Sitting last in the Atlantic division with an 18-19-6 record, the Detroit Red Wings issues are much more deep-rooted than it may seem. It won’t be a quick fix that solves the Red Wings woes, but rather, a philosophical change in their mentality that could do the trick. With that said, let’s examine how the Red Wings are operating their franchise in an outdated method.
Are the Red Wings rebuilding? Are they trying to contend? What exactly are they trying to accomplish?
The Red Wings sit at the bottom of the standings and that’s not because the team is tanking. It’s a virtue of a team that is lost and behind in the thinking of today’s NHL. The Wings have Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou that signify a young regime that could help turn the page in Detroit. Mind you, none of those players would be considered a ” franchise” player, but instead, each has the potential to become solid complementary pieces.
If the Red Wings don’t shed their payroll, those three young players wont be getting any fresh blood to work with. The Red Wings are comprised of overpriced veterans that are far past their prime, widely overpaid, or both. This falls back to the archaic mentality that continues to dictate how things are done with the Red Wings.
Ken Holland has had success as an NHL general manager and has four Stanley Cups to show for it. While the game has changed since his last Stanley Cup in 2008, Holland’s tactics have remained the same. Nowadays teams’ bottom-six players aren’t built entirely of sandpaper and grit, but rather, are able to provide secondary scoring along with some physicality mixed in. The Red Wings aren’t just filling their lineup with gritty players, but crippling their salary cap for the long-term with questionable contracts.
Justin Abdelkader has a contract that pays him $4.25 million a season for the next six seasons, and includes a no trade clause that’s all but guaranteeing that he plays out the rest of that contract in Detroit. That kind of long term commitment and loyalty to a player whose best years are likely behind him is damaging to a salary cap and limits resources that can be directed to a youth movement. Other questionable contracts include Drew Miller making $1.25 million per year, Steve Ott being paid $800K a year and Riley Sheahan being paid $2.075 million per year.
The Wings just inked Luke Glendening (who has one goal in 43 games) to a four-year contract that carries a $1.8 million annual average value ( AAV). Let’s not forget the fact that Jonathan Ericsson is making over $4 million a year until 2020. These types of players can be found for much less term and dollar on the open market. If the Wings had paid market value for gritty players, they’d have much more cap flexibility to sign UFA’s, trade for high calibre players and most importantly, pay their up-and-coming young players.
But with the current contract alignment, it looks like the Red Wings are going to be stuck with this core for a long time, and that’s damaging. If the Red Wings wanted to blow it all up and rebuild right now, they wouldn’t be able to do a full overhaul. With the amount of no-movement clauses and high-priced contracts, many of those assets aren’t moveable.
Ken Holland will never subscribe to a “lose-to-win” mentality. If there is ever going to be a full-blown rebuild in Detroit, it’s unlikely that Ken Holland will be its architect. The Red Wings are behind in their thinking and a lose to win mentality could thrive in a market like Detroit.
Detroit is always going to be fishing the big the big fish of free agency. This was evident in the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes, where Detroit remained a contender up until the day he re-upped with Tampa Bay. The Wings have consistently found ways to attract players to Michigan and this past offseason they snagged Frans Nielsen who was recently named an NHL all-star.
If a Steven Stamkos type player is on the market and is looking at Detroit’s offer, why would they sign with a team that is outdated and pretty much stuck with the current core they have for a while? If Detroit started to trade veterans like Thomas Vanek or maybe even Mike Green for picks and prospects, fast forward three years to a Detroit team that has more young and exciting prospects, a star would have a much higher chance of signing a long-term deal with a young promising team than an old and underperforming team.
Players want to sign where progression and improvement is possible and in Detroit, that doesn’t look likely right now. The Red Wings are behind in their thinking on the ice and with their tactics. It’s not a time to ignore Ken Holland’s success, but as the league changes and adapts, he’ll have to learn to adapt as well, or he won’t be at the helm much longer.
And just maybe, it’s time to turn the page from Ken Holland altogether.