What a season for the Detroit Red Wings. It is hard to put into words what exactly just happened over the past 4.5 months that was the NHL lockout shortened season (that cancelled the Winter Classic). However, I am going to look back and try to understand a season of ups and downs that, in my opinion, was a success and how it effects this team going forward.
A few things that need to be pointed out above all else, because I feel the fan base takes a few things for granted:
- Mike Babcock is (if not the) one of the top coaches in the NHL. It was written about by the mittenstringers at the Freep and News that if the Wings didn’t make the playoffs, Babcock should be on the hot seat. That is beyond absurd. Not only would Babcock have a job before leaving the building but at least 5 teams in the NHL would be willing to fire their coach just to bring Babcock on board. Babcock didn’t have much to work with this season, especially on Defense and not only had the Wings competing, he ultimately took a team that was left for dead with a few weeks left to within one goal of the Conference Finals. DO NOT QUESTION BABCOCK.
- Jimmy Howard is your #1 goalie. Howard proved that he can carry a team. Howard is a top end goalie in the NHL and does not need Wings fans thinking back to the mid 90’s days when they were bringing in every goalie available to improve. Not many out there will be an improvement on the 29 year old All Star.
The season had its ups and downs. A lot of question marks through out the year and there is the obvious items, like Henrik Zetterberg is a great leader and the right Captain for this team; Pavel Datsyuk is still one of the best two way players in the NHL and Valterri Filpula proved he is a top 6 forward, not a top 3.
There were also some important revelations that there is no way Ken Holland missed: Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samulsson are broke down and their “experience” doesn’t outweigh the speed and eagerness of the strong, skilled youth that sits in Grand Rapids. Danny Clearly is stepping into that boat as well, as he looked like he didn’t belong skating with Zetterberg as he was mostly clogging up the play or lagging behind.
But, the most important parts of the youth movement are:
- Danny DeKeyser, who was missed big time in the Blackhawks series, has the potential to be a top pairing Defensman in the NHL. Next season, with Kronwall and Eriksson playing the top pair, Quincy or Kindl and DeKeyser will make a solid 2nd pairing and the other with Brendan Smith on the 3rd pair, suddenly the weakest part of the Red Wings team is solidified and an asset.
- Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist showed the Red Wings are still great at uncovering talent in the later rounds that will become solid NHL players. Andersson and Nyqiust should make up 2/3rds of a 3rd or even 2nd line next season and be given more responsibility as they showed they are much more valuable than the aforementioned Bertuzzi, Samulsson and Cleary.
- Petr Mrazek, the 21 year old phenom goalie in Grand Rapids is the goalie of the future. This has nothing to do with next year but is worth noting because he’s pretty damn good.
Looking forward, the Red Wings are in a good position to “Rebuild on the fly” and don’t look like a team that will go into the tank for a few seasons to stock up on top of the draft talent (known and the Pittsburgh model) and although, maybe not a series Cup contender, still have a fantastic shot at continuing the NHL record playoff run and as the Kings showed last year and they tried to show this year: just make the dance and anything can happen.
The season may have ended on a sour note, but remember a few things:
- This team needed to win on the final day of the NHL regular season to make the playoffs and had to win their last 4 games as well. They did that. Then they pushed the top team in the NHL to the brink, OT in Game 7 of the 2nd round. This experience is fantastic as this team moves forward and it felt like playing with house money the second they made the playoffs.
- Injuries played a big part of the struggles, Darren Helm was missed immensely, Drew Miller’s time out was a big loss and the injury to DeKeyser right after finding his grove and again, just 1 goal or good bounce away from the Conference Finals. This season was a success.
- Ken Holland was criticized for not spending on Free Agents the past two seasons (I called for his head, maybe a bit of an over reaction) but at this point he looks like a genius as the youth is developing into solid contributors. And at least 8 NHL teams have huge salary cap issues going into next year and the Red Wings do not and could take advantage of some of the players that were compliance buyouts and looking for teams to put them over the top for a Stanley Cup.
Ken Holland has a few decisions to make, mostly on letting a few of the veterans go to make way for the young contributors, but the salary cap situation is not an issue in Detroit and the roster shouldn’t have very much turn over going into 2013-14. The paint isn’t even dry on the 2013 season, but in sports, you always have to be looking forward.