Every dynasty has its end. The Hapsburgs, the Mings, the Boston Celtics, and so too does the Red Wings organization find itself at the end of its time as an elite power. It is one of those inevitabilities of human history. Some times great dynasties come to an end because they simply run out of heirs. In other cases outside forces conspire to tear them down, or simply overshadow them. Other times the faith in the cause or the bloodline runs thin and the pinnacle of the dynasty is simply no longer great. Whatever the cause, the Detroit Red Wings are there.
In 2008 when they last won the Stanley Cup they were the best team everyone wanted to be. They gave up less goals than anyone, they had the best goal differential and won their division by a jaw dropping 24 points. The next year they would slide into the the playoffs with three straight losses, 51 wins, and having given up 60 more goals than the year before on their way to losing in the Cup finals. Fast forward to last year : the goal differential shrank from +73 to +20, they would lose in the second round for the second year in a row to the San Jose Sharks, and Lidstrom would finish the year as a minus player for the first time in his career.
This year they are on pace to score 179 goals. That is a number than any of the lottery teams has scored in the past several seasons. Their goals for goals against differential is a negative number, and if they playoffs started today they’d be looking at a long golfing season. Only perennial lottery team the New York Islanders have scored less goals than the Red Wings this season, and that team has played fewer games, and has a better goals against average. Dire is perhaps the only word that can describe the situation. Amazingly the St Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets are the only cushions between the Motor City heroes and the conference basement.
To make matters worse, they don’t have much in the way of prospects to call up. In the past decade they’ve only made four first round selections. One of those Jakub Kindl is attempting to stick with the team for the third time. 2007 selection Brendan Smith has yet to earn a call up despite good numbers in the AHL last year. Thomas McCollum was picked at the end of the first round in 2008, and has earned one NHL appearance and gave up three goals to the Blues in less than fifteen minutes, he’s assigned to the Wing’s ECHL affiliate this year. Their 2010 first round pick is a college athlete currently attending Notre Dame, Riley Sheehan has been middling on the Fighting Irish team. For later round picks, you have to go all the way back to 2006 draft class to find three picks who have hit double digit games played in the NHL. One of those three is Shawn Matthias is Florida Panther, right wing Jan Mursak has 1 point in 19 games and is currently on the injured reserve, and 2006 left wing pick Cory Emmerton is has only broken double digit minutes once this season, despite heading into their last game with as many points as Cleary, Helm or Abdelkader.
Over the last several years the talent leaving has been an even bigger problem than what has been drafted. Brian Rafalski was lost to retirement last year to be replaced by the well traveled Ian White. Chris Chelios is long gone, Shannahan is now one of the NHL’s best known suits, and Lidstrom while still on the ice, is not the player he was when he last hoisted the Stanley Cup. The teams forwards don’t dominate any more, and depth at every position is lacking.
The brain trust in Detroit has a stark choice to make: tarnish the reputation of the organization by riding aging players down in flames or give them the opportunity to help other teams and restock the team at the same time. Of their top five scoring forwards last season only two had a positive plus minus. All five of them are 31 or older. Even if they managed to restock with a set of high end players like their division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks did, that takes 4-5 years and that would put Zetterberg and Franzen the youngest of the set at 35, and Bertuzzi would be at least 40.
In stark contrast to their neighbors to the north the Calgary Flames they are largely unencumbered by no trade and no movement clauses. Even with a contract that stretches until 2020, Franzen would catch a return of at least a first round pick and a prospect. He’s got size, plays both wings and has been to the promised land. For Pavel Datsyuk the sky is literally the limit, a quiet conference call with the teams he’d be open to moving to could yield the largest haul since Gretzky was shipped to the Oilers, possibly larger if a contract extension were worked into it. Even the teams that normally shy away from the ultra long contracts are likely to step to the plate if Zetterberg is offered up. Without a non-movement clause the 2008 Conn-Smyth winner opens the field to anyone who can pony up the picks, prospects and roster players that most appeal to Jim Dellevano, Ken Holland and their advisers.
A look at the ISS, TSN and other prospect rankings for this years draft class says there is plenty of potential to turn their defense around in short order if they have multiple first and second round picks. If they sold off early and mostly went with picks and prospects they might even have a shot at Yakupov. With all their talent in place they are one point above the lottery as winter closes in. If they hit ctrl+alt+delete soon enough they have a chance of regaining dynasty status in two or three year and staying their a long, long time.