I thought I would take a look at the Detroit Red Wings, and how some things never last...
Dynasties in sports are something to behold. The Yankees, the Bulls, and the Patriots all have held this title in their respective sports. The Detroit Red Wings have held this title in the NHL for the better part of the last 13 years. However, the Red Wings are a team on the decline. Once feared as one of the scariest teams in the league, the Wings are now struggling to score and struggling even harder to get wins.
They currently take rank at 11th in the Western Conference and are 11 points behind first place San Jose. Not to mention they sit in third in the Central division behind Columbus and Chicago. How many people can remember when the Red Wings were this far back of first place, this late in the season, much less sitting outside the playoff picture? They have won the Central division crown each of the last 8 seasons and 12 of the last 15. They have won the Clarence Campbell trophy, for top team in the Western Conference, 6 times since the 94-95 season; more than any other team. Oh yeah, they also won the Stanley Cup 4 times since the 96-97 season (97, 98, 02, 08). They have simply been THE team in the west for the last decade and a half. But, as Bob Dylan once said, “Times, they are a changing.”
The days of Yzerman, Federov, and a ‘young’ Lidstrom are gone. Zetterberg and Datsyuk are fantastic players, but their supporting cast is not comparable to the past Red Wing teams. Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Slava Kozlov are all gone. Young prospects and over the hill forwards stand in their place.
Some reasons for their fall from grace:
1. Off-season moves. Watching Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky jet over to Chicago must have been a sour pill to swallow. Hossa, their third leading point getter and a 40 goal scorer, leaves for a mammoth 12 year contract with the rival Hawks after losing the Cup Final( Two straight for him personally. The Hossa curse is born). Kopecky, although not as impactful as Hossa, still adds to the players heading out of motown. Jiri hudler, the teams 7th leading scorer and top young prospect to fill the void of Hossa leaving, decides to go home to play in the KHL. The Wings lose three key players amongst their forward core in a month. They bring in Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, Brad May and have recently picked up Drew Miller off waivers; not exactly “Hossa-esque” replacements.
2. Injuries. Now everyone suffers injuries, yet the Wings this year could not afford to. Johan Franzen, Valterri Filppula, Jason Williams, Niklas Kronwall and Andreas Lilja all have suffered significant injuries and have missed numerous games. A team that loses what they did in the off-season can not afford to have this many injuries to this many key players.
3. Inconsistent Goaltending. Chris Osgood is a good goalie; he is not a great goaltender though. He is also on the back end of his career at 36 years of age. Jimmy Howard seems to have taken the reins of the starting job right now, but not sure he can handle the workload of a full time NHL goaltender. Since Hasek hung up his skates, the Wings have never really had superb goaltending, but they have not needed it as their defensive systems have been so sound and their offence so good. Now that the offence has dried up, they need their goalie to steal games for them, and that does not seem to be happening. Howard is showing some promise over his last couple outings, but nothing to write home about quite yet.
4. Salary Cap Era. Many predicted that when the Cap era hit the league following the lockout of the 04-05 season, that the Wings, who perennially spent a lot of money on their players, would suffer a setback. On the contrary as they produced one of their best seasons in 05-06, putting together an astounding record of 58-16-8 for an earth shattering 124 points. They would go on to capture the Western Conference title in 08 and 09 and win the cup in 2008. They are a model franchise for all intensive purposes. One difference though is this, in the days prior to the cap, Detroit would never have lost Hossa, and that was an irreplaceable asset this year. Unable to pay him the money he wanted, Hossa took off for greener pastures. Ken Holland is a brilliant GM and should be applauded for the work he has done, but sometimes things just do not happen the way you hope.
With the rise of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Red Wings look destined to come at least 2nd in the Central division for the first time in 8 seasons. This season, the Red Wings have been shut out 3 times on home ice, the first two coming in back to back games (something that has not happened since 1977). Something the old Red Wings would never let happen. With Lidstrom, Holmstrom and Maltby all becoming UFA’s this summer, only Osgood and Draper would be left from the old regime of players, and both are getting long in the tooth.
Now the Wings might prove me wrong and go on a serious tear over the next month and vault their way close to the top of the west again, but I think not. A changing of the guard in the West is taking place. The dynasty is coming to its end. The Mighty Detroit Red Wings are no longer the top dogs and will not be able to cruise into the playoffs like years past. They will be forced to fight it out with the fringe hunters of the Western Conference as they battle for a spot in Lord Stanley’s Playoffs.
This has been,
Newman on the NHL
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