Let’s be honest: the Detroit Red Wings aren’t making the playoffs this season.
There’s a reason General Manager Ken Holland traded four players at the deadline, and it isn’t because he thinks his team can make a late-season postseason push.
However, coach Jeff Blashill’s comments late last week about how he thinks the Red Wings will make the playoffs because of captain Henrik Zetterberg’s will power left me puzzled.
I understand the coach needs to exude confidence in his players, especially now since a lot of young players are seeing more ice time after four trades opened up roster spots, but there’s a difference between exuding confidence and being unrealistic.
Zetterberg Continues to Produce
Zetterberg has been on quite the tear lately. He has 18 points in his past 13 games, including two assists in a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday. Zetterberg is proving he can still produce despite not playing with Pavel Datysuk and despite being 36 years old.
Watch as Zetterberg outraces Toronto’s Zach Hyman and notches the secondary assist on Gustav Nyquist’s second goal of the game.
That’s 36-year-old Zetterberg outracing 24-year-old Hyman — a race he probably shouldn’t win given his age and injury history.
The problem is Zetterberg is the only one producing at a consistent rate. It’s nice to see Zetterberg produce and show the young players how to come ready to play each game even if the playoffs are out of reach. But he can’t do it alone, and that’s where I find Blashill’s comments odd.
Holland traded the Red Wings’ second-highest scorer in Thomas Vanek, who had 15 goals and 23 assists with Detroit. Now that he’s gone, Anthony Mantha is second on the team with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 49 games.
The Red Wings were 26th in the league in scoring (2.4 goals per game) with Vanek. How are they going to improve enough to make a playoff push without him?
If anything, Blashill should be limiting Zetterberg’s ice time to save him for next season. The playoffs are out of reach, and the only thing the Red Wings are playing for is pride. Zetterberg is averaging almost 20 minutes per game, and that should be closer to 15-17 minutes per game.
No Offensive Support
Mantha is having a good rookie season, but he isn’t at the point in his career where he can score at will. He might never get to that point, but of all the prospects the Red Wings have, he is the closest.
Frans Nielsen is having a subpar season with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 61 games, but he’s never been a goal-scoring machine in his career. Tomas Tatar (30 points) and Gustav Nyquist (31 points) probably won’t break 45 points and continue to show they may end up being middle-six players instead of the elite top-line players they were projected to be.
Dylan Larkin is going through a sophomore slump, with 21 points in 62 games. He’s only 20 years old, so he has plenty of time to turn things around, but he’s taken a big step back from his 23-goal season last year.
Goal scoring has been a big issue for the Red Wings this season, and to think one player can will his team — a team that has struggled to score all season— into the playoffs is ridiculous.
The Red Wings are 13 points out of a top-three division spot and 12 points out of a wild-card spot with 18 games remaining — the playoffs aren’t happening.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.