot of different teams and fun matchups.”
BETWEEN THE PIPES: The Red Wings have invested more in Jimmy Howard, giving him a $31.8 million, six-year deal in April to keep him off the market. The 29-year-old goaltender is entering his fifth season as the team’s top option in net. And, he has plenty of incentive to get off to a strong start. Howard, a New York native, is among the candidates being considered to be one of three goalies to play for the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Even if he makes it onto that team, his goal will be to help the storied franchise go deep in the playoffs for a change. The Red Wings played Howard more than they wanted to during last year’s lockout-condensed schedule because he was basically their only option at times. They hope that won’t be the case again even though Jonas Gustavsson is already slowed by a groin injury.
STAYING HEALTHY: The Red Wings struggled last season as they began the post-Nick Lidstrom era in part because a few banged-up players missed most of the year. Three key forwards — Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi — combined to play just 12 games during the regular season. Helm is youngest of the three and perhaps the most important.
The physical, 26-year-old center has played in only one game since March 11, 2012, and a groin injury is his latest ailment. “Unfortunately, Helm doesn’t appear to be close to coming back,” Holland said.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Detroit’s roster isn’t filled with aging players as it used to be. Instead, the Red Wings are leaning on several players in their mid-20s: Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist up front along with Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith on the back end.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)