Okay, so I'm rather new to this blog thing, but here it goes.
(Fair warning: This article is a rant about people ranting and will be long and boring probably.)
I've been a fan of hockey, and in particular the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks for over 25 years (having grown up in between these two great hockey cities) now. My favorite team falls to the Detroit side, though, and I've been lucky to grow up in the Illitch era of the greatest American NHL team of all time. The hockey of the 1980's and 1990's was a great time to be a fan, but now, in the 2010's, I think hockey has become greater than ever as a whole sport.
I've heard people say, over the last half decade, that the Red Wings are now irrelevant, obsolete, and a shell of their former selves. People were even saying this after the team won the Stanley Cup in 2008. People seem to come across with several excuses as of late as to why Detroit is not only a failed competitor, but seemingly on the verge of collapse. So, I want to take a look these complaints.
1. The first one I want to rip apart is the one that made me laugh out loud: Detroit will not be able to sustain a major hockey team and will be forced to relocate the Detroit Red Wings. This is the most absurd thing I've ever heard. While Detroit may be hurting financially, its sports teams are alive and well. The majority of Detroit's local fans come from the suburbs such as Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills, Royal Oaks, etc.. not the actual city of Detroit proper. Its been this way since the resurgence of the Red Wings into a force to be reckoned with. Soon, the factory jobs dried up and Detroit began to fall off the economic map of America, it wasn't long after that the Red Wings themselves began their "Dead Wing" era.
Once Mike Illitch bought the team and began to make smart moves in drafts, trades, and coaching, the Red Wings began to grow a fan base unrivaled today. While the city has actually become worse and worse since the auto industry basically collapsed, the Red Wings fan base continued to grow, due in large part to the success of the team under Bowman and eventually Babcock. It has gotten to the point that the fan base is not just Michigan anymore. Go to a Red Wings away game. It is a sea of red jerseys still. I've lived in Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Nashville since I was a child and I continued to go to local teams events. Even the great Maple Leafs had a good smear of Red Wings fans across the middle sections at the Gardens.
The Detroit Red Wings also continue to come out even fiscally every year. They sell out a lot of their home games thanks to dedicated season ticket holders and corporations who buy tickets as gifts for employees and clients. Their owner is a financially sound businessman who owns not only the Wings and the profitable Detroit Tigers, but also owns one of the largest pizza chains in the world. And with North America getting fatter off of delivered pizza, I don't see the need for Illitch Holdings to sell off or relocate a financially stable team. And to top this all off, Detroit recently approved a new arena for the Red Wings to move in to replace the aging Joe Louis Arena.
2. The Red Wings have no talent left to make themselves a contender for the Stanley Cup let alone a playoff berth.
So, I'll take this in two sections, first off the longer explanation. The Red Wings have lost a lot of talent in ten years. Robitaille, Hull, Yzerman, Hasek, Shanahan, Osgood, Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski, Hossa, Stuart. These are the big names I see thrown around all the time. A lot of people fail to remember, most of these players left soon after the salary cap was introduced. We've won five division titles, two conference titles, one Stanley Cup, and two Presidents Trophies since then. Not too mention we went to the Conference Finals three years straight. Now, you could argue the vast majority of these trophies and accolades are from 4+ years ago. While thats true, we've kept a stable average goals for about 250 with a goals against average around 215 since the lockout. We've basically stayed the same as a team with how we perform.
Players like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Jiri Hudler, Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen have continuously played large roles in replacing the former greats like Hull, Shanahan, Hossa, and Yzerman. Even this season, our scoring prowess is doing just fine with the additions of Alfredsson and Weiss from UFA and AHL superstars Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist (they'll be in sooner than later this season from what I'm hearing from Babcock). Our offense is doing alright to say the least. We've never been a high scoring team. We're a puck possession team.
