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The First Domino: Why the Detroit Red Wings Playoff Streak Must End

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Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm (43) receives congratulations from left wing Thomas Vanek (62) after scoring in the third period against Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In a year that can be summed up as a year of incredible loss, I would quickly like to say Rest in Peace to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, the Detroit Red Wings will leave 2016 behind with only one playoff win. This will be the third time in the last five years where the Detroit Red Wings only registered a single playoff win. Yes, you read that correctly. The last time prior to 2012 when the Red Wings finished with less than or equal to a single playoff win? 1990: the Red Wings did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs…

I am here to argue that the Red Wings qualifying for the playoffs every year, only to lose out in the first round, is counterproductive.

Now, let’s get one thing straight here, I am a HUGE Wingnut. I grew up watching the likes of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, etc. I saw the Cup clinching games and goals, the emergence of the EuroTwins in the mid-2000s and have slowly witnessed this franchise become a shadow of what it used to be. I crave so badly to see Gus Nyquist bury 40 goals, to see Danny DeKeyser be a great Power Play QB like Nick was, and to see Mrazek reach that Vezina-type potential he possesses. However friends, let’s face it, this just is not the case. Signs do not point toward any of that kind of hope, just the typical Ken Holland carousel of signing and overpaying average players to contracts that are quite frankly just too long. But we’ll get back to Ken in a little bit…

I want to run a CRAZY idea by you. Like, really crazy. You ready? Sure you can handle it? Okay, here it goes.

The Detroit Red Wings NEED to miss the playoffs for there to be any hope.

Wait, what? You’re joking right? Sadly, I wish I was, but I am not. As I sit here writing this article on December 29, the Red Wings are one point ahead of last place in the Eastern Conference. Red Wings games are FRUSTRATING to watch, sometimes they’re so bad I catch myself laughing several times a game.

Disclaimer: if any current Red Wings end up reading this article by chance, I want you to know I have the utmost respect for you as a man. Your job is one of the toughest in our culture today and I would not want to feel the stresses and pressure that you do nor could I do any better than any of you boys out there. However, you willingly submit to all the noise and criticism of your fans, the media and your superiors by taking the path of professional athlete. You know damn well that when the going gets tough, people are going to voice their opinion no matter how ignorant or spot-on it may be. Especially when you play for such a prestigious Original Six franchise the likes of Detroit. There is a reason we have more Cup Banners than Chicago, Boston and New York: excellence is the standard here because of men like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Stevie, Nick, Pav, etc. I guess, what I am trying to say is, if you cannot handle and embrace the challenges and criticisms that come with being a Detroit Red Wing then I do not think you deserve to be a Detroit Red Wing.

Detroit Red Wings left wing Drew Miller (20) shoots against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Saturday, March 28, 2015. Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

So, thus far, we’ve established a few things: The Red Wings haven’t done much of anything in the playoffs lately, they’re trending down, but they’re still our team and we respect them and want to see them succeed. Let’s get back to why they need to miss the playoffs in order to regain that championship form. Take a look at the teams who have won the Stanley Cup in recent years: Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Pittsburgh Penguins did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 2002-2007, the Chicago Blackhawks from 2003-2008 and the Los Angeles Kings from 2003-2009. Collectively, the three franchises received a top five draft pick 11 times. 11 TOP FIVE PICKS, are you joking me? What I would give for just one. These top five picks included the likes of: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Drew Doughty who are widely regarded as some of the best at their positions. All of those men undoubtedly played a gigantic and vital role in the recent Stanley Cup Championships for those franchises. This isn’t even mentioning the later round gems (something we know the Red Wings scouting staff is very capable of finding themselves) of Jonathan Quick, Duncan Keith and Kris Letang just to name a few. Makes it seem like being an Oilers or Maple Leafs fan is starting to pay off with the recent drafting of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews doesn’t it?

I told you earlier we would get back to our GM, and I am going to deliver on that right now. Again, I have the utmost respect for Kenny, I even got to meet him at the NHL Draft back in 2015 down in Florida. Great and respectful guy! Did you know he used to sell vacuum cleaners before getting his first job scouting? He was an amazing GM before the initiation of the salary cap, if you don’t believe me just look at what he did in the summer of 2001. Yes he won a Stanley Cup as a GM in the salary cap era in 2008, however I would argue that team was a product of its captain, coach, and surrounding pieces that were already there before the 2004 lockout. Since Lidstrom retired, the team has been trending down. It looked maybe like up for a little while with taking the Chicago Blackhawks to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals in 2013. It looked like maybe up for a little while when Tatar and Nyquist had amazing rookie campaigns. Here as we enter 2017 however, it is looking bleak.

Ken has been the metaphorical straw that stirs the metaphorical drink in Hockeytown for two decades as their General Manager and has been within the organization for over three. Remember when Mike Babcock left for Toronto? One of the messages that was repeatedly reiterated from Babcock is that he had been with the team for ten years, and it was just time for a change. The voice was getting too old and repetitive and it sort of lost its flare. Are General Managers exempt from this rule? If Babs feels the need to leave after ten years, for the betterment of both parties, how is Ken Holland still in Detroit? How can ownership look at what he has done lately and deem that acceptable for the Red Wings franchise?

