Most teams in any sport can be classified into three groups; rebuilding, contender or in-between. While rebuilding is frustrating, fans know that eventually their strife will be rewarded. Contenders always can take solace in the fact that they will be challenging for a championship at seasons end. The third group is arguably more infuriating for fans because they are unsure of both the present and the future. That period of uncertainty is exactly where the Detroit Red Wings find themselves, and the future doesn’t have a clear path back to success.
Detroit Red Wings Future in Precarious Place
Red Wings past model of success doesn’t work in today’s NHL
Detroit’s greatest period of success came when the NHL didn’t have a salary cap. They were able to pay for highly talented veterans and let their youth improve in the minors before bringing them up. The salary cap helps keep rich teams from simply buying championships. Most teams have been able to adapt to this style of managing a team. Unfortunately to this point, the Red Wings seem to be attached to an ancient methodology of winning. General mangers around the league respect Ken Holland and what he has built with the Detroit. These same general managers must be laughing as they watch Detroit sit at the precipice of the playoffs each spring. While other teams are improving or at least have a plan to improve, the Red Wings are treading water to keep The Streak alive.
How they got to this “purgatory” stage
When you make the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, you aren’t going to be drafting very high. In fact, the Red Wings highest pick since the streak started was in 1991 when they picked Martin Lapointe tenth overall. Only twice since that pick have the Red Wings picked inside the top 20, choosing Jakub Kindl 19th in 2005 and most recently taking Dylan Larkin 15th in 2014.
This past summer, Detroit had the 16th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Many experts thought they would pick Jakob Chychrun, as they had a pressing need for talented defensemen. Instead, Ken Holland chose to trade the pick and the contract of Pavel Datsyuk to the Arizona Coyotes. The move was made in order to clear up the cap space to attempt to sign Steven Stamkos. Unfortunately for Detroit and many other teams throughout the league Stamkos never hit the open market, instead opting to return to the Tampa Bay Lighting.
Another problem that has brought them to this state of purgatory is the belief that prospects need to be “over-ripe” before coming to Detroit. This was successful for some time, but has recently come back to hurt the Red Wings drastically. Allowing the players to fully develop in the minors works when you eventually bring those players to the NHL. Detroit however has kept its roster full of veteran players which meant that there wasn’t room for these over-ripe prospects. This in turn has caused many talented future Red Wings to become present members of other NHL teams. The most recent examples of this have been Landon Ferraro, Martin Frk (briefly), and Teemu Pulkkinen.
Best and Worst Case Scenarios for the Detroit Red Wings Future
For any Red Wings fan under 25, spring means one thing; playoff hockey. The streak has enamored fans as it continued to grow towards the NHL record of 29 consecutive playoff appearances held by the Boston Bruins from ’67-68 to ’95-96. The best case scenario for the Red Wings future would be for the streak to end, and get a high draft pick that will allow the team to get younger and more talented. Although going down in history would be something that fans want, they should want Stanley Cups more. The worst case scenario for Detroit would be to stay competitive enough to warrant pushing each season for the playoffs and never allowing the team to truly improve. They will continue to let prospects over-ripen and be poached by other teams. For now, all fans can do is patiently wait for their beloved Red Wings to return to prominence.