The Wings obviously didn’t play the greatest series. However, our staff felt there were still some positives that could be pulled from it.
Despite the frustrations that came along with another first round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, these 5 games did showcase some bright spots for the Detroit Red Wings. The one that stuck out the most to me was Andreas Athanasiou. Though his abilities had been witnessed earlier in the season, his continued success in very minimal minutes proved to everybody that he was not just a flash in the pan. His offensive ability in terms of creating and converting chances was, at times, unparalleled by anybody else on the team.
Athanasiou, in my mind, solidified a spot on the Red Wings roster as a top 6 forward next year. To have two young, exceptionally fast, offensively talented rookies have their coming out party in one year is a blessing that most teams dream of having. Detroit can no longer pretend that their typical system of keeping young players in the minors is universally effective. Athanasiou, like Larkin before him, took whatever was given to him (which was less than a little) and used it to show fans and analysts everywhere that he’s the real deal. Who knows, maybe Jeff Blashill noticed something, too…
Another playoff appearance and another first round exit for the Detroit Red Wings, but amidst a five-game playoff loss there were some positives to take away and into next season. I think the one that everyone can agree upon is the emergence of Andreas Athanasiou. He dazzled with great speed and hands and had all Red Wings clamouring for him to see more ice-time. His playing time increased gradually throughout the playoffs, but never saw concrete time in the top-6 like he probably should have. This offseason the Red Wings could lose all three players that made up their second line for the majority of this season—Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Brad Richards. That leaves a gaping crater in the top-6 that should be filled by “AA.”
Another positive was the re-emergence of Petr Mrazek. The 24-year-old netminder had a tremendous season until March and April rolled around. However, when he was called upon in the playoffs, he stepped up in a big way. He lost two of three starts but posted a rock-solid 1.36 GAA and .945 SV%. He is the Red Wings’ goalie of the future and he has done all of this behind a sub-par blueline (OK, really sub-par), that we all hope improves drastically heading into 2016-17.
The biggest positive for me after yet another first round exit is sort of a bitter sweet one. There were so many variables the needed consideration for the Red Wings every post-season before this. We had Babcock before and people thought that if anyone could bring success it was him, best not to waste his years. Well, Babs is gone now. Then we had Pav and Z. There’s no way we can waste talent like that, their years were numbered and we needed to compete while there is still gas in the tank. We think we may have seen Pavs last game as a Wing and even if we haven’t, they’re nowhere near the players they once were. We used to say, well, Tatar or Nyquist could be the X-Factor in any series! But we’ve seen them combine for only 10 points in three years straight of playoff appearances. Not exactly the X-Factors we expected when Kucherov almost hit the same amount of points in only 5 playoff games. The kids not being ready yet was another popular argument that seems to fail the eye test pretty handily now with Larkin’s breakout season and the emergence of Andreas Anthanasiou.
What I’m saying here is all the old excuses are now null and void. Excuses that may have actually held this team back in the long run. It’s time to make some changes. It’s time to dangle some players on the market and let others walk, neither of which would have happened a season or two ago. This team can choose to trust the development system they pride themselves on and make some real changes or we can slip into another year of mediocrity. Tampa only a few years ago had St. Louis and Stamkos 1 and 2 in league scoring and yet still missed the playoffs. They made the tough decisions when they needed to be made and are now set up for success at all positions. Detroit could do the same here and start holding the lineup accountable for what they leave on the ice, not what they think one day they could do. Time to retool and rethink, and I personally look forward to the oppertunity. We’ll see if the organization feels the same.
The positive that came out of all of this, was the fact that the Red Wings now see where they stand in the Eastern Conference. They backed their way into the playoffs and were nearly 100% healthy facing an injured Lightning team. While making the playoffs is all well and good, the key is going to be sustained success on a grander level. Is the goal really just going to be making the playoffs for 25 straight years? The streak is nice in an archaic way but Detroit fans should be wanting Stanley Cup’s. They’ve seen it before and they know in their heart of hearts that this assembled team isn’t going to achieve the ultimate goal any time soon. Does that mean tough decisions on long time players will need to be made? Of course, it can only be put off for so long. They need to get value where they see fit, do they have the GM to do it?
