The Red Wings extended their playoff streak for yet another year limping into the playoffs just one point over 9th place Columbus. They went up against the seemingly unstoppable Anaheim Ducks and proved they had the killer instinct the Ducks lacked.
In the second round they were exposed. There are really only two issues with the Red Wings. What’s wrong with them? The question answers itself if you put on your opposing coach thinking cap and ask which players other than Datsyuk, Zetterberg and maybe Kronwall you have to game plan for. Not just who plays a lot of minutes, but who can impact the game.
Depth, is part of the issue. They have two elite, if aging forwards, an no one behind them who can be relied upon to put up 50 points in an 82 game season, or a defenseman who can be counted on to play 25 minutes of shutdown hockey a night. The answer is simple. No one. They have a lot role players. They just don’t have anything else. After their top two players, the run off from 3rd to 12th player isn’t very steep. The defense is just as badly off. You have one player at the top of the heap, and the everyone else is almost completely indistinguishable by ice time. Almost no real difference between the best and worst by ice time at even strength, short handed or powerplay.
Identity is the other thing the team lacks. There’s almost none anymore. With Bertuzzi and Tootoo in the lineup this certainly isn’t the Yzerman era Wings, nor is it the slick skating, smooth passing version of the team that allowed them to carry Osgood to a couple cups. They still have some skill, but they just don’t have the old level. While their two skill players can still leave opponents stunned with their razzle-dazzle, the Wings just aren’t a skill team anymore. They have one or two guys who can hit and hit hard, but I don’t think anyone sees this Wings team as a Flyers or Bruins type rugged roster. The Red Wings also have a compliment of muckers, but this team is no more built to grind it out than they are to drop the gloves and beat their opponents up. The current roster is a hodge-podge, a manticore without a strong emotional center give them focus. The plus side is that Howard is a much better goaltender than Osgood was at any point in his career. But he’s not (yet?) at the elite level that would allow the team to build around him as their franchise cornerstone. He’s solid, a clear number one starter, but the word elite does not stretch to encompass his careers portfolio to date.
If the Red Wings want to rebuild for the long term, they have to scour the roster back to its foundation. That means trading Zetterber and Datsyuk for as much as can be gotten and spending a year or two in the lottery and drafting well. If they want to go for a short term buildup and try to maximise the years left in their ageing stars, they certainly have the roster spots and cap space to go after whoever they want. With just two defenseman and five forwards signed in addition to Jimmy Howard, they have half their cap free to fill the roster. That does include the need to resign Datsyuk if possible as he’ll be a UFA on July 5. With forwards like Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, and then younger players like Tyler Bozak, Bryan Bickell, and David Clarkson they can go in any number of directions.
They have the money, organisational depth is in question, but given the UFA’s they haven’t landed in the last few years, is anyone willing to go there from other markets?
For part one of this series click here.