It’s April 25. Just four days ago, Wings fans saw a team that backed into the playoffs get shutout in a must-win game. Everyone is patiently awaiting the words from GM Ken Holland, curious as to what the direction of the team would be going forward.
“I’m going to be more aggressive going to the draft this year and exploring trades,” he said. Those words would echo through the heads of just about every Wings fan for the next two months as the remainder of the NHL playoffs played itself out.
Aggressive is the key word. Everyone thought that he was implying that big changes would be made. That Holland would finally make the moves needed to put the team over the top.
Well, we’re waiting.
While the offseason is far from being done, Independence Day usually signifies the point where the action slows down significantly. And you know who hasn’t made any significant actions? Ken Holland.
Like many years before, Holland has promised change, and yet again, he does the exact same thing.
Going into the draft, Holland was furiously trying to shop both Datsyuk and Howard to a (not surprising) barren market. The key to the draft was to pick up a high end defensive prospect, in hopes that he could pan out to be a top 2 defenseman. And their were plenty of those to pick from, if any were available to them.
And they almost did, but they gave him away. Jacob Chychrun, projected at second overall at the beginning of the year, fell in their laps, but suddenly an offer came up. Arizona was willing to take on Pavel Datsyuk’s contract in exchange to move up four spots in the draft. It was an easy yes for Holland, who wanted to use the cap space to drastically improve the team, even at the expense of drafting Chychrun.
Don’t get me wrong, the trade was a good one for Detroit. They got cap space, and they got a second round pick in exchange for moving down four spots. But, let’s be honest, this move doesn’t happen if Stamkos isn’t a potential free agent. If Stamkos had signed a contract with Tampa, Holland probably wouldn’t have been as aggressive in trading Datsyuk’s contract, especially at the expense of Jacob Chychrun.
But no worries, he is a free agent this year, so there is nothing to worry about.
The only problem is that all of Holland’s potential solutions were gone by July 1. Stamkos had signed with Tampa Bay for eight years at a cheap $8.5 million in pursuit of a Cup (and they most certainly were his best option for that), and even if Holland was pursuing free agent defensemen, his best options in Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski had their rights traded and signed long term in Florida and Arizona.
Suddenly, there were ghosts of offseasons past. In 2012, the Red Wings wanted Ryan Suter, but lost out to Minnesota, so they settled for Kyle Quincey. In 2014, the Red Wings wanted Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, and Stephane Robidas. All of them pursued different options, and the Red Wings settled for Kyle Quincey.
So, what happened when Stamkos wasn’t available? They settled for Darren Helm, Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott. All great players, but in an offseason where the Wings had to replace Datsyuk and acquire a top 2 defenseman if they wanted a shot at being competitive this season, these moves did neither. He shot for the stars, missed by a mile, and settled for the clouds.
Ken Holland promised to be aggressive. Ken Holland promised change. And when he spat on his hand to shake hands on this promise, he instead wiped it off, and continued about his day.
Fans knew that Holland had to change his ways of relying on older guys if the team was to be competitive. He needed to be aggressive in replacing Datsyuk and, after a lengthy wait, Lidstrom, and if there were no options, he needed to do absolutely nothing. Give the young guys some ice time, in hopes that they pan out, and lead the way for another Wings dynasty.
Except he didn’t do that. He tried to pursue Stamkos, and when he was gone, settled for a bunch of above average veterans. Enough to perhaps sneak into the playoffs again, but it will be at the expense of developing the youth, which in today’s era has proven to be key to running a dynasty. Look at the recent Cup winners, and their top players. Almost all of them are draft picks, and some were acquired via trade. Very few were free agents, because lately the free agent crops haven’t been very good. This years was one of the better ones, but even then, there was no elite players.
Looking back, Holland’s promise on aggressiveness and trade was probably him saying we want to sign Stamkos, without actually saying it like his buddy Jim Benning. Up until Stamkos signed with Tampa, Holland looked like a man on a mission. Once Stamkos signed with Tampa, he seemed lost and misguided.
And for Holland, it’s rightfully so. At this point, considering the team’s recent mediocrity in the playoffs, you have to think that Ken Holland’s job may be on the line if the streak comes to an end. You can sense it in the desperation of his moves. He has no choice at this point to look at the short term for the team, even if he promises to look at the long term.
So, what else is there for Wings fans to do except for *gasp* hope they miss the playoffs. No, I’m not encouraging that the Wings tank. But until they miss the playoffs, and that streak comes to an end, the team is going to continue it’s cycle of being mediocre. Sign veterans. Barely make the playoffs. Get their butts handed to them in the playoffs. Repeat.
Holland made promises of drastic changes to the team, but the second that he had to take a risk, he backed off, and settled for his usual methods. He’s in Monopoly jail, and instead of taking a risk, and rolling the dice to get out, he decided to play it safe and pay the $50. And like Monopoly, that’s only going to cost him down the road.