The longest active playoff streak came to an end earlier this week when the Detroit Red Wings were officially eliminated from contention for the first time since before the Internet was a thing.
The fact the Red Wings are missing out with one of the older rosters in the league (their 28.052 average age is fifth-oldest in the NHL) has led to speculation that this season could spark a full tear down and rebuild. We’ve seen it in Toronto, Edmonton and perhaps are beginning to see it in Vancouver, so will the Red Wings take a similar approach?
“I think we want to be competitive,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said on Prime Time Sports Thursday evening. “I’m a general manager and as long as I’m a general manager I want us to be the very best we can be. I don’t believe in tear downs and massive rebuilds because I don’t believe you can just guarantee the end result is going to turn out to be Stanley Cups and dynasties. You could go in the wilderness.
“I look around professional sports and there’s other teams in other sports that were great teams for a long time and now it’s three, four, five years, they can’t get the culture back. Once you lose it, you’re chasing.”
While the Red Wings haven’t had a lottery pick of their own in 27 years, they do still possess some exciting young talent that could lead to a quicker turnaround and not necessitate a complete blow-it-up rebuild.
Dylan Larkin has had a down year as a sophomore with just 27 points in 74 games, but at just 20 years old and one of the fastest skaters in the league, he’s bound to recover as a scorer. Anthony Mantha, 22, has 17 goals and 36 points in his rookie season, which has flown under the radar because of some high-profile acts from the younger Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Andreas Athanasiou, 22, has been a staple on the highlight reel all season and has 18 goals as a sophomore. Evgeny Svechnikov has 43 points in the AHL, good enough for sixth among rookies.
If the Red Wings did want to completely tear it down, it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do either. Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are all players in their 30s who are signed for at least another four years. Danny DeKeyser, 27, is locked in at $5 million through 2021-22 and Gustav Nyquist, who hasn’t hit 20 goals the past two years, is making $4.75 million against the cap. These aren’t easily moveable contracts.
In fact, Holland sees this collection of still-good veterans and emerging youth as a recipe for a rebound. He talked about adding to the team in the summer to make the roster better rather than trading vets for draft picks — although they did move out expiring contracts at the deadline for picks.
Ultimately, success through the draft is what made the Red Wings and what will get them back to what they had been for 25 seasons. They picked Nicklas Lidstrom in the third round, Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh. As long as the Wings can pluck out a diamond or two, and get enough “lottery tickets” in the draft to do it, they might not need to “go into the wilderness” like the Leafs or Oilers did.
“We acquired a lot of draft picks, we got 20 over the next two drafts, 11 this year, nine next year,” Holland said. “We got an extra second next year, obviously going to have a high first this year.”
In the end, Holland just doesn’t believe the Red Wings are a doomed roster and are closer to contending for the playoffs again than they are in desperate need to blow the whole thing up. He can’t embrace a tank because no one is promising the grass is greener on the other side.
“A rebuild, if you want to go that route, it takes a long time with no guarantees on the other end,” Holland said. “If there was guarantees then teams that were bad for a while are automatically going to be the elite teams. Well you can look around the league and it doesn’t happen that way.”