Could this be the year that the Detroit Red Wings finally miss the playoffs?
It’s a question that has been asked about the team for the past few seasons, and there are a couple of very understandable reasons as to why. The Wings have made the postseason for a staggering 24 seasons in a row, the longest current streak in all professional sports. Sports are often cyclical, and even the most dominant of franchises usually go through down periods over that size of a time span, which makes it truly amazing that Detroit has managed to stay so steadily successful for so long.
The other main reason is that, upon first glance, the roster seems destined for an inevitable decline. The team leaders and most notable core players – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen – are all well on the wrong side of 30 and, with the exception of Kronwall, have all battled injury problems over the past few seasons. Even the best athletes in the world succumb to the ravages of age eventually.
All that being said, surely the team’s winning ways have to fall off at some point soon, right?
Well, not so fast.
Despite finishing near the top of the league’s standings for much of the past two decades, and thus never acquiring the highest of draft picks, the Wings have still managed to consistently produce enough NHL talent to stay competitive. General manager Ken Holland and his scouting staff are widely considered the best among the league’s best when it comes to the draft, and when you can find players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen outside the first round that reputation becomes very well justified.
While it would be a stretch to suggest that any of the team’s young players will ever reach the level of future Hall of Fame players like Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Detroit has nevertheless amassed a talented young group that should give the organization a reliable and dangerous core for years to come.
Many of these players are already cutting their teeth in the NHL. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist each scored 50 points last season, while Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan, and Danny Dekeyser are all quickly carving out important roles on the squad.
Where the team gets really interesting, though, is when you start to take a look at the players that are just on the cusp of making it. 19 year-old Dylan Larkin, who the Wings just selected 15th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (which, for the record, was the highest pick that the team has had in the draft since 1991), made the roster after an impressive training camp, while other top prospects such as Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi stood out during the preseason. The Wings will also get to try out a full season of Teemu Pulkkinen, who has already dominated other hockey leagues, and I haven’t even mentioned Brendan Smith, Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko.
Suffice to say, there’s more than enough resources here to keep the Wings strong for a long, long time.
Oddly enough, in some ways this upcoming season might be the most challenging one for Detroit for quite some time. The passing of the guard from old to young is a tricky process, and the time is now for the organization to accelerate that ongoing transition from the former to the latter.
That being said, however, you just can’t count out the Red Wings. Datsyuk and Zetterberg each have a lot of miles on them but still put up 60 points apiece last year, while Franzen seems back to 100% health for a first time in a long time. The team’s goaltending was a point of concern last season, but if veteran Jimmy Howard can bounce back and the 23 year-old Mrazek can continue his development into one of hockey’s top young netminders then the Red Wings could very easily have the best 1-2 goaltending punch in the NHL.
Could this be the year that the Detroit Red Wings finally miss the playoffs? It’s certainly possible, but highly unlikely. And don’t expect that to change any time soon.