The Detroit Red Wings will finish last in the Atlantic division for the 2018-19 season and there are plenty of reasons why they will.
The game of hockey is a strong-link game; meaning that the team that has the best player usually ends up winning. Championships are not built on depth, but they are built on having elite talent at any position.
If it was a weak-link game, then more trades like the one that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars would pay off in the end. Patching up some holes in minor positions does not improve your chance of winning if you do not have that elite talent already.
As explored by Alex Novet of hockey-graphs.com, NHL teams that improve their weak links do not achieve greater success, but the teams that can get better “strong links” end up having much more success. I highly recommend reading Alex’s piece to further understand why this happens in hockey.
We should be plenty familiar with this concept though. For decades the Red Wings usually had the best player of either team on their side. Lidstrom, Yzerman, Datsyuk, Shanahan – we know that elite talent wins championships.
This is why I believe the Red Wings will finish dead last in their division.
How often do you think the Red Wings will have the best player on their side this season?
We can say with confidence that either Dylan Larkin or even Anthony Mantha, is the best player on this team without any doubt. I would be hardpressed to find a fan of any team that would disagree.
But from just a very broad standpoint, do you think they are better than any other team’s best player? Let’s go down the list in our own division.
The Boston Bruins are scary. Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, McAvoy – they have multiple players that can just flick a switch and change the game. Players that pounce on lucky bounces and have that garbage goal win the game for them. Boston even has an insane depth of young, speedy players that can come at you hard and fast.
Probably the most improved (on paper) team in the Eastern Conference this offseason, the Buffalo Sabres. Of course, this team is overflowing with elite talent after being bad for so many years. Picking in the top-8 for the last six drafts can do that to a franchise. Jack Eichel has been their guy for three years now, but with the additions of Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin through the draft and Jeff Skinner coming in a trade, there is no telling what this group of young talent can do for Buffalo.
There is no doubt that even playing the recently-last place Buffalo Sabres, the Red Wings lose out on the elite talent front.
Whether it’s Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman or Aaron Ekblad – the Panthers have some elite talent at very important positions. Both their forward group and their blueline are sneaky good. Newly-acquired Evgeni Dadonov scored 28 goals and 65 points in just 74 games last season. While only playing 15 minutes a night, Nick Bjugstad was able to put up more points last season than Mantha, Nyquist and Athanasiou.
The Panthers will be good this upcoming season and that is because of their elite talent group.
A team that their own General Manager has done more to hinder their success than any other GM in the league, the Montreal Canadiens. Even if you don’t like their forward group without Max Pacioretty, there is still some damn good talent on that roster. I would say that Jeff Petry or Shea Weber is better than any of the defencemen that the Red Wings have at the moment – so there is a stronger link position there.
Also with Jonathan Drouin moving back to his natural position, he can possibly show that talent that the Habs traded for. Brendan Gallagher had the quietest 30 goals last season that I have ever heard of. I’m sure many would consider those two players possibly above the talent level of the Red Wings forwards – but it’s a close one.
Definitely the most hilarious franchise in the league right now, the Ottawa Senators. Without Karlsson, this instantly becomes a much worse team – they lost their strongest link by far. But would you not say that Matt Duchene and Mark Stone are also elite or very good players? Even while finishing below the Red Wings, Stone was able to have just one less point than Larkin had last season, in 24 fewer games. That is remarkable.
They might trade them both away, but for now, the Senators still win the elite talent battle against the Red Wings.
Now it gets not so much fun. I barely have to even explain why both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs have more elite talent. Anyone that has been paying attention remotely to the NHL can explain why those two teams might win the division this year.
With Tampa, it’s Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, etc. etc. etc. The Lightning’s fourth line can probably outplay whatever first line the Red Wings will have this season. The remarkable depth that is topped off with some of the league’s best at their positions. This is the prime example of why elite talent can win you games.
After making fun of them for so many years, the Leafs look like a contender now. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and John Tavares. How the hell do they get so lucky? I don’t really have to write how having Nazem Kadri as a third-line center boggles my mind. They possibly have the strongest links in the league without a doubt.
The Detroit Red Wings roster from top to bottom is filled with just bottom-pair defencemen, middle-six forwards, and backup goaltenders.
So sure, they have some good bottom-six forwards and depth defencemen, but that’s because they belong there on a good team. A third-line of Rasmussen-Athanasiou-Vanek would look pretty good on some good teams, but that talent level does not increase going up the lineup.
Compared to the rest of the teams in the division, they look lost and confused. A direction-less team until recently, the Wings will have their worst season in decades.
There are some glimmers of hope for that elite talent on the Wings. Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren, look like players with very high ceilings that can possibly lead this team out from weak-link hell.
But for this upcoming season, they won’t be on the team or will just be starting to get a grasp of what it is like to be a professional hockey player.
It is going to be a painful season, but we can get through it knowing that this front office wants high draft picks to acquire that elite game-breaking talent that the rest of the division has.
At least we don’t have the future outlook of the Ottawa Senators and are gifting away Jack Hughes to the disgusting Colorado Avalanche.