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The Malik Report

The end of the Wings as we know them?

From about mid-February onward, and even if the Red Wings don’t win another playoff game this spring, I have and will continue to maintain the opinion that the Wings’ conscious decision to not replace the leadership of Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski on the ice, bench and in the locker room, the turnover that is breaking in two assistant coaches at the NHL level, the team’s inability to find a puck-mover of Rafalski’s caliber and the coach and management’s decision to sink or swim with what are “youngsters” by Wings standards in players like Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Cory Emmerton, Jonathan Ericsson Niklas Kronwall, Ian White and Jimmy Howard instead yielded and will probably result in what we’d deem a “rebuilding” year—or perhaps a “reloading” one by Wings standards—and I think the growing pains and likely off-season roster-bolstering via free agency (barring any decisions by Nicklas Lidstrom to do other things than continue to play hockey) were probably all accounted for prior to the commencement of the 2011-2012 regular season.

The Wings’ lack of swagger and media-inflated status as underdogs extraordinaire against the Nashville Predators have many pundits insisting that the window of opportunity has closed on Detroit once and for good in a league where one supposedly cannot win without superstars in their early 20’s on the roster, and the Fan 590’s Greg Brady offers a lengthy suggestion that the wings are too old and that their prospect cupboard is too bare for them to continue to succeed in the post-season:

I can honestly say this is the first year I’ve looked at the Red Wings since 1993 and not seen a Stanley Cup contender.  The first year if you’d give me only five teams that could/should win the Stanley Cup (and usually there aren’t any more than five) that the Red Wings aren’t on the list.  That’s a hell of a run, and I’m not sure the Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs any time soon, but I really do believe that more talented teams than Detroit (San Jose, for example) have missed recently, or almost missed this year as the Sharks nearly did.

San Jose’s roster was lauded in two tight series against Detroit for having many more talented younger players, and some of those have been high draft picks, but others have developed through their system.  Who’s Detroit’s best player under 30?  Well, it’s either Val Filppula or Ian White and both are 27 years old.  There’s really no other options, and nothing against Jimmy Howard, who’s one of the best twelve or fifteen goalies in the NHL, but I’m not so sure he’s elite either.  That’s not even to say Howard may not be better than Chris Osgood as a “skilled” goalie but he hasn’t got near the team in front of him any of Vernon, Osgood, Hasek, or, yes, Curtis Joseph had, in the last 18 years or so.  Let’s not forget this team made a star out of Manny Legace, a journeyman goalie before he got to Detroit, and a journeyman goalie after he left Detroit, with no playoff round wins, I should add.

San Jose’s players under 30 who are better than any of their under-30 Red Wings counterparts?  Sit down, I don’t want your joints to stiffen up.  Logan Couture (22), Joe Pavelski (27), Ryane Clowe (28), Brent Burns (26), Jamie McGinn (23), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (24).  That’s not to say Filppula isn’t “better” than McGinn right now, for example, but it speaks to what a seemingly now “average” Western Conference team like the Sharks have that the Red Wings don’t.

Are the Wings to blame for this?  If you can’t sign young players via free agency, and for the most point, you cannot as UFAs anymore, and teams aren’t stupid enough to trade elite talent in their early-to-mid 20s to your team, then how do you get them?
Ken Holland’s been a fantastic general manager in Detroit, and likely has a job for the rest of his career, and he boldly dismissed an out-of-his-element Dave Lewis after only two playoff runs and Lewis alienating Curtis Joseph, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Thomas, and Brett Hull.  He hired the coach most fanbases dream of having in Mike Babcock.  It’s hard to say Holland has done anything less than a very good (at the worst of times) to an exceptional beyond belief (at the best of times) job.  For every brilliant trade or free-agent masterstroke there’s a signing of a Derien Hatcher or Uwe Krupp. 

