Who exactly are the Detroit Red Wings? That’s actually a great question – one without an obvious answer.
During this weekend’s home-and-home series with the lowly Ottawa Senators, the Red Wings looked uninspired and out of sorts. Their performance made me wonder, what is this team’s identity?
Red Wings Lack a True Identity
We’re now in Year 6 of the rebuild. The Red Wings have no identity and the future is once again uncertain after an intriguing start to the season.
They’re not a scrappy team – one that won’t win on talent alone, but competes hard every night. In fact, they’re easy to play against. The game plan is vanilla at best and once opponents take the lead, the team folds into a disorganized panic.
Overall, the compete level is down. The Kirk Maltby-esque, shot-blocking shift of the century against the Florida Panthers seems like a distant memory. There are a few exceptions – Dylan Larkin being the most notable. But as a team, the on-ice effort leaves much to be desired.
This can be remedied by a goal or theme that the team is willing to rally around. All high-functioning teams—whether in sports or business—are united in the pursuit of a common objective. The thing about that, though…
Red Wings Lack a Common Goal
Yep, you guessed it. The Red Wings don’t have a shared goal to pursue, either.
In fact, motivation—or a lack thereof—has been a trending topic in post-game interviews as of late. And this isn’t new.
“We have to find a way to start forming an identity here down toward the end of the season and play for something,” Larkin suggested after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins 11-2 last week.
“Everyone in our locker room is playing for something,” Larkin noted a week later after losing to the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Sunday. “There’s roles on the team next year, there’s contracts. If that’s not enough, you got to play for the love of the game. Come out and enjoy it, enjoy the grind of it. Enjoy being in a one-goal game and playing the right way.”
Again, Larkin is leading the way, competing hard every night and giving it all for his teammates, so the focus of this assessment shouldn’t be on him. It’s on the team as a collective, and they’re not united right now.
Change is the Solution
At this stage in their rebuild, the Red Wings shouldn’t be encountering an identity crisis. Not one tied to futility, at least.
As such, change is needed to rectify the situation. It starts with the coaching staff. While the players should have internal motivation to succeed, it’s ultimately the coaches who are responsible for pushing players to achieve – something Jeff Blashill and company are struggling with.
Plain and simple, the Red Wings need a new voice in the room. They need a coaching staff that brings a combination of empowerment and astute strategy through a personable approach.
In addition, you better believe Steve Yzerman is closely monitoring which players are competing hard and which are not. He has stressed building a contender with high-character, talented players from the start. Taking shifts or nights off doesn’t build character – finding motivation within to finish the season strong does, though. Detroit’s roster could see some change as well if this trend of subpar play continues.
Overall, the ship needs to be righted after this regression. Between the 2020-21 season and the first half of the 2021-22 campaign, the Red Wings were trending in the right direction. However, their play over the last month-plus has been reminiscent of the rock bottom 2019-20 season, and that is not acceptable. The Red Wings should be a team on the cusp, not one searching for an identity.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.