What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The Detroit Red Wings’s season ended short of the playoffs yet again – as many anticipated. Though their final game, a blowout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, was not how anyone wanted to go out, there is much to learn from this season.
Yes, they missed the playoffs, however, the rebuild is finally taking shape. Beyond paper-pushing in management offices somewhere, we can see the pieces coming into view and how it will play into the future of the Red Wings.
Detroit did a lot of growing this season, especially in the waning weeks as eight Grand Rapids Griffins were called into action. There were a few victories and several milestones throughout the team that leaves us at The Grind Line feeling pretty encouraged and retrospective. Considering that, we decided to take a look at the Red Wings’ season and find what we believe was their biggest success and failure, as well as what they need to focus on heading into the summer.
Success – The Youth Movement’s Positive Push
The Red Wings have tapped into the fountain of youth a few times this season, which was encouraging for fans to see. Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, Filip Zadina, and a host of others had their shot at the NHL ice. Having their hand forced by injuries, Detroit called up eight Griffins, all of which made great strides in their turn. AHL veterans like Matt Puempel, Dylan McIlrath and Jake Chelios all impressed and sparked hope.
Many of the defensemen that were called up averaged 19-plus minutes a night and made a tremendous impact. There is a wealth of talent being harbored in their AHL affiliate, as well as their free agent signings. I believe the biggest positive to come out of this season was Detroit and its fans seeing what potential there is in the youth and the readiness of many of them to take on the demands of the NHL.
Failure – Inconsistency
Many teams struggle with inconsistency, but it seems to be a curse for the Red Wings the last few seasons. They have the talent, maturity and overall poise to be a great hockey team, but can’t steadily engage those traits.
Prior to the season finale loss to Buffalo, the Red Wings were on a winning streak headlined by the young roster skaters and the new additions from Grand Rapids. Up until that point, however, finding their chemistry night in and night out was a battle. They played like they believed they were a great hockey team some nights – and other nights they gave up entirely.
Inconsistency is one of the hardest deficiencies to overcome in a team. You are a unit and can’t pin the “blame” one man or line. Firing someone or trading another doesn’t fix a deeply rooted team-centric issue. That being said, the 2019-20 season must find Detroit working as a unit more effectively.
Summer Focus – Have the Healthiest Summer Ever
The Red Wings staff has always been pretty solid with drafting. General manager Ken Holland and company know the ropes and know who they need in order to compete. Drafting high shouldn’t be their only priority.
As mentioned, Detroit has tons of talent ready to go in Grand Rapids and throughout other leagues. Every skater, from the OHL on up, needs to make having the healthiest and most productive off-season their number one goal if they’re going to measure up to the caliber of the elite in 2019-20.
The off-season is time to relax, but when it comes time for training camp in September, it is my belief that Holland and head coach Jeff Blashill will be watching the younglings closer than ever. That is where the future lies as a team – and their success or failure is weighing on how they manage their time this summer.
Success – Overall Commitment to Rebuild
Between the maturation of Detroit’s young core and adding a few quality draft picks at the trade deadline, the Red Wings did a fantastic job staying on course with their rebuild. Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi’s development over the course of the season certainly gave hope that the organization can be competitive again in the near future.
They’ll have company soon with Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, and Michael Rasmussen getting closer to assuming larger roles with the team and veterans on their way out. And don’t forget about those newly-added picks and their top-seven draft choice.
Failure: Not Selling ‘More’ at the Deadline
Beggars can’t be choosers, but I’m going to be choosy anyway. Ideally, the Red Wings should have dealt a couple more players at the deadline. Moving Trevor Daley and another veteran would have brought back a couple more middle-round draft picks or prospects to add to the pipeline.
Daley, in particular, didn’t do much after the trade deadline. He wound up only playing six games after the deadline had passed before getting hurt (again). Plus, the Red Wings will have a logjam on defense next season, especially if Niklas Kronwall returns.
Summer Focus – Hit the Gym
This isn’t just to work on beach bodies, but to also prepare Detroit’s young players for the larger roles in the fall.
Last summer, Bertuzzi had a fantastic offseason after Holland and Blashill asked him to come to camp stronger and hungrier. He followed through and responded with a breakthrough campaign, topping 20 goals and setting a franchise record in the process.
Now, the Red Wings need Taro Hirose, Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Zadina to do the same. All four could factor into Detroit’s lineup next season – some in prominent roles. At the very least, they’ll come to camp and push for a spot, making the team more competitive as a whole.
Tell us what you think! Where should Detroit set their gaze this summer as their number one priority?
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.