For the first time in a quarter century, and the first time in my life, the Detroit Red Wings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Twenty-five straight years, and no more. Many great players played for the Wings in that time, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, and those are just some I can think of. There were also guys that rarely get mentioned on those great teams. Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Danny Cleary, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, and more. But this isn’t about the past, or even the present. This is what lies ahead for the Red Wings.
There were few bright spots for the Wings this past season. Jimmy Howard was among the league’s best goaltenders when healthy, Henrik Zetterberg was Detroit’s best player by a country mile, and youngsters Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou had solid seasons when they weren’t healthy scratches. Dylan Larkin experienced a sophomore slump, but still had a respectable season.
There were more disappointments than bright spots though, as it was an overall terrible season by Red Wings standards. The defense left their goalie out to dry on numerous occasions, and never really hit a groove. The one bright spot that comes to mind is Nick Jensen coming up and playing his way to a contract extension. Petr Mrazek left a lot to be desired early in the season, but improved his play significantly after his birthday.
What’s next? The expansion draft is coming up, meaning Detroit will lose one of their players. Most notably, Dylan Larkin and Evgeny Svechnikov are automatically protected, which means Detroit need not ‘waste’ a protection slot on them. Frans Nielsen has a no-move clause, so Detroit must protect him. And there’s no way Zetterberg is not protected. That leaves just 5 slots left for forwards. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist will likely be protected, as well as Justin Abdelkader. You’d have to think that Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou would be the final 2 forwards protected. However, that leaves Ken Holland’s extension fiasco’s of Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan exposed. However, I feel leaving the two exposed to be able to keep the future bright and start another long playoff streak is more than worth it. In terms of defenseman, Danny DeKeyser will likely be protected, alongside Mike Green. That leaves one spot, Niklas Kronwall has had injury trouble the last few years, so I don’t personally think he will be protected. Nick Jensen, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet are the other three vying for that last protection slot. Jensen played well after being called up, as did Sproul. Ouellet went unnoticed all season, for the most part, which could be interpreted in more ways then one, but if a defenseman goes unnoticed, that usually means they’re not doing anything wrong. I personally believe that final slot will go to Nick Jensen, Holland clearly has faith in him after handing him an extension during the season, and he played well enough to warrant being protected. Finally, there’s the goalie protection. Does that go to Petr Mrazek or Jimmy Howard? Both are No. 1 goalies, and have proven so at different times. Howard has a massive contract to go with his name, and he’s a bit older. Mrazek has a much smaller contract, he’s younger, and has shown flashes of excellence when healthy and not age 24. I think Mrazek would be the smarter choice for protection because I don’t believe Howard will be picked by Las Vegas, and if Holland feels it’s necessary, Howard can be used as trade bait.
What’s next? Many fans were calling for Jeff Blashill’s head this season, as he led the team to a mediocre season at best. Fans were also calling for Ken Holland’s head. Both Blashill and Holland made questionable decisions this year, but one stuck out to me the most. Blashill healthy scratched Andreas Athanasiou on multiple occasions, because he had him on a leash shorter than a lima bean. Credit where credit is due though, I did like what Holland did at the trade deadline, moving a few pieces away for draft picks. Tomas Jurco for a third-rounder was my personal favorite, because it got rid of dead wood for a relatively high draft pick.
After this season, many fans are asking themselves, “What’s next?” I can’t tell you what’s next, but I can say with near certainty that it will be a much different Detroit Red Wings team next season. One that will be hungry to make it back to the postseason. Ken Holland will do whatever he can to rebuild on the fly so this franchise doesn’t have to go through the pain of losing.