Time for Red Wing fans to let go of playoff streak

Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will make $7.5 million this season. (TNS file photo)

Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will make $7.5 million this season. (TNS file photo)

One might think that winning two straight games over two of the best teams in the National Hockey League, one of them the defending Stanley Cup Champion, would be a harbinger of good things to come for the Detroit Red Wings.

Perhaps it’s even enough to get fans thinking that maybe, just maybe, that celebrated streak of 25 straight years of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t necessarily coming to an end this year.

But the reality is, that streak is all but snapped in an Eastern Conference that is loaded with teams that are, frankly, just better than the Detroit Red Wings.

Monday’s win over the Wings’ most historic enemy, the Montreal Canadiens, was a good one, and it did point out some good things to come. But none of them are coming this season.

The two points earned lifted Detroit out of the Eastern Conference basement, temporarily. They have one point more than new cellar-dweller Buffalo, but the Sabres do have a game in hand. The two teams will play this week, and we’ll see if the Wings can sustain the success they have enjoyed lately.

But it is time that the team and its fans stop looking to make the playoffs as a goal. How far has the franchise fallen, that fans celebrate beating one or two of the top teams instead of being one of those teams?

The good news amidst all this doom and gloom — i.e., reality — is that the team now has an excuse to do what the playoff streak has prevented them from doing for the last few years: Tear down and rebuild from the ground up.

It is time to let go of the past and look to the future, one that will put Joe Louis Arena firmly into the rear-view mirror. One way to do that is to cull the roster of those who will have no part of that future.

To start with, the team and its fans need to say goodbye to one of the only remaining vestiges of the Red Wings’ glory years, its captain Henrik Zetterberg.

Zetterberg is the oldest player on the team at 36, and is one of 10 Red Wings over 30 years of age. Say what you want about veteran leadership and all, but you’re not going to convince me that Zetterberg, for all of his good qualities and his undeniable contributions to the franchise over the course of his career, is the very best way for the team to spend $7.5 million per year.

Another fan favorite from the past, Niklas Kronwall, is also 36 and is being paid $5.5 million this year for looking like Willie Mays when he ended his career with the New York Mets.

Long gone are the days when the Wings were a destination team, one that players wanted to play for because they had a legitimate shot at winning a Stanley Cup. They can no longer simply whip out Mike Ilitch’s checkbook and go shopping for players like a foodie at Trader Joe’s.

No, the way to get back to the NHL elite is to build with young players, and the Wings have a solid core to start with.

Players like Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou (spellcheck is a wonderful thing…) are destined to be top-line players. The goaltending situation seems solid for the future, with 24-year-old Petr Mrazek and 25-year-old Jared Coreau already piling up impressive performances.

The problem is, the team’s roster amounts to a bunch of pretty good second-line players, but no go-to scoring stars. Only one Red Wings will play in the NHL All-Star Game, and that’s 32-year-old Frans Nielsen. Who, for example, is this team’s Pavel Datsyuk? Larkin may develop into that type of player a few years’ time, but he may not. Same with Mantha.

The patient approach would be to wait to see if the young talent the team already possesses will live up to its promise, replace the aging veterans with even more young players and take their lumps in the meantime.

And the fans will just have to live without playoff hockey for a couple of years. At least.

Scott Yoshonis is the Sports Editor of the News Advocate. Scott can be reached at 231-398-3110 or via email at syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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