(Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
A lot can happen in 365 days. Hockey can mourn the death of arguably its greatest player and ambassador. A 108-year-old curse on the North Side of Chicago can be lifted. Even a former reality TV star can be elected President of the United States…
The Red Wings have points in five straight games, and in my opinion, these last five games have been a reflection of the past five years of Red Wings hockey. An amazing play followed by lackluster choke-jobs. A seemingly good hockey team only to underperform leading to realizations that they are not as good as maybe you had thought. After the incredible 6-5 comeback shootout win against Boston, you might have heard Ken Holland talk about how the Red Wings are still trying to be a playoff team. Really? Have you never gone on a three-game win streak before, Kenny? I am here to tell you that this is false hope being pitched to you and want to give you some evidence as to just how crazy and unrealistic that claim is.
What if I told you that today, on January 24th of 2017, the Detroit Red Wings are in the same exact spot as the Philadelphia Flyers were on January 24th of 2016. Each team totalling 48 points on this date in their respective seasons. We all remember that crazy second half run the Flyers went on last season to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. The Flyers went 21-10-5 after January 24th, 2016, amassing a crazy 47 points in just 36 games. That Flyers team was firing on all cylinders during the second half of the 2015-16 NHL regular season and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere made a serious pitch for the Calder Trophy (an award Dylan Larkin was an early candidate for before falling off during the second half). However, as you know, the Flyers did not advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they lost in six games to the Washington Capitals.
Okay, okay. I see what you’re saying. But why do I care? I like the Red Wings.
Bear with me, I promise I will bring this back full circle.
As we sit here, for the Red Wings to match that pace of the Flyers, they must go something like 21-9-5 and they would finish with 95 points. They have to get points in 26 of their final 35 games and find ways to get two points in over 20 of those contests.
I want you to take your loyal fan hat off for a second, and really reflect on how this team plays. A team that is inconsistent on both sides of the puck and in the net, injury plagued and has an absolutely anaemic power play. Do you really think that is possible? I guess anything is technically possible right? However, I am going to say that the Red Wings finishing the 2016-17 season with a 21-9-5 record down the stretch is extremely unlikely. With how competitively balanced this league is, it is a downright unrealistic goal and expectation to set.
During the first half of last season, the Philadelphia Flyers had a record of 19-15-7 and had 45 points and were in 16th place overall in the NHL league standings after 41 GP. After 41 GP this season, the Detroit Red Wings had a record of 17-18-6 with 40 points and sitting in 27th place overall in the NHL. Clearly, these are two extremely different scenarios with the Flyers being very close to playoff contention in relation to the NHL league standings and the Red Wings not so much here in 2017.
Look at that ridiculous run the Flyers went on last year during the second half, and what did it get them? A whopping TWO playoff wins (you need 16 to win the Stanley Cup in case anybody forgot) and went from a position to potentially draft in the top 10 in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft to drafting 18th overall (then trading down to 22nd overall to draft German Rubtsov).
As I mentioned previously, the National Hockey League is easily the league with the most competitive balance from top to bottom out of any of the major four leagues in North America. You almost never hear of a team like the Cleveland Browns defeating the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia 76ers beating the Warriors or Cavaliers in convincing fashion. Yet just last week, you saw the Red Wings beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions by three goals. Every team in the NHL can compete with any of the other 29 teams, as is right now, and have a somewhat decent chance to win. Teams getting high first round draft picks in the NHL are finishing right around .500 when in any other league that would almost certainly not happen with any regularity. Look at the Winnipeg Jets, last year they finished only four games under .500 and drafted Patrick Laine at second overall. The Red Wings could very well go on a run, get some fortunate bounces going against teams they are chasing, not sell at the deadline and be starting the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road. But is that really what you want? Don’t you lie to me.
I am telling you that as a Red Wings fan, you deserve better than a 26th straight year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs only to be bounced in the first round again and subsequently draft more average talent between 15th and 20th overall. Sure it is painful to see the streak end, it would be the first year I have ever gone without Stanley Cup Playoff hockey for my team. I will be 25 in mid-February and I have witnessed Stanley Cup Playoff hockey every spring of my life. In a time where privilege is a hot button topic, this is clear-cut NHL privilege and I have no problem giving it up for a while.
The possibility of the Red Wings having three of the first 30 draft picks this June is real should they opt to sell at the March 1st trade deadline and trade away Thomas Vanek and Tomas Tatar (Vanek is a UFA and Tatar an RFA). Their own pick could be really high if they keep their 80 point pace from the first half of the season. I know I cannot speak on behalf of all of you, but that actually sounds pretty damn appealing to me. I guess we will have to see which direction the Red Wings ship keeps taking as we progress through this mucky lagoon we call the second half of the NHL season.
WHAT I’M SAYING IS…
I am going to end this article by issuing two challenges: one to Red Wings management and one to Red Wings fans.
First off, to management: you owe your fans, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan MUCH more than you are giving them. A historic, successful and exceptional Original Six franchise has now been reduced to “just good enough” and an embarrassing exploitation of a playoff streak that has lasted about five years too long. Do what is right for this team in the long term and restore the Red Wings to Stanley Cup contenders. The only way you can do that is by putting more importance on that goal than a 26th straight postseason berth, and stop going in front of the media and saying you are trying to be a playoff team when you very clearly are not.
Second and lastly, the fans; accept what this team has turned into and understand that the next decade is not going to be anything like the previous two. Understand that the playoff streak ending can be a good thing that we could theoretically benefit from it in the form of better young talent. Do not hang onto the false hope of yesteryear that Ken Holland is somehow still trying to sell to you.