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Red Wings to stay clipped

Detroit professional sports teams are depressing right now with the majority of them looking like the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant.

How bad are things downtown? The historically cursed Lions have become the best team in the city.

The Tigers are atrocious, finishing with 114 losses and five games short of tying the team record for defeats set in 2003. In fact, they didn’t even finish out the season. With its doubleheader against the White Sox canceled last week due to rain, Detroit ended the year playing 161 games instead of 162. In a way, Tigers fans should thank Mother Nature as the season came to a merciful end sooner than expected.

The Pistons aren’t much better. Even after the making the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed last year, and picking up Derrick Rose and Tony Snell in the offseason to fix some issues, people aren’t exactly filled with confidence. The Detroit Free Press said last month that FiveThirtyEight.com predicted them to finish 37-45 and 10th in the Eastern Conference. ESPN was slightly more positive at 38-44 and ninth. Yikes.

Then there’s the Red Wings, who seem to sit right in the middle between the other two. They’re not flat-out awful, but they’re also not good enough to sniff the postseason.

The sports betting community certainly doesn’t thinks that way. According to SportsBettingDime.com, Detroit has 150-to-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, fourth worst in the NHL. The site also suggests that Wings head coach Jeff Blashill start polishing up his resume as he has 8-1 odds that he’ll be the first coach fired this year, second only to the Minnesota Wild’s Bruce Boudreau (7-1).

Barring a deep playoff run, Boudreau is almost guaranteed to be handed a pink slip this year and Blashill will most likely be dealt the same fate. That’s sad as he seemed to be in really good spirits when he was in Calumet last week for Kraft Hockeyville USA.

This year, the Steve Yzerman era begins after “The Captain” took over as general manager following Ken Holland’s reassignment before he took off for Edmonton.

You have to wonder if Yzerman took over as team captain as well, considering that Detroit has yet to assign the “C” to anyone yet.

What makes things even more interesting is that Yzerman hasn’t set a time frame for how long it will take before the Wings become a good team again, at least one worth watching.

Yzerman has already made some changes, but at the same time, kept things the same. The Wings got rid of aging Thomas Vanek, but also signed 35-year-old center Valtteri Filppula, who interestingly enough played his rookie season with Yzerman.

Injury-plagued goalie Jimmy Howard is back, but he’s only on a one-year contract, so his albatross of a long-term deal has come to an end.

As ESPN pointed out, Yzerman has a lot on his plate as he was stuck with seven players with no-trade clauses, but things could be better next summer with only six restricted free agents and three unrestricted, so that’s something a little positive.

What isn’t positive is Detroit’s defense. Last year, the Wings were the fifth-worst in the league in goals against per game (3.32). Filppula and fellow free-agent pickup Patrik Nemeth could help with that, but the defense is also getting older as Mike Green and Trevor Daley are in the back end of their careers. Not only that, but Danny DeKeyser has battled injuries and missed 30 games last year.

Special teams will also be a struggle as the Wings only racked up 39 power play goals in 2018-19. Two of their best players on the PP last year, Vanek and Gustav Nyquist, are gone, and Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha can only do so much.

Another problem facing the Wings is they play in the Atlantic Division, arguably the toughest in the league. Tampa Bay won the President’s Trophy, Boston was the Stanley Cup runner-up and Toronto was not only a playoff team, but a team on the rise.

Last year the Wings started off 1-7-2, falling behind quickly as they never recovered. Right now, Detroit is like a rowboat trying to cross the Atlantic and it’s going to take years to get to the other side.

If there’s a real positive in all this mess, it’s that the Wings have youth and they’re getting better.

Larkin broke out last year with a 32-goal, 73-point season, while Mantha tallied 25 goals, so they still haven’t reached their peak. Andreas Athanasiou put in 30 goals last year and gives the Wings another great scoring threat, while Tyler Bertuzzi is getting better.

The question for all of them now is can they put up those stats consistently. There’s a lot of talented players in the league, but the best ones do it year in and year out.

What will eventually get Detroit out of their trash heap? Management being calm and patient. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the Wings should’ve started rebuilding at least five years ago, but they’ve finally figured that out and are slowly trending upward.

Yzerman has a tough task trying to turn his former team into a legitimate title contender for the first time since 2009. The good thing for Detroit fans is that he did that in Tampa, so there’s nothing that says he can’t do it again in the Motor City. It’s just going to take awhile.

I watched the Wings play in Calumet, and although it was just an exhibition, I saw signs that the future could be bright.

Mantha put on a great show for the fans. Filip Zadina has 17-1 odds to win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and looked good. Former Michigan State star and Hobey Baker Award finalist Taro Hirose created some good looks and Michael Rasmussen got himself in position for two goals even though he’ll start the year in Grand Rapids.

The bottom line is this — this year is going to be another rough one in Detroit, but the clouds might part soon as long as Yzerman and everybody in power stays patient.

Look on the bright side, Detroit fans. At least you have the Lions. I’ll bet you never thought you’d say that.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.