It’s going to be a long year for the Red Wings
A common phrase we’ve heard as sports fans is that patience is a virtue, that waiting for something without getting upset or angry is something that we all should aspire to do.
Well, for Detroit Red Wings fans, that could be a difficult task this season as all signs are pointing to be a long year full of bumps, bruises and probably not very good hockey.
Last year, the Red Wings — at 30-39-13 had the 27th “best” record in the NHL — left storied Joe Louis Arena and moved into the sparkling, brand-new Little Caesar’s Arena.
Little Caesar’s likes to pride itself on having “hot and ready” pizza, but the product on the ice last year was more like cold and stale. That doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
The Wings have all but been clipped at this point. For the past few years, Detroit has operated under the mindset that they must keep that playoff streak alive, even though they’d be most likely brushed aside in the first round. The powers in charge figured that fans would rather have that than trying to rebuild and become a legit Stanley Cup title contender.
It took not making the postseason in 2017 for the idea of a rebuilding process to finally sink in to general manager Ken Holland, who somehow managed to get a two-year contract extension despite providing a subpar show for the past couple of years.
You’ll be getting that same type of entertainment this season at LCA, but there are signs that things might be moving in the right direction.
Longtime fan favorite Henrik Zetterberg has unfortunately limped into retirement, but other forwards are talented and hungry.
Dylan Larkin is seen as the next Wings superstar like Pavel Datsyuk was before him, and he very well could be, as he’s coming off of a breakout 63-point season.
Highly-touted draft pick Filip Zadina has started to show signs of improvement already and netted the overtime winner in Wednesday’s preseason game against Boston. The bad news is that he’ll probably start the year in the AHL down in Grand Rapids, so fans won’t get to see what he can do right away, but that’ll probably be better for everyone.
Anthony Mantha looked reliable last year, and although he can be frustrating at times, Andreas Athanasiou is a solid player.
When you combine all them with veterans like Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen, there’s a lot of potential there.
One question is which Thomas Vanek will show up — the guy who can still put up 30 to 40 points a year or the journeyman who has been dangled as trade bait the last couple of seasons. The Wings need him to be the former, but at this point in his career, it could also be the latter.
Speaking of veterans on the decline, that’s a good way to describe the back end of the Red Wings roster.
The defense is aging and even though Mike Green has been great in his tenure so far, he’s getting hit with injuries and is currently battling a viral infection that is attacking his liver. As a result, Detroit doesn’t know when he’ll be back in the lineup, which isn’t the best way to start the year.
Niklas Kronwall still distributes assists at a high level, but other than that, there’s not a lot there. The blue line is slow in a high-octane league, which doesn’t bode well for Detroit.
Then there’s the goaltending, which (sigh) looks like a hospital wing. Jimmy Howard is still the starter after all these years, but he’s been racked with injuries and his contract is monstrous for a team that is trying to look to the future.
He’s also in the last year of his contract, so this might be his last year in the Motor City as well as his last as a No. 1 netminder. Howard has now been joined by Jonathan Bernier, who has also battled the injury bug, but has proven to be a serviceable backup.
The Wings aren’t planning for the future when it comes to goaltending, and they don’t have anybody waiting in the “wings,” so this looks like a year where Detroit does the best with the hand it’s been dealt and will just refocus when the season ends.
That’s exactly what Red Wings fans need to do as well, refocus. Things aren’t the way they were before, and you may not even recognize the whole team anymore, but that’s just how things need to be if Detroit wants to build up another lengthy playoff streak or a Stanley Cup win.
The Wings are going to have to draft high, draft well and develop those picks.
That’s going to take a long time, so patience will be needed not only this year, but probably the next couple as well.
This year, the “meal” that you pay for at LCA this year will definitely not be “hot and ready.” However, if we all give the oven time to warm up, we could be satisfied for the long run.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.