Playoffs no sure thing for Red Wings this season

The hands fly about in various directions as Ken Holland accentuates the point he’s making. His voice pitches at the unlikely intersection of comforting and confounding.

“There’s the possibility that we might not make the playoffs this year,” the Wings general manager said Wednesday at the Detroit Sportscasters Association luncheon at Hockeytown Cafe. “But nobody can run and hide from you any longer in this league. You can’t stockpile players. You’re constantly tweaking. You’re constantly changing. And that’s why all 16 teams that make the playoffs now can win the Stanley Cup.”

The title of Best General Manager in Professional Sports is a distinction that Holland can’t run and hide from either. When told recently that other teams are downplaying the high expectations wrought from newly high-paid free agents, Holland shrugs that he doesn’t have that luxury.

Death and taxes remain life’s two biggest inevitabilities — and in this town, a Wings playoff appearance has made that list after 21 straight trips to the postseason.

But the trick for Holland in this lockout-shortened, 48-game season is convincing everyone that falling short of the annual Stanley Cup expectations this season isn’t a cardinal sin, but rather a reflection of hockey’s fluidity. It’s not about lowering standards, but raising awareness of the new NHL economic reality. The super teams have gone the way of the dinosaur.

“Our fourth line in 2002 when we won the Cup, our fourth line, was Igor Larionov, Luc Robitaille and Tomas Holmstrom,” Holland said before the Wings’ scrimmage Tuesday at Compuware Arena in Plymouth. “That was our fourth line! Two Hall of Famers even before that season and one of the best net-front players the league has ever seen. You’re never going to see that again.”

Holland faces more challenges than usual entering Saturday’s opener in St. Louis.

He doesn’t really have a No. 1 defenseman after Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement.

How will a secondary scoring line emerge if the Wings remain insistent of keeping new captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the No. 1 line?

And what will happen on special teams — especially the power play — without Lidstrom at the point, improving the chances of consistently getting a clear shot on net?

With all the questions, Holland concedes there’s a little extra anticipation this season. But he tempers that with the realization that he’s no different than other GM right now. Many are confident about their team’s chances, but few are certain.

“If we get the improvements we want, we can be the best team in the Western Conference,” he said, “but if we don’t get them, it might be a struggle even making the playoffs. But you’ve got to understand that we’re doing this on the fly. We want to compete for the Cup this year, but we also want to compete for it in 2016.”

Holland told the audience at the monthly luncheon Wednesday that he believes Detroit will be one of the cities that will forgive the NHL much faster than others after the 113-day lockout. He called the Wings’ fans’ massive response to the team scrimmage Tuesday night at Compuware Arena “incredible.”

He also confirmed that the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2014 will be at Michigan Stadium with the Wings as host.

The fans, though embittered, will return.

But it’s now up to Holland to make them understand that what they’ve come to expect from the Wings might not be what they see this season — and how that isn’t necessarily disastrous.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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