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With less than a month before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Detroit Red Wings. Over the past two decades, no NHL team has had more success than the Red Wings organization. Though it came down to the wire last year, Detroit made the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year, the longest active streak in any major North American professional sports league. However, it appears that it is becoming more and more of a struggle for the Red Wings to reach that goal with every year that passes. With the emergence of some of their young players last season, the Detroit Red Wings are left at a crossroads going into this upcoming season.
Last Season – Just about everything that could go wrong for Detroit last year…did. Their playoff streak was put in serious jeopardy with injuries to two of their core players, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both players missed almost half the season, after injuries sustained during the Sochi Winter Olympics kept them out for months.
Luckily for the Detroit Red Wings, the absence of their team captain and most dangerous forward was eased due to the elevated play of one of their young players. 25-year-old Gustav Nyquist, scoring only four goals in his previous two NHL season, suddenly found the golden touch in late January. The forward put up 23 goals in 28 games, becoming a large reason why the Red Wings jumped from a bubble team outside the playoffs to a team fighting to keep a hold of a coveted wildcard spot.
Though Detroit made the playoffs, their time spent there was short. Facing a strong Boston team, the Bruins easily handled anything Detroit could throw at them. Unable to get past Tuuka Rask and his Boston teammates, the Red Wings were eliminated in five games.
The Offseason – The Detroit Red Wings had a very quiet offseason, but what moves they did make only left fans confused or frustrated with the direction of the team. Detroit is not the hot spot of the league any longer. The team has been on a decline for a couple years now, and their ability to grab top-tier free agents has declined in the process. Thus, to improve the team and possibly get one final shot at the Stanley Cup before Datsyuk and Zetterberg hang up the skates, trading seemed to be the only option.
The Wings had their chance at making a trade to improve the team at the draft. With the 15th overall pick, the organization was, in all likelihood, not going to grab a superstar in the making. Detroit’s prospect pool is not lacking in talent either, evidenced by their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, winning the Calder Cup in 2013. General manager Ken Holland could have traded the pick with no real risk and shown potential free agents that the Red Wings are still interested in contending.
Instead, Detroit struck out in free agency, being forced to sign lesser players with no viable options remaining. Kyle Quincey was re-signed after the Wings were unable to sign a better replacement, and Dan Clearly was inexplicably given a new contract that gave him more money than his previous one, with an additional $1 million bonus if he played in 10 games with Detroit next year. This was despite Clearly coming off the worst year in his career. Moves such as these make it difficult to pin down what game plan the Wings have going into this upcoming year.
What to Watch for Next Season – All good things must come to an end, and unless there is a truly unexpected development in the Red Wings camp, this year looks like it might be the year that the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff streak comes to an end. The lack of any real moves in the offseason, in addition to the improved rosters of many other Eastern Conference teams, could easily leave Detroit on the outside looking in at the end of the year. With that in mind, it might be in Detroit’s best interest to call up some of the highly talented prospects that have been developing in their system for years.
The Red Wings saw what can happen when young players were given a chance after Nyquist’s performance last year. Thought it might be unreasonable to expect a repeat performance this year, if given the opportunity, Nyquist could be anywhere from a 20-30 goal scorer for Detroit. It will all depend on if last season’s performance was true development or simply a player hitting a hot streak at exactly the right time. Both Tomas Jurco and Anthony Mantha are prime candidates to have similar breakout performances for the Red Wings, should the team focus on giving their young talent increased playing time in the NHL.
However, if the goal is to make the playoffs and possibly become a Cup contender again, look for Holland to flip some prospects for a true No. 1 defenseman. It would be impossible to replace what Lidstrom brought to the Red Wings before his retirement. However, that does not mean Detroit should forgo having any replacement for him at all. With Detroit and Arizona now in different conferences, a deal for Keith Yandle could bring Detroit back to contendership status.
The Red Wings are at a crossroads, stuck between the opportunity of going for one last shot at the Stanley Cup or accepting the end of an era and beginning the rebuild. With the talented prospect pool the Red Wings have built up, any rebuild should not be a long one, but it would likely come at the cost of their record playoff-streak. The rest of the league watches anxiously as the Detroit Red Wings struggle with the direction of their team for the first time in over two decades.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the floundering Edmonton Oilers. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Dallas Stars.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Photo Courtesy of KPKelly53 – Creativecommons License
Detroit Free Press