But Holland’s never had the luxury of having bluechippers show up at the age of 18 or 19 ready to contribute, and certainly very few recently.  The evolution of the Red Wings over the next three years and certainly for the first couple post-Lidstrom years will be downright fascinating.  You, as a Red Wings fan, can be as loyal as you’d like to be towards Lidstrom, but isn’t the best thing for the FUTURE of the Red Wings for Lidstrom to retire this summer, and for the Red Wings to be able to sign Ryan Suter or Zach Parise?  It’s been a while since the Red Wings have signed or even been able to sign financially an elite free-agent.  That player was Marian Hossa and both player and team could only commit to one year and the Red Wings still won fifteen playoff games that season.

For the record, I still think the Red Wings are winning this series against Nashville — they were a lousy road team much of the year, so winning once in Game 2 or Game 5 in Nashville and protecting home ice isn’t forecasting some tremendous surprise…but it is the first time I look at the Red Wings and will be SHOCKED if they end up in the Stanley Cup Finals, and, again, imagine being SHOCKED the Yankees are in the World Series or Patriots are in the Super Bowl.  We’re not there yet — I think we are with the Winged Wheelers.

I’ve seen some of the Wings’ best prospects, and especially the European and college-aged ones who don’t participate in training camp, for more than a few summers now, so I tend to believe that there are gems yet to be discovered by those outside of Detroit in the prospect pipeline, and I don’t buy the concept that a team must be built around superstars 25 years of age and younger to succeed over the long haul—the Wings haven’t done that since around the time Brady suggests they were last not a Cup contender—but it’s up to Holland, Jim Nill, the Wings’ management, coaching staff and especially the players to prove the pundits wrong all over again…

After a season that feels as much like a leadership changeover year as the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons combined. Detroit’s core has sank, swam and struggled over various courses of time, and what they do over this playoff run and the following regular and post-seasons will truly tell the tale as to whether the Wings’ window of championship opportunity has closed.

Detroit’s been too old and too slow and too small since 1994, however, and I’m not about to count them out just yet.

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Vladimir16's avatar

I’m not sceeeered. I’ve heard the retoric before and will hear it again…... I’m just not a very good “listener”.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 04/12/12 at 01:51 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

I see this more as the Wings evolving.  The reality of the salary cap means that the Wings can’t simply reload every year like they could back in ‘02.  Big deal, the Wings are living in the same world as the 29 other teams.  The Wings are gonna be fine.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 04/12/12 at 01:56 PM ET

Primis's avatar

The problem is that this year, it’s not a matter of “too old” or “too slow” like it has been in the past.  It’s literally just “not good enough”.  And 83 games of evidence now seems to back it up honestly…

The team is really missing something this time around.  I don’t think the desire is there and there’s no Yzerman, Chelios, Shanahan, or Draper in the room with that kind of personality to demand and right the ship.

Posted by Primis on 04/12/12 at 01:56 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

George, I am not counting the Wings out by any means.  That was a close game last night.  Had we not lost Helmer - and that is a huge loss - and had the Preds not gotten a couple of lucky bounces (I loved it when Babcock said, “Those pucks had eyes on their first two goals”) the Wings could have won last night. Add to that all the time the Wings spent on the PK - successfully I might add - limiting the minutes of some players who could have chipped in more.

I believe the Wings can still do it.

With Helm out, though, someone has to step up and be a force on that third line.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 04/12/12 at 01:59 PM ET

bigdee89's avatar

Wow don’t hit the panic button yet!  It’s only one game and I thought besides Stuart the Wings played their strongest game in a long time.  This post is a bit premature I think.

Posted by bigdee89 from The Great White North Eh? on 04/12/12 at 02:07 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Wondering if the third line will be Miller/Abby/Cleary and the fourth line Nyquist/Emmerton/Homer.  I’d love to see Connor get back in there somehow and wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of Sheahan, if just for his size.

I was just looking at the player stats from last night.  Brad Stuart was -3.  I really am concerned that “the decision” has caused him to lose focus.  He has always been so solid and reliable.

And yes, on the broader issue of the “State of the Wings” - it sucks when you’re so good that you never get high draft picks and no one wants to make reasonable trades with you.  I think Holland and Company have done wonders with the roster under the circumstances. 

