Let's be real: the Red Wings are really just a sad shadow of their former selves

Adam Laskaris
July 05 2016 10:44AM

Everywhere you look, there's incompetency and a lack of accountability in the Detroit Red Wings franchise.

Don't believe it?

Since a pair of back to back Stanley Cup Final berths in 2008-09, the Wings have gone from class of the NHL to a fringe playoff team.

Once a team that was a given to be at the top of the standings every year, the Red Wings have willingly committed themselves to mediocrity, with no clear thought process in place to get better.

Much of it goes back to the decision-making, thought process, and strange love affair with the history and past success of the franchise.

But as Albert Einstein famously once said, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results"

This weekend as free agency opened, once again we saw prime examples of what exactly is holding this Original Six franchise back. With the signings of Steve Ott, Darren Helm, and Frans Nielsen, a hope to return back to the glory days of the Red Wings was met only with lateral moves, at best, and confusing long-term deals, at worst.

From top to bottom, the organization with 11 Stanley Cups has maintained a level of mediocrity for the last several season— and been comfortable with it, for some reason.

Instead of developing and keeping good, young talent, this franchise has done nothing but let their prime years of their best players slip away, fail to allow for growth and development, and be content with their general place as a franchise for no real reason at all.

In a nutshell, the things that once made the Red Wings great have aged poorly in a new-wave NHL.

Player personnel

Through no fault of their own, the players on the Red Wings simply aren't what they used to be. 

Contracts, dictated by perceived market value and negotiated by their agents have put inflated values on the players in the Wings organization. The mix of age, a lack of support, and no real clear plan for the Red Wings has mixed badly with the Red Wings, which is funny in a sense because so many of the Red Wings players have been around the organization seemingly forever.

Let's compare the Wings to the Red Wings of 2006-08, some of the team's most successful times, well, ever.

Instead of Pavel Datsyuk as the Wings' highest-paid centre, there's Frans Nielsen. Nielsen's single season high was a 58-point season in 2013-14. Datsyuk's topped 58 points nine times, and to boot, was likely the best defensive forward of his generation.

Instead of being happy to have a competitive team, the Wings were happy to not play their star player's cap hit- for a contract he left a year early.

Instead of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek as the goalie tandem, there's a declining Jimmy Howard on a five-year deal, and a goalie in Petr Mrazek who wasn't even the undisputed starter come playoff time.

Instead of Niklas Lidstrom, the Wings best defenceman might actually be .... ??? 

There's no clear #1 defenceman, no true #1 centre, and, at least of the playoffs, no clear goalie in place. If there's a proper plan how to manage player personnel here, it's mostly ineffective.

Coaching

You can't fault Jeff Blashill for being the coach of the Red Wings. But you can fault the hire of Blashill, or at least the tactics in which he uses, as they proved this past season unable to match up against the crop of the NHL.

Mike Babcock, in case you've somehow forgotten, used to be the coach of the Red Wings up until 2015. A President's Trophy winner, a two-time Olympic champion and a Stanley Cup winner, slipped away to divisional rival Toronto.

So, predictably, the Wings stuck to the guns and went with one of their own in Blashill, an unproven, rookie head coach.  Everyone has to start somewhere. But it all adds up, and Blashill hasn't shown yet any clear reason that he'll mould into a top-tier coach- which besides the odd team getting saved by great goaltending or incredibly high shooting percentage, ah... is really what you need to succeed in today's NHL. 

Management

Ken Holland, the prime gem of the Red Wings system, right?

But what about Steve Yzerman, who's led the Tampa Bay Lightning to back to back conference finals, retained a superstar in Steven Stamkos despite rumours all season long, and built one of the deepest, youngest teams in the NHL? Or Brendan Shanahan, who's behind a resurgent management group in Toronto? Or Jim Nill, literally the former assistant to Holland?

All three are on teams heading in a better direction than the Wings are right now - and all three were reasonable candidates to take over the GM job from Holland at some point.

And Detroit is still being run by Ken Holland, who's ended his season exactly the same way each of the past three seasons.

Player development

Take a look at Ken Holland's draft history.  Look at it closely.

Forget about Pavel Datsyuk, forget about Henrik Zetterberg. While the two turned into cornerstones of the franchise, they were ultimately the product of a little bit of luck. Had Ken Holland really known these two would be as good as they would be, he wouldn't have waited so long to pick them.

Look at Holland's draft history beyond those two, and what else is there? There are just two current regulars on the Wings roster that have been drafted since 2012, and no locks to make the team for next season. Five drafts, two confirmed roster players.

Where is this infamous Red Wings development? 

Results

It's one thing to judge the process, and be skeptical of how things are being done. 

