Let’s be real: the Red Wings are really just a sad shadow of their former selves

Updated: July 5, 2016 at 10:44 am by Adam Laskaris

Everywhere you look, there’s incompetency and a lack of accountability in the Detroit Red Wings franchise.

Don’t believe it?

Since a pair of back to back Stanley Cup Final berths in 2008-09, the Wings have gone from class of the NHL to a fringe playoff team.

Once a team that was a given to be at the top of the standings every year, the Red Wings have willingly committed themselves to mediocrity, with no clear thought process in place to get better.

Much of it goes back to the decision-making, thought process, and strange love affair with the history and past success of the franchise.

But as Albert Einstein famously once said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”

This weekend as free agency opened, once again we saw prime examples of what exactly is holding this Original Six franchise back. With the signings of Steve Ott, Darren Helm, and Frans Nielsen, a hope to return back to the glory days of the Red Wings was met only with lateral moves, at best, and confusing long-term deals, at worst.

From top to bottom, the organization with 11 Stanley Cups has maintained a level of mediocrity for the last several season— and been comfortable with it, for some reason.

Instead of developing and keeping good, young talent, this franchise has done nothing but let their prime years of their best players slip away, fail to allow for growth and development, and be content with their general place as a franchise for no real reason at all.

In a nutshell, the things that once made the Red Wings great have aged poorly in a new-wave NHL.

Player personnel

Through no fault of their own, the players on the Red Wings simply aren’t what they used to be. 

Contracts, dictated by perceived market value and negotiated by their agents have put inflated values on the players in the Wings organization. The mix of age, a lack of support, and no real clear plan for the Red Wings has mixed badly with the Red Wings, which is funny in a sense because so many of the Red Wings players have been around the organization seemingly forever.

Let’s compare the Wings to the Red Wings of 2006-08, some of the team’s most successful times, well, ever.

Instead of Pavel Datsyuk as the Wings’ highest-paid centre, there’s Frans Nielsen. Nielsen’s single season high was a 58-point season in 2013-14. Datsyuk’s topped 58 points nine times, and to boot, was likely the best defensive forward of his generation.

Instead of being happy to have a competitive team, the Wings were happy to not play their star player’s cap hit- for a contract he left a year early.

Instead of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek as the goalie tandem, there’s a declining Jimmy Howard on a five-year deal, and a goalie in Petr Mrazek who wasn’t even the undisputed starter come playoff time.

Instead of Niklas Lidstrom, the Wings best defenceman might actually be …. ??? 

There’s no clear #1 defenceman, no true #1 centre, and, at least of the playoffs, no clear goalie in place. If there’s a proper plan how to manage player personnel here, it’s mostly ineffective.

Coaching

You can’t fault Jeff Blashill for being the coach of the Red Wings. But you can fault the hire of Blashill, or at least the tactics in which he uses, as they proved this past season unable to match up against the crop of the NHL.

Mike Babcock, in case you’ve somehow forgotten, used to be the coach of the Red Wings up until 2015. A President’s Trophy winner, a two-time Olympic champion and a Stanley Cup winner, slipped away to divisional rival Toronto.

So, predictably, the Wings stuck to the guns and went with one of their own in Blashill, an unproven, rookie head coach.  Everyone has to start somewhere. But it all adds up, and Blashill hasn’t shown yet any clear reason that he’ll mould into a top-tier coach- which besides the odd team getting saved by great goaltending or incredibly high shooting percentage, ah… is really what you need to succeed in today’s NHL. 

Management

Ken Holland, the prime gem of the Red Wings system, right?

But what about Steve Yzerman, who’s led the Tampa Bay Lightning to back to back conference finals, retained a superstar in Steven Stamkos despite rumours all season long, and built one of the deepest, youngest teams in the NHL? Or Brendan Shanahan, who’s behind a resurgent management group in Toronto? Or Jim Nill, literally the former assistant to Holland?

All three are on teams heading in a better direction than the Wings are right now – and all three were reasonable candidates to take over the GM job from Holland at some point.

And Detroit is still being run by Ken Holland, who’s ended his season exactly the same way each of the past three seasons.

Player development

Take a look at Ken Holland’s draft history.  Look at it closely.

Forget about Pavel Datsyuk, forget about Henrik Zetterberg. While the two turned into cornerstones of the franchise, they were ultimately the product of a little bit of luck. Had Ken Holland really known these two would be as good as they would be, he wouldn’t have waited so long to pick them.

Look at Holland’s draft history beyond those two, and what else is there? There are just two current regulars on the Wings roster that have been drafted since 2012, and no locks to make the team for next season. Five drafts, two confirmed roster players.

Where is this infamous Red Wings development? 

Results

It’s one thing to judge the process, and be skeptical of how things are being done. 

But what about the results? 

The Red Wings have managed a total of five playoff wins in three years. They’re just clinging ever so slightly to relevancy, and unless things drastically change in the near future, likely won’t see their playoff streak continue much longer.

The “it’ll be better next year” mentality only works if it’s been getting better. For now, the Red Wings haven’t given any reason to really believe this.


There isn’t any need for any analytical analysis, or in depth criticism of the way things are being done in Detroit. It doesn’t take anything more than a simple two column table to look at how things were, and how things are, and realize these two teams are almost nothing alike, as much as a large portion of the fanbase and the franchise would like it to be.  

What’s the identity of the Red Wings? No one really knows these days, but one thing’s clear: The values that made the team so well-respected around the NHL in the late 1990’s and the 2000’s are now long gone.