Our defensive side has taken a bit of a hit. In the last ten years, we've lost a quality group of defensemen with Chris Chelios, Nick Lidstrom, and Brian Rafalski retiring on top of Matheiu Schneider and Brad Stuart leaving the team. People like Niklas Kronwall and Jonathon Ericsson have stepped up to the plate to try and fill those voids and have done so, for the most part. With recent improvements to bottom four players like Jakob Kindl and Kyle Quincey, and the addition of a future superstar in Danny DeKeyser, we're holding on better than a lot of teams who lose so much in defense. For example, Chris Pronger's loss on the Flyers roster has become a sink hole on that team. Same with Foote's retirement on the Avalanche.
Our goaltending is actually better than it has been since pre-lockout, in my humble opinion. Hasek was a great goalie, but post-lockout, he was plagued by age, injuries, and skill decline. Chris Osgood played great in his place, but he had a tendency to let in rather soft goals. Back ups like Ty Conklin and Joey McDonald made it hard to really have strength on the bench for our starter's off nights. With the emergence of Jimmy Howard, we have ourselves a top-10 goalie who is good-great in every area of what it takes to be a goaltender. He may not be a Rask or Quick, but he's far and above able to hold up a team when they have an off night. Our current back up situation is looking good too with the Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, playing like an all star to start this season. If he can stay healthy and play with his heart (no pun intended), we have a great starter/backup this season.
On to the second part of this issue: playoffs.
Longest active streak in North American major sports leagues.. 22 years baby. Not too mention we knocked out the second seed in the quarter finals and took the first seed, President's Trophy winning, eventual SCF winner to the brink of elimination. We choked, but we still went 14-deep in last years playoffs.
3. Our recent signings are going to kill us. With the additions of Gustavsson, Tootoo, Alfie, Weiss, and the welcoming back of Mikael Samuelsson, people really started to question Ken Holland's ability to secure competent players. Lets see how they're doing since their signings:
Jonas Gustavsson was signed in the 2012-2013 lockout. While he was mediocre last year, he's proven himself an amazing back up. Playing three games straight this season, he just earned the first star of the week with a 1.67 GAA and a .953 SAV against the Bruins, Avalanche and Blue Jackets. Think he's a winner.
Jordin Tootoo was also signed at the same time. He is a hard one to judge. With only 8 points last season, being a healthy scratch for a lot of games, he's not really considered a statistical plus. We didn't sign him for this, though. He's all about speed and grit. We've thrown him on our fourth line and he adds that zip and bang that keeps the other teams on their toes while we rest our top 9. He's not really a winner or loser in this case.
Daniel Alfredsson is probably the biggest addition we've made in the last two years. This guy may be forty, but in 9 games, he's gotten one goal and eight assists. Not bad for a second-third liner who is in his twilight years. He's filling a sort of role that Brett Hull gave us in 2002. Winner.
Stephen Weiss was brought in this summer and was thrown into the second line. He's here for two reasons, depth and speed. He brings stability to a second line for us with his hockey vision and speed. He stick handles very well and can hold up well on PP/PK. He hasn't really shone much this season, but he has done one great thing: allow Datsyuk and Zetterberg to be on the same line. Still to be decided if that huge contract was worth it, but looking more positive than negative so far.
And of course, Mikael Samuelsson. This aging Swede was cheered and loved by Red Wings fans during his first tenure with us. He scored, he scrummed, he dangled and he was fabulous. Then he went away for three-four years. When we got him back last season, we were treated to three straight injuries that kept him to four games, one point in last regular season. And those injuries prevented a buyout over the summer. This season, he's the exact same in points and games.. .25 ppg. I don't like it. Loss on this one.
On top of it all, Bertuzzi, Cleary, Eaves, Ericsson, and Quincey are all UFA this summmer. A lot of options this summer to bulk back up the lines.
Detroit is not going anywhere people. Nor is the resurgence of the "Dead Wings" happening. Detroit doesn't "rebuild," we "reload." With the move to the Eastern Conference, I see us doing just fine.
I would love any comments you might have about my first blog.
The great thing is, though. Outside of Stephen Weiss and Jordin Tootoo, we have the option of resigning or letting the other three walk this off season. On top of Alfredsson probably retiring, we probably won't resign Samuelsson. We'll probably keep the third Swede if he continues to perform.