But what about the results? 

The Red Wings have managed a total of five playoff wins in three years. They're just clinging ever so slightly to relevancy, and unless things drastically change in the near future, likely won't see their playoff streak continue much longer.

The "it'll be better next year" mentality only works if it's been getting better. For now, the Red Wings haven't given any reason to really believe this.


There isn't any need for any analytical analysis, or in depth criticism of the way things are being done in Detroit. It doesn't take anything more than a simple two column table to look at how things were, and how things are, and realize these two teams are almost nothing alike, as much as a large portion of the fanbase and the franchise would like it to be.  

What's the identity of the Red Wings? No one really knows these days, but one thing's clear: The values that made the team so well-respected around the NHL in the late 1990's and the 2000's are now long gone.

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Former Managing Editor at WingsNation.com, features and random things at TheLeafsNation.com, community relations at NHLNumbers.com and fourth-string backup relief writer at CanucksArmy.com.

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#1 Simon
July 05 2016, 12:27PM
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While I do agree with most of what is written, I tend to be less harsh on the Wings... I wouldn't call a team that's constantly among those who battle for the playoffs to be mediocre. If you do, what about the Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes etc. who have been barely able to compete year after year?

We've all seen the Wing's decline in the last few years, but to me that's just a natural process for every team when you don't get high quality first round draft picks. It has little to do with mediocrity, mismanagement or bad luck.

I think there are 5 stages for any team ( in ice hockey but also in any other sports ):

1- The championship worthy team. At this point, the team is expected to win because of its overwhelming number of skilled players. The Caps, Pens, Stars, Blackhawks and Blues are good examples.

2- The contender level. Contenders are expected to make it to the playoffs easily, but aren't quite expected to win the championship. NY Islanders, Predators, etc. I think the Canadiens should still be considered as contenders even though they had a terrible season and were excluded from the series.

3- Playoff potent. In my opinion, the Wings have remained on this level for a number of years now. They're the wild card teams.

4- The "denial" phase. Usually involves teams way past their glory. I guess you see the Wings at this level right now. I tend to see them reach that stage after the next season. I think the Canucks are a good example at this moment.

5- Reconstruction. Could be the "mediocrity stage" for some. Depends on their ability to rebuild their team. The Oilers have been stuck in the fifth stage for a long time. Hopefully they can get better next season.

I believe the Wings have done a formidable job at extending that "playoff potent" period, which is - let's admit that's the main reason why they do so - very good for business. Other teams usually can't keep up the pace for so many years. We're talking about a team which has been able to survive for many, many seasons without solid first round picks. This website is pretty good with numbers. I'm pretty sure that if you guys calculated which team got lesser quality first round picks ( ex: top 10 or 15 first rounds are excluded ) in the last 20 years, the Wings would come on top.

If you look at all the top teams right now, they all had to plunge at the bottom of the standings for a few years before they became what they are now. The Pens are a good example of such rollercoaster rides. They went from winning the cup with Lemieux in the early 90's to being the laughing stock of the NHL until they drafted Crosby, Malkin plus a few other very good players and then they won the cup again and remained a highly competitive team to this day. During all this time, the Detroit Red Wings have managed to make it to the playoffs on every year, winning the cup four times. The last time they didn't make it was in 1989-90.

So like I said, it's a natural process. Nothing to mad for.

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#2 NegauneeBoy
July 05 2016, 01:01PM
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I agree with Simon,

I dont think fans take into account that getting into the dance each year has been a chance to win the cup. If you don't make the playoffs your odds of winning the cup are gone. A couple injuries or some poor play or goaltending and and a team can find itself in the final with a little bit of decent play on it's own.

Detroit has to work on the Redwings brand by becoming a UFA destination. Steve Stamkos and the last few year's UFA's dont seem too keen on donning the winged wheel for some reason.

The new stadium is a great start.

When you look at the recent great era of hockey in detroit it really seems to follow the economic climate in Detroit

Getting Detroit and Michigan out of the crapper is the work of others. Do your part and buy your Little Caesars Pizza and buy American and we'll have to see if things fall together...

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#3 NegauneeBoy
July 05 2016, 01:01PM
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I agree with Simon,

I dont think fans take into account that getting into the dance each year has been a chance to win the cup. If you don't make the playoffs your odds of winning the cup are gone. A couple injuries or some poor play or goaltending and and a team can find itself in the final with a little bit of decent play on it's own.

Detroit has to work on the Redwings brand by becoming a UFA destination. Steve Stamkos and the last few year's UFA's dont seem too keen on donning the winged wheel for some reason.

The new stadium is a great start.

