Henrik Zetterberg's outlook was so much different Friday, when he stood in the dressing room speaking to the media during locker clean-out day, than it was one year ago.

The Detroit Red Wings headed into the 2012 offseason with much uncertainty. They would lose a legend, Nicklas Lidstrom, and other key players, Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart. Their playoff streak was in jeopardy. They appeared to be in decline, with a significant rebuild in order.

“You didn't really know what to expect this year,'' the first-year captain said.

The Red Wings experienced their most challenging season in more than two decades. Had they lost one of their final four regular season games, they would have missed the playoffs, leading to “big changes,'' by Zetterberg's estimation.

Instead, they gelled at the right time. They squeaked into the postseason on the final day. They eliminated the second-best team in the Western Conference (Anaheim). They took the top team (Chicago) to overtime in Game 7 before losing.

Today, the future looks much brighter than it did just five weeks ago.

“It's a fine line here,'' Zetterberg said. “But, it feels better to stand here and look to the future than it did last year. You're a lot more positive. We know we have a good group of guys.

“We'll make some additions and keep building on what we have. We know we're going to do good things."

This team experienced tremendous growth from the start of the season, due to the development of young players Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff, and the emergence of Damien Brunner and Danny DeKeyser. Others, like Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson, took significant steps.

And they did it while missing one of their most important players, third-line center Darren Helm, for all but one game.

“We did a great job and I think we improved our roster drastically, and I think we're in a much better spot than we were,'' coach Mike Babcock said. “And yet, we haven't been a final four team since '09, so we're a work in progress.

“What they got to understand is the journey was only half-way there. You got to win two more rounds.''

Expectations are raised. They don't want to just sneak into the playoffs next season. They want to compete for a high seed when they move to the Eastern Conference, joining a division with Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

“It's wide-open every year, and if you can get a few percentage points better, you can make some noise,'' general manager Ken Holland said.

Changes are coming. More size would help, but more offense is imperative, after they finished tied for 19th in the NHL at 2.54 goals per game.

They are set in goal for years to come with Jimmy Howard, undoubtedly the team MVP, who has established himself as one of the top 10 at his position.