There’s a painful rebuild in Red Wings’ future

NEW ERA: The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs this season for the first time in 26 years. (Pioneer file photo)

NEW ERA: The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs this season for the first time in 26 years. (Pioneer file photo)

DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings closed out hockey at Joe Louis Arena last Sunday with a postgame ceremony that was both stirring and puzzling.

Hockeytown heroes of the past came back to don the Winged Wheel once more. The fans soaked in every last drop of nostalgia and roared over and over again each time an eight-tentacled cephalopod struck the ice.

Throwing an octopus onto the ice has long symbolized playoff hockey for the Wings. On that night, it had to simply serve as a reminder of all the great hockey that had once been played at the Joe.

NHL playoff hockey has continued without the Wings for the first time in 26 seasons.

The Wings chose a perfect way to end this last trip down memory lane. After speeches from Scotty Bowman and former Wings captain Steve Yzerman, the fans sang along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’ ” which prompted goosebumps.

Now the Wings have to hope their fans haven’t stopped believing.

The Wings will open Little Caesars Arena to much hoopla next season. A modern arena will come with a lot of bells and whistles.

Fans lucky enough to get tickets for the home opener should experience the euphoria similar to that first ride one gets driving a new car off the lot.

Just as that new car smell quickly fades, the reality of a multiyear car payment soon sets in. Similarly, fans will quickly realize the Wings aren’t going to be a very good team over the next few seasons.

The end of the playoff streak is the beginning of what should be a painful rebuild. The Wings have a number of bad contracts, not to mention aging players like defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who said he plans to continue playing even though he has a bad knee that can’t be fixed by a surgery.

Owner Chris Ilitch gave a vote of confidence to general manager Ken Holland on Tuesday, saying “we are all disappointed in this season” but yet “we have 100% confidence in Ken Holland.”

That Ilitch felt the need to give Holland a vote of confidence is surprising. Holland’s contract runs through 2017-18. So ownership will ultimately either show him that confidence by offering a contract extension or show him the door.

One of the strangest scenes last Sunday was the brief glimpse Fox Sports Detroit showed of Holland watching the postgame farewell from his usual perch high above the ice. He should have been down on the ice with the who’s who of former Wings that helped win their last four Stanley Cups.

A large faction of fans sent their own message, chanting “Come home, Stevie!” to Yzerman, who is currently the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Holland didn’t help his own cause by saying he doesn’t believe in a long-term rebuild despite a number of issues with this team. The Wings don’t have a No.1 defenseman. They really don’t have a No.2 defenseman. And getting one in the near future is going to be a near-impossible task. Call it whatever you want, but it’s going to be a rebuild.

The Wings need more out of their core of younger players, including Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek, but it’s entirely possible that those players won’t get better.

That captain Henrik Zetterberg, at 36, was the team’s best player was an indictment on the rest of the roster.

If the Wings don’t get back in the playoffs next year, fans may stop believing and then stop coming to the new barn.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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