When you look at the recent great era of hockey in detroit it really seems to follow the economic climate in Detroit

Getting Detroit and Michigan out of the crapper is the work of others. Do your part and buy your Little Caesars Pizza and buy American and we'll have to see if things fall together...

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#4 RON SOLDWISH JR
July 05 2016, 03:56PM
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Gimmie a break, there is so much that goes into making a good team these days. When the Red Wings dominated in the late 90's early 2000's there was no cap, and the wings were far ahead of the curve with scouting and how they treated they're players (aka redbird one). They won a cup post cap and almost another (lost game 7), instead of rebuilding and bottoming out they have kept there playoff streak alive, and it has challenged they to draft in the middle of the 1st round and not benefit from a top 10 draft pick since the 1st Bush was in office. You can offer the horse water and if he doesn't want to drink you cant force him. How do you think Edmonton is going to feel 5 years from now when Lucic is lucky to get 15 goals and have major back problems and there stuck paying him 5 million per year, or Boston with Backus. And Neilson will be on our 3rd line killing penalities and making a difference. theres a lot that goes into making the right choices and happy with Mr Holland, keep up the good work Kenny. Steve stay in Tampa!!!

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#5 don cannon
July 05 2016, 04:21PM
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The Red Wings are in decline. Nothing can be done. Same with the Canucks. Drafting 20-30 gets you mediocrity at best. Free agents are most ly toast by the time they sign those big contacts. Build through the draft. Finishing last for two or three years is the only way - unless you live in Edmonton....

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#6 ubermiguel
July 05 2016, 05:14PM
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@Simon

Looks like a team in denial phase right now. Three to five years out of the playoffs, some solid veteran free agents and some solid drafting is what good organizations need to re-tool and get back into contention. Does Zetterberg want to stick around for that though? If he's willing to move he might net a nice combination of picks, prospects and veterans.

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#7 Trevor5555
July 05 2016, 10:19PM
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The Wings had an off year for sure but to say that its a result of incompetence is totally false. Clearly their core from they won their last cup with is almost all retired with only Zetterberg remaining. They did however manage to draft and develop some pretty good players over the last 10 years and those guys are the reason why the Wings are still a playoff team these last few years.

Mrazek, Tatar, Abdelkader, Larkin, Nyquist, Helm, Dekyesor and Smith are all pretty good players and Detroit didnt have the luxury of early draft picks to get these guys. Zetterberg Kronwall and Eriksson are nearing the end but are still pretty good players. Their scouting department did pretty well given their draft position. Saying Zetterberg and Datsyuk were a matter of luck and not a reflection on the scouting staff is unfair. There is a degree of luck in every pick but you still have to do the leg work to find these guys. Also knowing where certain players could be available in any draft is a function of the scouting staffs knowledge and awareness of the players so without a good scouting staff finding good players late in drafts is hard.

If Detroit turned arround and blew up this team to rebuild like the Leafs did the fans would be shocked. They are not so bad as to make that the right choice now so the only option it to try to improve the team which I believe they did.

Vanek is a skilled 20 goal guy who offsets if not improves on the offense they lose with Datsyuk leaving. Helm is a good two way center who can fill the #2-3 spot quite fine. Nielsen is a good two way center as well who helps offset what they lose in Datsyuk. A declining core and losing your #1 center is a tough situation but Holland did quite well in rounding out his roster and dealing with an absentee 7.5 Million cap hit.

It wouldnt surprise me to see Detroit in the playoffs again and if Mrazek and Larkin and co. progress further they could do even better.

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#8 Etownman
July 06 2016, 08:11AM
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I think this is the denial phase for red wing fans! Could see this coming awhile ago!

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#9 Coach Franklin
July 06 2016, 04:59PM
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25 years in a row as a playoff team should be commended. And it has been. The franchise is treating itself like it treats player contracts. Compensating for past performance.

I get that this is unavoidable to a certain extent, you don't get to keep certain players unless you overpay them a little, but you can look at 4 clear cut contracts that have been/are currently/will continue to kill the Wings' future success. - Kronwall - Ericsson - Helm - Abdelakder

Scrap long term contracts for anyone over age 26, sit players that suck, regardless of their tenure...I'm looking at you Ericsson/Kronwall, play the kids. Play all the kids a lot. If they can stick, great, if not sack 'em. One season of kids playing won't alienate Wings fans. We can suffer through one season to gain some direction.

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#10 Kyle
July 06 2016, 06:08PM
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This is what happens when you mistake extreme good luck in drafting as a repeatable skill. But past success has skewed expectations and created the delusion that their current strategy is a sustainable champion builder.

Make no mistake: The Red Wings are still excellent drafters, but the days of finding HOF All-Stars in the 6th and 7th rounds is over.

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