April 15, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock talks to left wing Tomas Holmstrom (96), right wing Johan Franzen (93), center Pavel Datsyuk (13), center Henrik Zetterberg (40), and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55) during a timeout of game three of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena. Nashville won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The Red Wings Take A Step Back This Offseason

The Detroit Red Wings have to be considered the old guard of the NHL.  Much like the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA or the New England Patriots of the NFL, the Red Wings are a wily veteran team that makes the playoffs every year, draft well in every round, have one of the league’s best head coaches, generous owners, and a Hall of Fame-bound superstar.  The Red Wings are a great franchise in general, there’s no doubt about it.

But as good as the Wings are and have been, this is a time of huge transition for the franchise.  The best defenseman and captain of his generation, Nicklas Lidstrom; is officially retired, stalwart Swedes Johan Franzén and Tomas Holmström are getting up there in age, especially Holmström, who is 39 years old; and the team’s recent playoff performances have left much to be desired.  They’re a series of question that the team has wanted to avoid for a long time, but now they’re here and need to be answered.

The issue really isn’t whether or not the Red Wings will make the playoffs.  With Pavel Dastyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top line, Mike Babcock behind the bench, and Jimmy Howard between the pipes, playoffs are as close to a guarantee as ever.  They have been in the postseason for 21 straight years, after all.  The Red Wings are a great team at home and have a great system to pile up regular system points.  They have things down to a science in Motor City.

The only issue is where they can go after they make the playoffs.  Consider their performance last year.  They lost in five games to the Nashville Predators, a good team no doubt but expectations were certainly much higher.  With the streak of 23 games in a row won at home earlier in the season, the gameplan was to pick up all the home games and take one or two games on the road.  With many speculating that it could be Lidstrom’s last playoff run, that would be added impetus for the team to make a serious Cup run.  It ended too soon as far as I’m concerned.

So after last year’s disappointment and the new, very large hole left by Nick Lidstrom on the blue line, most people expected the Red Wings to make a trade, get a big name, or do something sexy to put the franchise back on the track to win some Cups.  GM Ken Holland signed Jonas Gustavsson, Jordin Tootoo, and Mikael Samuelsson.  Each are serviceable in their own ways, but none are exciting talent most fans expected to see.  With the names of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Shea Weber being thrown around connected to the Red Wings, it’s easy to see how many fans and media members have been let down.  Nobody came in to “replace” Lidstrom, nobody came in to noticeably increase scoring, nobody came in to bring fans out of their seats.  People will surely still pack the Joe, but I’m sure the paying fans would’ve liked to see a step forward this offseason, not a retreat.

Of course, it’s too early to say if the Red Wings really will struggle in the playoffs for years to come.  As the LA Kings showed, a hot goalie and a consistent offense can take you the entire way.  However, it doesn’t look like – at least on paper- that there has been a substantial improvement on the roster.  This team will always be dangerous, but it seems more mortal than it has in a good number of years.

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Tags: Henrik Zetterberg Jonas Gustavsson Jordin Tootoo Ken Holland Mikael Samuelsson Mike Babcock Nicklas Lidstrom Pavel Datsyuk

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