The Grind Line: What’s Missing in the Red Wings Rebuild?

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.

By now the Detroit Red Wings rebuild has been beaten to death by every media outlet covering hockey. The once great franchise team has faced more losses than wins and continues to struggle – making people strongly question the future success of the team.

These kinds of overhauls are never quick and are often frustrating and painful. We often find ourselves comparing the Red Wings to other teams who were in similar situations not too long ago – like the Buffalo Sabres who are currently better off than Detroit, or even the Chicago Blackhawks. Those comparisons continue to make people wonder if Detroit isn’t pushing hard enough towards the rebuild, if they’re just wasting valuable time or if they’re even trying anymore.

Michael Rasmussen Red Wings bench
Michael Rasmussen, Detroit Red Wings – Dec. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Something is missing from the rebuild formula. Without being in each and every strategy meeting, its hard to say what exactly that missing piece is, but The Grind Line wanted to take a look at a few possible reasons the rebuild is currently more of a miss than a hit.

Rachel Anderson: Faltering Faith

Trusting the system is very hard to do when a team has created a losing culture for themselves – even just for a season. Although the Red Wings are verbally committed to the plan of Ken Holland, their play each night says otherwise. In a nutshell, it seems to be all talk. Though I am convinced they do deep down trust the master plan, they play like they’ve given up.

This faltering faith in the plan shows with their lack of commitment during the game. It’s resulted in a heavy, losing mindset. They don’t finish their checks with a purpose or go on the offense with the intention of scoring anymore. As of now, they’re playing almost as if they have the intention to only lose by a little bit instead of trying to win.

The team as a whole has heartily affirmed their faith in the system and leadership, but I don’t see it. Rebuilds don’t happen overnight, but they never succeed if the players themselves don’t buy in and completely commit to the grand plan. The Red Wings are playing defeated.

To be fair, this is not Holland’s first rebuild. It took many seasons, even after acquiring Steve Yzerman, to get to a Stanley Cup. More than three coaches and several shady deals later, the Russian Five was born, the team found their rhythm and then-Head Coach Scotty Bowman saw his team come to life. What many forget, however, is that leading up to the success of the Red Wings, was painful change and drudgery carried mainly by the belief and devotion of the players. They committed themselves each and every night to winning – not barely surviving.

Scotty Bowman and Brett Hull of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate with the Stanley Cup
Head Coach Scotty Bowman (L) and Brett Hull (R) of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate with the Stanley Cup in the locker-room after eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI)

It’s hard to nail down one or two reasons the rebuild seems to be sputtering a bit. However, it’s my belief that the battle is more mental than anything. The players need to sell out completely to the system and to each other. Only then will they have a cohesive and unified drive towards the franchise’s future.

Tony Wolak: Attention to Detail and/or Game Strategy

In the absence of talent, effort should be prioritized. That doesn’t just mean giving it all each game, but being 100 percent committed to the game plan.

Right now, the five Red Wings on the ice for any given shift aren’t on the same page. There are way too many boneheaded mistakes that lead to goals against, whether from a poorly executed zone exit or a missed pass at the end of a shift that leads to an icing call.

It makes you wonder how this is still the case after 60-plus games this season. Or nearly four seasons into Jeff Blashill’s tenure with the Red Wings, for that matter. Whether these mistakes are made by a young core player or a veteran, it’s clear that something’s missing from the motivation going into each game.

Andreas Athanasiou
Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou celebrates (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

That also makes the decision whether or not to retain Blashill beyond this season much more controversial. Sure, he’s helped develop Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and others into valuable contributors, but there are also plenty of games in which the team looks absolutely terrible and has no attention to detail on the ice.

If Blashill is running a favorable strategy for this team, then why isn’t it working? Is it a lack of execution, the wrong strategy being implemented or a combination of both? In my opinion, it’s on everyone involved – talented or not.

Related – Red Wings Rebuild: What’s Next?