I think the days are gone when any team is going to be able to have the dominance the Wings have enjoyed for so long.  Parity may make Gary Bettman happy, but it sucks.  No Prince Fielder-type deals can happen for the Wings anymore.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 04/12/12 at 02:08 PM ET

BrendonTO's avatar

It’s literally just “not good enough”.  And 83 games of evidence now seems to back it up honestly…

I think pulling off the NHL’s longest-ever home winning streak would indicate otherwise.

Posted by BrendonTO on 04/12/12 at 02:09 PM ET

shazam88's avatar

The problem is that this year, it’s not a matter of “too old” or “too slow” like it has been in the past.  It’s literally just “not good enough”.  And 83 games of evidence now seems to back it up honestly…

The team is really missing something this time around.  I don’t think the desire is there and there’s no Yzerman, Chelios, Shanahan, or Draper in the room with that kind of personality to demand and right the ship.

Posted by Primis on 04/12/12 at 11:56 AM ET

Not a Wings fan but I think there has to be something to your point, simply based on the disparity between home and away play.  Leadership and guts make a big difference on the road.

Other than that, injuries clearly showed a lack of depth, but all those things can be fixed without blowing the team up.

Posted by shazam88 from SoCal on 04/12/12 at 02:13 PM ET


Holland will HAVE to finally open that wallet up a little wider this off season and land Parise and Sutter. Only way the Wings will avoid a ‘re-build’ because once Lidstrom is gone we’re f_cked son.

Posted by Malik_is_alive. on 04/12/12 at 02:18 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

We’ve been hearing the too old and slow talk for years and they still managed to pull four Stanley Cups out of their asses.  That’s more than all the “young” teams by far.  I still think Nashville will win this series, but not because the Wings are old.

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 04/12/12 at 02:32 PM ET

42jeff's avatar

Wait…the Wings are old?

Wow.  First time I’ve heard that.

Posted by 42jeff from The greater Howard City, MI metroplex on 04/12/12 at 02:35 PM ET

MOWingsfan19's avatar

I think pulling off the NHL’s longest-ever home winning streak would indicate otherwise

Quite a few of those games were gifts & we’ve had long spells of lackaisical play,“not being hard enough to play against”, “not starting on time” ad nauseam.
Not too mention horrid specialty teams over that same time frame.
Changes need to be made, complacency has somewhat set which coupled with a lack of steel willed leadership (not a knock on Lids by any means) is just plain bad I don’t see it as an age issue as the media twits do.

Posted by MOWingsfan19 from I really like our team on 04/12/12 at 02:39 PM ET


Here’s an argument that never gets old.

Posted by Red Winger from work on 04/12/12 at 02:39 PM ET

babymachine's avatar

Take away Nashville’s fluky first goal (you could even say their second goal was fluky, as well) and the Wings win Game 1, even with Rinne making unbelievable saves.

Posted by babymachine from Portland, Oregon by way of Macomb, Michigan on 04/12/12 at 03:43 PM ET

joedaiceman's avatar

One loss and the world is coming to an end as we know it. Pure bullshit ...

Posted by joedaiceman on 04/12/12 at 04:10 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

Point, babymachine.

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 04/12/12 at 04:13 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Of course the Wings are going to run into a massive change very soon. Lidstrom is going to retire sooner than later. Not really a surprise here.

The organization is still strong and while it will likely take at least a few years post-Lidstrom to get back to being a Cup contender, they will still have the talent to be a playoff team. And as we all know, in the NHL unlike any other sport, just get into the dance and you are essentially a “Cup contender.”

The point about Howard is silly and contradictory. The team in front of him has fallen from the elite, but Howard only looks good because the team in front of him is so good? Guys like Lundqvist, Thomas, Rinne, and Ward certainly have the track records and high talent level to be considered better than Howard. But what about that next echelon of guys you’d consider #5, 6, or 7? Ryan Miller has had wildly inconsistent performances the last few years, but when he’s on he sure it dominant. Broduer is near the end of the line. There’s legitimate concern Luongo isn’t even the best goalie on his team any more. Howard is pretty damn good, and he stacks up just fine. Goalie used to be the easy scapegoat for this team, and it isn’t any more. Time for the lazy fans and media to get a new pariah when things do go right for the Wings.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 04/12/12 at 05:15 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.