It’s a new year, the Red Wings are exactly halfway through their season, and I haven’t written anything in quite awhile. Sounds like a good time to check in.
If you’re positive, you look at the Wings being ten points out of a playoff spot and think “Hey, that’s only five wins, there’s still a chance!” You’d be correct, and someone in the Wings’ front office might even say something to that effect. “Just go on a run and see what happens.” I’d feel a lot better if we didn’t hear that, though.
If you’re negative, or if you’re more focused on the future, or if you’ve written off this season for whatever reason, you might look at the standings in the opposite direction. Detroit is three points up of last-place Ottawa with the Sens holding a game in hand.
You could argue that the “Lose for Hughes” case is strong here – I called for it often last summer – but even that has an issue. Detroit might be just three points out of last place but there are so many teams at the bottom of the standings that the Wings would still have (pre-draft lottery) the seventh overall pick. The standings are so packed that a single additional win in the first half of the season would have put them out of the top ten in the draft.
To me, the standings are a worst-case scenario for the Red Wings. Bad enough to be out of the playoff race but not bad enough to have locked up a high draft pick.
Okay, so the standings are bad. That was to be expected. What’s good?
Not much, but what’s good is important.
Dylan Larkin is on a pace to shatter his season scoring records. Eighty points wouldn’t be a stretch with a previous personal best of 63. He could end up in the mid-thirties in goals scored. The Wings needed him to take a step forward and he has.
Similarly, Andreas Athanasiou is putting up career numbers and is getting the ice time that he seemed to think he was due last season, at 16:29 per game.
Dennis Cholowski has stepped in and looked good on a Detroit blue line that’s been wracked by injuries.
Jimmy Howard is having himself a bit of a renaissance just in time to raise his trade value. Whether or not the team actually moves him will probably have to wait to be seen. My prediction is that they don’t, simply because I strongly believe they should and this team frustrates me to no end.
Gustav Nyquist’s trade value also looks good, and if you squint just right you might think he could hit 70 points on a better team (he’s almost on that pace as it is).
So there are positives here. The Wings still sit in good draft spot, they’ve had young players step forward, and some of their potential trade pieces are keeping up their value. It might make the season hard to watch but it’s good overall.
What else? Well…
Anthony Mantha remains out after injuring his hand in a fight on December 2. He recently re-iterated that, despite having hurt his hand twice in his four career fights, this won’t stop him from fighting in the future. This drives me nuts.
I get that hockey is a fast sport. I get (but don’t believe in) “the code” and all that, by which players attempt to police themselves. There are two things wrong with that.
My initial complaint was that if Anthony Mantha (or Dylan Larkin, or Michael Rasmussen, or whoever) is the one fighting to avenge dirty hits, then what is Luke Witkowski on the Wings’ roster for? We don’t have traditional enforcers anymore, true, but isn’t Witkowski supposed to be here to handle that for the enforcers?
As I said, though, it’s a fast game. Witkowski’s not out there and Mantha is so Mantha handles it. Okay. But if Mantha is fighting Patrick Nemeth because he didn’t like a hit that Nemeth put on Dylan Larkin, what does Nemeth learn from it. In theory, he learns that if he makes that hit, he’s going to get hurt back. In practice, he just learned that if he makes that hit, he can hurt a second Red Wings’ scorer by letting Mantha smash his hand into his head for a bit.
It just seems counterproductive to me. Mantha needs to learn that it doesn’t help. So we’ll see how much his views on fighting carry into the second half of the season.