All good things must come to an end. The cliché rings true for one of the NHL’s original teams: The Detroit Red Wings. After 25 years in the post-season, the franchise that was a symbol of longevity found itself in the draft lottery for one of the top three picks in the 2017 Entry Draft. Think about it: Connor McDavid did not exist when hockey town started their tenure of excellence. Running for the Stanley that many consecutive years is a tremendous accomplishment in any sport, not just hockey. Few professional sports teams can say that there were 4 different Presidents in office during their longest playoff streak. As sure a thing as it was for Detroit to be playing games in mid-April, their inevitable demise was foreshadowed just as clearly.
Detroit was home for some of game’s most elite players through two and one-half decades. Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brenden Shanahan, and Nick Lidstrom, just to name a few. It is no wonder that the Wings earned 3 Stanley Cups in a five-year period, followed by another Cup victory, as well as appearance, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Despite continued post-season appearances, the down-slide was unavoidable as their generational defenseman, Nick Lidstrom, announced his retirement in 2012.
After Lidstrom, who produced effectively into his forties, the Wings were not the same. Their new, number one defenseman Nicklas Kromwall could not compare to one of the best in the game (which most cannot) or the best current defensemen at the time, battling injury on a regular basis. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk still had some fight left but they were into their thirties and wearing down. It seemed like the Red Wings would squeak their way into the playoffs, likely due to Coach Mike Babcock’s ability to use players appropriately and solid player development, but would find a quick exit to the golf course. Near the end of his time in Detroit, even Babcock predicted what was forthcoming and found his next job in Toronto. As the GM Ken Holland did very little to make short-term grabs to give it one last go, the rebuild was closer than farther.
Reviewing the team roster (below), it is apparent that there is no urgency for Detroit to contend for a playoff spot. Their defense core is closer to contemplating their post-playing careers without much youth in sight. The forward group has a few, bright spots (Dylan Larkin/Gustav Nyquist) but nothing that can transcend their game. And with the cap situation, they may have to part with some of these pieces or not be compliant. I do not think many teams are looking to add Johan Franzen or Kromwall, who should really look to save what is left of their bodies. Their first, top-ten draft selection in forever is a guy (Michael Rasmussen) who reminds me of a taller Matt Moulson. Yes, Detroit is not used to drafting this high but I feel they could have made a better selection at that spot. If the Red Wings Amateur Scouting is anything like we have seen, they will have found a few gems throughout the draft, despite it not being considered anything great. Even if they are fortunate, there is still much more needed if there is hope to get back to their winning ways.
Detroit Red Wing fans, you are in for a bumpy ride for a while, a small price to pay after years of competitive and often great hockey. Unfortunately, the 15 appearances on NBC networks (something I still question highly) will not save what appears to be a bottom-five finish for the once dynasty. Crazier things have happened but Ken Holland is not stupid: he knows where you find top talent. He understands that players like Datsyuk or Zetterberg will not be found in the late rounds as amateur scouting can now review more players than ever. They will be competing for that top-three choice for the next few drafts and it will not be a bad thing in the long term. And if it makes you feel better, the Buffalo Bills have not won a playoff game in over 20 years, let alone been in the post-season in 17 straight. So, if you are sad about this downfall of the Wings, trust me, it will get better.
Detroit Red Wings Roster (as of August 10, 2017 from NHL.com)