I’ve been holding off on writing an end-of-season post because something felt off about the end of the Red Wings’ season and I think I’ve figured it out.
This doesn’t feel like the end of the season. Not because the Red Wings aren’t advancing to the playoffs, but because the 2017-18 campaign didn’t feel like a season to me at all.
I had no expectations last fall. I knew that this was going to be another lost year. While it was good to get to open Little Caesars Arena and there were some important milestones and some young players took big steps forward, there wasn’t a single game this season that really mattered. It was essentially a six-month slate of exhibitions.
I’m okay with that. Another year has been burned off of the contracts of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm and Luke Glendening. Niklas Kronwall. Danny DeKeyser. Jonathan Ericsson.
But where the Wings stand today is almost exactly where they were at this time last year.
There’s room for change at forward. David Booth is likely done. Evgeny Svechnikov is likely up for the season next year. Michael Rasmussen will get a chance to make the team. Andreas Athanasiou could be gone but would likely bring a roster player back in return so that doesn’t open up a spot for anyone.
If you assume that restricted free agents Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Martin Frk all return, that’s eleven forwards under contract for next year. Athanasiou would make it twelve. Svechnikov is thirteen. Rasmussen is fourteen.
On the blueline it’s worse. Mike Green is the only pending free agent defenseman on the team and there has already been talk about bringing him back. That would give the Wings seven defensemen, though one has to think they’ll find a way to move spare part Xavier Ouellet. Where’s the roster spot for Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi?
In goal, Jimmy Howard is the man. They’ll need to find a backup with Petr Mrazek gone and Jared Coreau seemingly out as well, but aside from no longer paying $9 million for their goaltending tandem, that doesn’t impact space for kids to come up.
So in April 2018 we’re in the same spot we were in April 2017, and probably in a spot similar to where we’ll be in April 2019.
Until some of these dead weight contracts are up, all of these games are an extended preseason.
Ken Holland said something that really annoyed me during the Red Wings’ locker room cleanout, speaking about the infeasibility of icing a roster of “20 kids” – which absolutely no one has suggested.
Holland’s strawman arguments and false equivalencies annoy the hell out of me. It comes across as condescending and insulting.
Another of his favorites is that it takes ten years to do a full rebuild, which the organization refuses to do. But I want to take a look at that one.
The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the 2013 season. They then went on a short run that pushed the eventual champions to overtime of Game Seven in the second round. The playoff run makes the season seem better than it was but, given that this was an improvement over their first-round loss to the Nashville Predators the previous season, I’m willing to call 2013 a success.
In 2014, Detroit backed into the playoffs with a point earned in a shootout loss in the antepenultimate game of the season, then got bounced by the Boston Bruins in five games.
It was a similar story in 2015, making the postseason on the strength of an overtime loss in Montreal with two games remaining, then getting bounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
In 2016 the Wings were only in the playoffs because, after Detroit dropped a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in the last game of the season, the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins to push the Bruins behind the Red Wings. It was another short postseason and another elimination by the Lightning.
So we’ll call 2013 acceptable but I’m not willing to say the same for anything since. Yes, they made the playoffs. I’m not saying it’s Cup-or-nothing. I’m just not willing to settle for backing into the postseason and then doing nothing once you’re there.
That means we’re five years in to the downturn. Next year will be six. I could very easily see it taking a few more years to get back on the upswing. All the sudden we’re looking at the ten year rebuild that Holland refused to do.