The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990 this past season. While many fans were disappointed, they weren’t exactly surprised. The team had been on a decline for the three seasons prior to finally missing the playoffs in 2016-17. Their franchise players are getting older, or in the case of Pavel Datsyuk, leaving the country. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, pegged as the “new Euro Twins,” have been good, but not consistent enough to be seen as stars. Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek cannot separate themselves in the goaltending competition. All of these factors are key reasons why a new streak will be starting by the Red Wings missing playoffs again.
Why We Will See the Red Wings Miss the Playoffs Again
Henrik Zetterberg has been a first line forward and top tier player for the Red Wings for the majority of his career. However, when a player of his caliber gets older, they use their knowledge of the game to impact and help the younger players on the team. While “Z” was able to do that, he was also the best player on the team and it wasn’t even close. Talent aside, there is no reason that a 36 year-old forward who is only two years removed from back surgery should not only lead the team in points, but also account for 20 more points than the next highest player on the team. As he gets older, you would expect his role on the team to diminish as the young talent steps up. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, their young talent simply isn’t good enough to lead a franchise.
Dylan Larkin, who had a stellar rookie season, came back down to earth and was quite disappointing during his sophomore campaign. Opponents checked him much harder and took away any ice space in which he could use his speed, which has previously been his biggest asset. He also found himself in coach Jeff Blashill’s doghouse during the season, when he was relegated to centering the fourth line. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou also faced similar struggles in the eye of Blashill.
Although the three of them may have the most talent in the organization, they would be best suited as complimentary pieces rather than torch-bearers. Nyquist and Tatar have been pegged as the duo to replace the production of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but as the seasons go on, its clear that neither is going to be capable of producing the way the original incarnation of the “Euro Twins” did in their primes. Factor in the abysmal seasons of Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Riley Sheahan and its clear to see why this team ranked in the bottom third of goals for last season.
For a majority of the “Streak” years, Detroit had an abundance of exceptional defensemen. Chief among those would be arguably the greatest D of all time in Nicklas Lidstrom. Following his retirement in 2012, the Red Wings have been searching for someone, anyone, to try and fill his skates as a true number one defenseman. When Ken Holland was able to sign Danny DeKeyser as an undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan University, there were thoughts that he could eventually develop into a first pair defenseman.
He has played that role during much of his time wearing the winged wheel, but has been underwhelming for the most part. Unfortunately for him and the team there is no one else in the organization who is able to fill that role, and thus DeKeyser has stayed on the first pair by default. Fans and pundits alike long talked of Mike Green as the right-shooting powerplay quarterback that would push Detroit over the top. While he has been solid, he is not the same player that he was while playing in Washington and is not getting any younger or faster.
The biggest issue for the Red Wings defense corps is not who is not there, but rather who is still in the lineup every night. Any Detroit fan will discuss fond memories of every opponent that got “Kronwalled” and seeing Jonathan Ericsson fight anyone who took a run at his teammates. Of course that praise was prevalent about five years ago. Nowadays, those same fans will bemoan the fact that Ken Holland keeps them on the team and Jeff Blashill pencils them into the lineup each night. Niklas Kronwall‘s knees have made him a shell of who he used to be and Ericsson is an extremely liability in his own zone. Ken Holland has shown clear favoritism to veteran players, warranted or otherwise, and is harming potential growth in doing so.
Prior to last season, Jeff Blashill declared Petr Mrazek the starter for the season. He was coming off a pretty good season and looked like he was ready to be the number one goalie in the Motor City. He then proceeded to disappoint in net, often times looking bored or uninterested.
Jared Coreau also got his chance to start thanks to Howard’s injury and was feast or famine. He had 2 shutouts, which lead the team, but also had a save percentage under .900. When the time came for teams to choose who they were going to protect for the expansion draft, popular opinion had the Red Wings choosing to leave Howard unprotected and convincing Vegas to choose him. Instead Ken Holland chose to protect his older and more expensive goalie and leave his young, possible goalie of the future unprotected. Vegas never had the intention to take Mrazek, and he is now back with Detroit in another goalie competition.
Jared Coreau is the wildcard in any discussion of Detroit’s goalie depth. Although he was generally unimpressive during his tenure in the NHL, he did show flashes of brilliance and has the size that is becoming more favored in goal for many teams. He also won a Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins this summer which shows that he may be ready to handle a backup job in the NHL. He is no longer waiver eligible though, so Detroit will have a choice to make come the time that camp ends.
Uncertainty is Detroit’s Biggest Weakness Going Forward
Each team faces some sort of uncertainty during its season, but usually has answers to try and fix the issues. I don’t believe that Detroit has the answers to its biggest questions. Once regarded as one of the best GMs in the league, fans now see Ken Holland as more of a liability rather than a reason for their success. The passing of longtime owner Mike Illitch also raised questions of uncertainty around the organization.
Although Chris Illitch has been having an increased role in the company as his father’s health continued to deteriorate, he has made it clear that he wants to spend less money on his teams. It will also be interesting to see how the team reacts to playing in the new Little Caesar’s Arena, a space devoid of the type of history and culture found in the Joe. In any case, there is lots of uncertainty in all aspects of the team, and I don’t see them being able to answer those questions this year. It’s going to be another mediocre year, and one that likely sees the Red Wings missing playoffs again.