One only has to look back to the previous summer to see why the "Winged Wheelers" were sent packing after the 1st round for the first time since 2001. The team lost Brian Rafalski to an unexpected retirement. It was sad to see because he was a very gifted Dman, the perfect partner for Nick (right-handed shot), and a native Detroiter. He just could not stay healthy and his body told him it was time. Sad...yes. However, he had a big contract and opened up a chunk of cap space. Logic would say Holland would spend to bring in talent....he did not. He brought in Mike Commodore for cheap (ultimately traded for a tube of Ben-Gay) and Ian White. White actually was pretty good but hardly a replacement for Raffy. Basically, the same team that was eliminated in round 2 by the Sharks in the previous 2 years was brought back, minus Rafalski. However, we had a ton of cap space that was said to be used at the deadline to bolster the lineup. Okay cool. We will revisit this later.
The Pre-All Star Wings looked great (in the standings). They looked energized, dedicated to team defense, and Howard was statistically one of the best in the biz. As a team they touted the league's best record and looked to be among the favorites once again to raise Lord Stanley's Cup. Oh yeah, how could we forget that the team also set the record for longest home winning streak at 23 games? That indeed was magical and incredibly fun to witness. Ho-hum Red Wings regular season, right? Well, yes except there were nagging issues that were overlooked due to the early success. There were 3, in my opinion, that were the most troublesome (and would prove to be their demise).
- 1.) The powerplay/inconsistent scoring. Typically, when you think of a Red Wings hockey team you think of high-powered scoring with a lethal powerplay. Not so much in 2012. The Wings hovered around the middle of the pack to the low end in terms of powerplay efficiency. By the end of the season they were around 20th in the league. This team has lacked a true scorer (minus Franzen) since the likes of Shanny, Hull, Fedorov, and Hossa have departed. While Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Fil are very very good players, they are pass first playmakers...not scorers. This made for a very frustrating powerplay of useless passing of the puck and one and done shots. During the 1st half, the defense and their 3rd and 4th lines were scoring at will. Most knew deep down this would dry up eventually. This could be fixed at the deadline, right?
- 2.) The habit of not showing up until the 3rd period. I am a geek but I unfortunately do not have the figures as to how many times they played terrible to start the game and fell behind 1-2 goals early. Now many times they would look like world beaters in the 3rd and tie/win the game, force OT and maybe win in a shootout. Not recipe for long-lasting success, especially in the playoffs. They said all the right things over and over and over again to the media but it never really changed.
- 3.) Inability to win on the road. I had said all year that the Wings were a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde hockey team. For most of the year they held the league's best home record and, for 23 straight games, simply did not lose at the Joe. Then they would go on the road and look like a completely different team and get shelled by just about anyone. The thrashing the lowly Islanders handed the boys was a perfect example. They were below .500 at times away from home. How is that possible? I really am asking because I still just don't get it. Frustrating team to watch at times.
Most were hoping with all the cap money we would solve our biggest issue (scoring) come deadline. Well we made moves but not the type that raises your denim. We traded Commodore for a late pick and forfeited our 1st round pick for Kyle Quincey. Yes the same Kyle Quincey we waived a few years back. No scoring help. No aggressiveness by Holland...AGAIN. This team that was banged up and had struggled to score consistently all year and had a mediocre powerplay would be the one we would see come playoffs. Meanwhile, many teams in the West, especially Nashville made bold moves to stock up for a run.
The injuries continued and the losses mounted and suddenly the Wings were scratching and clawing to secure a 5 seed. Wait! The Red Wings a 5 seed? Yep, you read right. And they would face the new-look and improved Preds and open on the road nonetheless. I predicted Preds in 6. I was being optimistic I guess. Nashville took advantage of the Wings' lack of scoring depth, loss of Helm for the playoffs with a lacerated wrist, and sloppy play in their own end. It was over quickly in 5.
Here we sit once again in May watching younger, hungrier, faster teams prepare for the conference finals. And once again, Holland sat on a ton of cap space, kept the same team, expected different results. Well he got them...a 1st round K.O. For the 1st time Holland and Company will have a boat load of cash available. Below are the necessary changes:
- Lidstrom returns but for way less than his $6M per year for one last shot.
- Stuart will be a UFA and wants to go to Cali to be with his family...buh-bye
- Hudler will be a UFA...small, slow, stats inflated by playing with Zetterberg and Flip...waste of cap space/ice time/top 6 spot...see ya...let the Leafs overpay
- Holmstrom it's been real and we appreciate all you have done but it is time...just not getting it done anymore...time to retire
- Zach Parise...true goal scorer, young, passionate, fast, PP, PK, 5-on-5 beast...exactly what the team needs...pay the man get him in red and white!
- Ryan Suter...the next defensive NHL stud Dman...we saw it 1st hand...young, great defensively, smart, logs ton of minutes...eventual Nick replacement...make him an offer he can't refuse.
P.S. Future posts will not be quite as long...season summaries tend to be lengthy...DEAL WITH IT!