This series was a tough pill to swallow. Not because I thought Detroit would win this series, I didn’t. Not that I thought it would be the last hurrah for Pav. Not that I thought an injured Tampa team was vulnerable. It was because the Wings were in every game. They were tied/leading in the third period of every single game this series.
The positive here is that despite several very poor coaching decisions, despite several questionable roster decisions, the players on this team were able to put themselves in a position to win. Every game.
Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Richards & Kronwall were all non-factors in this series. The youth of this team is what carried them. That’s a tremendously good sign for the future. The kids rise up to pressure. Athanasiou was simply unreal. Larkin looked like a threat every game, he’ll, he was a fraction of an inch away from being the game four hero. The last two months were the coming out party for Riley Sheahan. Gustav Nyquist was everywhere and a little more puck luck and we are talking about him breaking his playoff curse. Luke Glendening is legitimately capable of shutting down some of the NHL’s top players. Petr Mrazek only allowed one 5v5 goal in three games. Brendan Smith, actual capable top 4 defenseman, who knew? (Everyone outside of the coaching staff)
All in all, coaching and management were the demise of the Wings this series. Blashill and Holland now have a full offseason to reassess and plug holes. As much as we dumped on them most of the season, we truly don’t know if they’ve seen the problems. With Pav retiring (likely) and a lot of UFA’s leaving, Kenny has many options to fix this team. If he’s successful the Wings could not only improve but improve dramatically because these kids who were so good this series are only getting older and better.
Despite the series ending at 4-1, it did not feel like a series that Tampa had dominated. Three of Tampa’s victories were one goal games, all of them decided in the third. Even the 5-2 loss was tied going into the third. In fact, the only game that wasn’t tied going into the third was game 3. The point I’m trying to get across is that a lucky bounce here and there, and it very well could have been Detroit winning this series 4-1. Now, that also comes with the negatives of the mental lapses creating those goals, but they were on every game.
The other positive is who was keeping Detroit in these games – the youth. Whether it was Larkin, Athanasiou, Smith, or Mrazek, all of Detroit’s futures were carrying the team, which is good news for the future, because if they retool properly, they’re back to being a top end contender.
Finally, with this series potentially being Datsyuk’s last games, it’s the end of an era. It was a damn good era, but it’s time has passed, and with that means that Datsyuk has to hand the torch to one of the young guys. It also means that Detroit needs to start looking to the youth for success, and whether the team recognizes that or not going into the offseason will greatly impact the team’s future.
I think one of the biggest positives was, despite making some moves much of the Wings fan base didn’t agree with, Jeff Blashill was willing to learn from his mistakes.
While his soundbites about certain players may not have pleased. He didn’t throw anyone under the bus (to my knowledge.)
It’s easy to criticize someone’s player usage or goalie selection. It’s a lot harder to coach an NHL team. The “you’re not in the room” defence has been used time and time again when online folk such as ourselves. But the truth is, most of us will never find out the reasoning why Blashill made his choices (Zetterberg?). I’m not saying I agreed with every one of Blashill’s decision’s, I didn’t. But he was at least willing to change, as stubbornness can be one of the worst qualities a coach can have.
It was a mistake to start Jimmy Howard in the first two games. So he went to Mrazek.
It was a mistake to not play AA very much. So he played more.
It was a mistake to scratch Brendan Smith to start the series. So he played him extensively over the next few games.
As much as we’d like to, few of us on the internet would actually have any clue how to properly coach a hockey team at the NHL level. It’s not an easy job.
You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) solely run a lineup off possession numbers or production rates, even though many of us would like to.
Maybe Jeff Blashill doesn’t fit this team 100%, but there’s few – if any coaches that could have success in their first season.
Blashill didn’t coach a perfect series by any means, but he’s learning. Scotty Bowman wasn’t built in a day.
I’m not sure if he’ll ever bring any real playoff success to Detroit – but at least he’s trying to adapt to a system that will.