It’s hard to fathom this: it really is.
The Detroit Red Wings are the worst hockey team in the NHL. And by a wide margin.
The Dead Wings 2.0 are alive and well.
But was it supposed to be this way?
Detroit from 1993-2014 had two coaches running the show: Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock (Dave Lewis coached in between them for two years but hadn’t the same success as they were early playoff exits in 03 and 04). Bowman and Babcock ended up getting to a combined 6 Stanley Cup Finals and 4 Stanley Cups in that run.
Now a part of it was obviously in a different timeline where there was no salary cap in place from 1993-2004 and the Wings spent, spent, spent on whoever they could spend on (having Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek, etc. all at once which would have put any NBA super-team to shame).
When you are able to play with the owner’s money (such as the case for Detroit when they had Mike Ilitch running things), you can do a lot.
Even after the early salary cap years, the Red Wings had a lot going for them. They were able to replenish the legends with youngsters who stepped up like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Nicklas Kronwall, etc. and still remained atop of the Western Conference until 2009 after their heartbreaking 7-game loss to the Penguins in the Cup Finals.
The Red Wings tailed off a good bit after that, making poor move after poor move, signing the likes of Mike Commodore, Stephen Weiss (to replace Filppula), Jordin Tootoo, and others. And after a transition from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, the Red Wings fell into the middle tier of NHL teams. Mike Babcock left Detroit to coach for rival Toronto. The Wings brought in Jeff Blashill, their coach of their Minor League affiliate in Grand Rapids. At the time, it didn’t seem like it was a bad decision. Blashill had really groomed the Wings players for Babcock to be competitive while Grand Rapids would find themselves in constant contention in the AHL.
Blashill got the Wings in the playoffs for the 25th straight season in 2016, but the last two years the Wings haven’t come close to seeing a playoff game.
And this year? The Red Wings are trying to have the highest probability of getting the #1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Fans are up in arms at Blashill, who turned a legendary franchise to an absolute mess.
Is it fair to blame Jeff Blashill for all of Detroit’s shortcomings? Moves made by Ken Holland, the longtime Wings general manager have really come under scrutiny for the past 8-9 years. Letting certain players like Filppula walk and signing the likes of Weiss (who was oft injured and did not perform well when he wasn’t) stung this team. The drafts and such have been horrid. Yes, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin give some Wings fans hope, but not much as the team doesn’t have the same NHL caliber players like the rest of the league and a very far cry of what Hockeytown (which has a feel of Hockey-ghost-town right now) had.
Seeing the Wings play this year has been a disappointment to say the least. Detroit just looks over-matched, outworked, outplayed, and just have no answers for anything. It is a problem. I didn’t expect a whole lot for Detroit in 2018-2019 but to be at least a little competitive wouldn’t have hurt. There is no motivation for what the team has right now and yes, that should fall under Blashill a good bit. They are not just losing, but getting thumped by opposing teams now (8-2 in a loss to Boston then a 7-3 loss to Montreal last week, while being outscored 23-9 in the last 5 games). It is simple: the players aren’t listening anymore to Blashill.
There was a small hint of excitement early on in the off-season for Red Wings fans as Detroit hired former Stanley Cup winning coach Dan Bylsma as an assistant. It had fans wondering if Blashill IS fired, Bylsma would be the guy to take over. Of course, some knocks on Bylsma was he won a Cup with the names of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Fleury stitched onto the jerseys. But is Bylsma have all the answers? Probably not, but you just get the sense that Blashill right now is in way over his head and at least Bylsma had head coaching experience in Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
The other thing to consider is that Ken Holland has been under massive scrutiny for the last 5-6 years or so by Detroit. The moves he made have been questionable at best. And not having the money like he once had to get whoever he liked such as Hull and Hasek while being able to keep Yzerman, Lidstrom, etc. in the fold has really shown he may not be the GM capable of the rebuild. Fans are really harping down Holland’s throat as well. He signed a contract extension for two years with the Wings, but we know that sometimes extensions don’t mean much unless there is a sick buyout clause which I don’t think there is.
The biggest news that got Red Wings fans excited came just before the season started and it didn’t involve them: Steve Yzerman was stepping down in Tampa Bay as their GM, though will serve in a senior advisor role with the team for one more season as he stated he wanted to be closer to his home and family….which happens to be Detroit. Many feel like after the 2019 season it will be an easy empty net goal for Yzerman, the Captain of Hockeytown to return. So firing Blashill and replacing him with Bylsma may not be ideal for anybody at this point. And firing Holland for an interim GM at this point may not happen especially if the interim GM knows that Yzerman may take the job after April.
So, until then the Detroit Red Wings may be the Dead Wings in a very big way in 2018-2019 and keeping Blashill and Holland around for the season seems still likely. And unfortunately there may not be anything anybody can do about it.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat