As the hockey world awaits any news regarding the resumption of the NHL season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit Red Wings find themselves in a pickle. The team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in February. They were logically eliminated from the playoffs well before that. So, why bother coming back if the league decides to finish off the season?
It’s a fair point. After all, nobody would want to see somebody endure a long-term injury while playing in games that seem pointless. With 49 regulation losses on the season, I’m sure nobody on the Red Wings roster is eager to let that total climb, though it undoubtedly would. Furthermore, most fans have already moved on to scouting the draft, where the organization is poised to pick in the top five for the first time since 1990.
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However, there remains a few valid reasons that the team should play out their final 11 games, granted the league goes that route. There are 2020-21 roster considerations to be made, and playing the game is the best way to see what works and what doesn’t. In times like this, you’ve got to be able to make the best out of a bad situation.
In the final weeks of the season before it was suspended, the Red Wings acquired three players via the waiver wire or a trade: Cody Goloubef, Sam Gagner and Dmytro Timashov. None of these players were expected to move the needle much, but all of them had the opportunity to exhibit staying-power on a pretty barren roster.
In the case of Timashov, the 23-year-old was yet another one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s youthful additions to the roster. Like Adam Erne before him, the idea was that Timashov would get the opportunity to earn a full-time spot in the team’s bottom six. He couldn’t break through on a high-octane Toronto Maple Leafs roster, but surely he could hold his own with the lowly Red Wings, right?
Unfortunately, Timashov only appeared in five games with the Red Wings before the season was suspended. While enough to garner a first-impression, it wasn’t and still isn’t enough to determine whether the Ukrainian forward fits in with the team. A restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the season, the team could re-sign him to a short, cheap deal. Seeing him in 11 more games would be preferable and would educate them further in their actions.
Depending on who you ask, the German defender is the top player in the Red Wings’ prospect pool. Selected sixth overall in 2019, Seider’s confidence grew over the course of the season with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. He became something of a sensation among fans because of his willingness to throw the body.
After returning to the Griffins’ lineup following a head injury in late February, the idea was that Seider would get a late-season audition to strut his stuff in the NHL with the Red Wings. Much like the way fellow defensive prospect Gustav Lindstrom saw 16 games of action with the team, Seider’s audition would have served as a measuring stick to see how he performed among and against his peers at the NHL level.
Now that the AHL has officially cancelled its season, Seider could go almost six months without playing a meaningful game of hockey. If given the opportunity, the Red Wings would likely insert him into their lineup to close out the season. Not only would this be good for his development, but it would be good for fans who want to see the fruits of this rebuild sooner rather than later.
Build For Next Year
Last season, the Red Wings finished on a bit of a tear. They won 8 out of their final 11 games, yanking themselves out of a top-five draft position in the process. However, fan optimism for the team on the ice was at a high point. A similar run this season still wouldn’t pull this team out of last place.
Although unlikely, a run like that would do wonders for the confidence of players like Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. It’s not fun to lose, and it’s straight-up demoralizing to lose again and again without a healthy dose of winning sprinkled in. They can only get those feel-good wins if they have games to play.
Furthermore, the final 11 games would provide head coach Jeff Blashill with the opportunity to find chemistry between players that maybe hasn’t been uncovered yet. The duo of Taro Hirose and Andreas Athanasiou was a story at the end of last season — is there a similar story ready to be written with this season’s roster?
At the end of the day, it’s up to the league, the Board of Governors and the player’s union to determine the best way forward for the 2019-20 season. It’s a can’t-win situation where compromises are going to be made across the board. Safety is paramount, and any decision made will come with it in mind.
The proposed 24-team playoff would exclude the league’s worst teams, which of course includes the Red Wings. If it is deemed to be a safety issue to include the Red Wings and their lackluster peers in any resumption of the season, then safety wins out. Plus, let’s be honest, a lot of fans just want the team to be put out their misery already.
But a 71-game season isn’t without its share of missed opportunities. For a rebuilding team like the Red Wings, opportunity is the name of the game. The opportunity to play 11 stress-free games is one that many players within the organization should yearn for.
Until the league makes an announcement, that’s all they can do.