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Mike Babcock and the Wings watched the clock click down towards a loss. (SHAUN BEST/Shaun Best/Reuters)
Mike Babcock and the Wings watched the clock click down towards a loss. (SHAUN BEST/Shaun Best/Reuters)

NHL Preview - Part 3

Babcock won't push players too hard, too early Add to ...

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock gave his players a day away from the rink this week.

A day off in the middle of training camp is as rare as a spring without playoffs in Hockeytown, an occurrence Motor City natives haven't witnessed since 1990.

In giving his players rest and relaxation, Babcock has his eyes down the road. His Red Wings, who had another short summer after their third consecutive trip to the final four, will leave for Europe next week to begin the regular season with back-to-back games against the St. Louis Blues in Sweden. There also is the compressed schedule with the 2010 Olympics and half of Detroit's lineup will likely be competing in Vancouver.

"I really believe as a coach going into this year's season in the NHL, depth is going to be key," Babcock said. "I can't be playing [Henrik]Zetterberg and [Pavel]Datsyuk 22 minutes a night. I'm going to have to play them 18 minutes a night.

"You can't continue to play that amount of hockey and ask your guys to play as hard with this kind of schedule. There is no question this trip overseas, our guys are going to be really excited to go, no question about it. … Our Swedes are going to be pumped up … [but]to say that when we get home we'll be fatigued. There is no question with that."

The Red Wings have experienced both ends of the success spectrum in Olympic years. In 2002, with Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan playing for Canada and winning gold over their Detroit teammates playing for the United States, Chris Chelios and Brett Hull, the Red Wings pushed on to win the Stanley Cup.

Four years later, it was a different story. Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Holmstrom, Mikael Samuelsson and Zetterberg played for the victorious Swedish squad in Turin, Italy. They returned to Stockholm for a gold-medal party and then had to meet up with their Detroit teammates for a two-game Western swing in Anaheim and Phoenix.

There were no signs of exhaustion until the playoffs. The Red Wings finished the regular season with a 19-1-3 post-Olympic run, but were upset in six games by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round.

"I don't know if you can draw any parallels to those two Olympics," Lidstrom said. "It's always exciting to get a chance to represent your country and play in a pretty short tournament. But we have a fun tournament to play in."

Detroit will not only have several players in Vancouver for the Olympics in February, Babcock will coach Canada. Yzerman, now a Red Wings vice-president, is Canada's executive director, and Detroit general manager Ken Holland will be on Yzerman's management team. But Babcock doesn't anticipate any problems with the workload.

"The good thing about my duties with the Olympic program is I'm not going to do anything different," Babcock said. "What I mean is I was going to be watching hockey every night of the week anyway. That's what I like to do.

"As far as our preparation as an Olympic staff, I thought our coaches … Jacques [Lemaire] Ken [Hitchcock]and Lindy [Ruff]and myself this summer did a ton of work, so that our work's done as far as foundation building. Going in, we know what program we're going to have. We know what we're going to do. So I don't see that being a big issue. Obviously, I'm not going to go somewhere and hang out in the sun for two weeks. I'm going to have the opportunity of a lifetime instead."

Holland will be the one pulling extra duty in Vancouver. The NHL will freeze its rosters during the Olympics, but three days after the gold-medal final, the trade deadline will arrive. There will be no time to reflect of victory or defeat for Detroit's GM.

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