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. Photo: YouTube

I remember reading an article back in the spring time from Winging It In Motown about a rumor that Red Wing ownership wanted Steve Yzerman to become the team’s GM and wanting Ken Holland to step into a “higher and out of the spotlight type role” within the organization. This obviously had to be before Stevie bolted to Tampa to become their General Manager, and obviously Holland would have declined this offer. If this is true it makes me want to say a lot of inappropriate words, some of which you’d hear Steve Ott (one of Ken’s offseason playoff-streak patching signings) say on the ice to an opposing player. If this is true it is one of the most selfish acts in Detroit sports history. Look at Jon Elway running the Broncos, sure they’re having a down year, but they’re still the defending Super Bowl champions. It was like Elway was bred and destined to lead them to another Lombardi trophy from the front office. The same could be said about Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings, a match made in 1983 and one that should give serious consideration to rekindling the flame in the next couple of years. Ken Holland’s contract is expiring at the end of the 2017-18 season. Steve Yzerman’s contract with the Lightning expires after the 2018-19 season. Yzerman has proven he knows how to lead a team from the front office just as well as he led the Wings on the ice for over 20 years. Sure, Steve hasn’t won a Cup in Tampa. That 2015 Stanley Cup Finals did not have a two-goal lead by either team until the sixth game, when Chicago went ahead by two in the third period of that cup-clinching game. That series was exciting to watch, and a toss-up the whole time, credit the Blackhawks for proving once again they are the real deal (even though I hate their guts, although of course out of respect).

I’m going to start wrapping this article up by going back to Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs one more time. Hiring Brendan Shanahan as the team president set everything into motion for Toronto after suffering years of not only being bad but being bad with poor management. Now they had the man with the “Shana-plan” and such plan clearly involves things he learned as a player for the Red Wings, he even admitted so in an interview during the broadcast of the Red Wings and Sabres game on December 27. He knew he wanted Mike Babcock to coach his team, he had been speaking to Babcock all along. Babs had to ask for and receive permission from Ken Holland to seek employment elsewhere. Then after getting his coach, Shanahan got his GM in Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello stepped down as GM of the Devils, again, Shanahan had been talking to him the entire time and selling him on what they have planned for the Maple Leafs organization. Toronto had to give middle-round draft pick compensation to both the Red Wings for Babcock and the Devils for Lamoriello, a small price to pay for landing the perfect men for the job.

Okay, wrap it up, tie it back into why the Red Wings should miss the playoffs. Okay fine here it goes.

Former Detroit Red Wings star Steve Yzerman is the current general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Photo: NHL.com

I am hoping these kinds of conversations with ownership are taking place every time Stevie Y comes back to Detroit, like they did with Shanahan and his men in Toronto. Whether Steve is in town to suit up for another outdoor alumni game or to commemorate all he has accomplished in the Motor City, any opportunity to give the pitch to him they have to be making it. He would be the only name you could mention where I would say money is no object, he’s our guy and we believe in him. I am hoping Red Wings ownership is paying close attention to these league trends of teams scraping the bottom of the league for several years, drafting high, giving the franchise time to find its perfect fit for GM and Head Coach and being ready to dominate again once they do reach the playoffs. I am hoping they are starting to realize that we are not going to return to form by signing free agents, making questionable salary cap decisions and just trying to keep a playoff streak alive. Making the playoffs that many years in a row is not natural, it just simply is not. I believe that the only way to give birth to a new era of Red Wings hockey is to let this one die of natural causes instead of keeping it on life support. The rebuild should have begun right after Lidstrom retired, but here we are five years removed from The Perfect Human’s presence and what do we have to show for it? The Red Wings have an ugly 12-19 postseason record, one playoff series win, no big free agent signings and no lottery draft picks. In professional sports, it always has been and always will be a “what have you done for me lately” business. I’m asking you, Ken Holland and Red Wings ownership, and I believe I speak on behalf of nearly everyone in Hockeytown: What have you done for us lately?

Miss the playoffs and get a reality check, bring in Yzerman at all costs, part ways with all your bad contracts at all costs, give your young players lots of playing time and minutes so they can fully develop, and add some more elite potential talent to your roster by drafting high every spring for a handful of years. Who knows, maybe then we might even lure some key assets through free agency because at last there will be excitement about where the Red Wings are headed again!

Franchises like Chicago, Toronto and Tampa Bay are all trending up because of direct affects from people who came from the Detroit Red Wings organization. When is it going to be our turn again? There are ways to set the plan in motion now, why waste any more time?

Just like the University of Michigan went out and got their man in Jim Harbaugh, I believe the Red Wings need to go out and get their man. However, I truly believe there is only one domino that can fall to set that plan in motion and that is missing the playoffs.

So what do you say Hockeytown? All this can be yours, if you are willing to not be afraid to push the first domino and end the playoff streak.

By Matthew Meyer

Matthew Meyer is a first year graduate student at Central Michigan University in the Sport Administration program. He graduated from Central Michigan previously with his Bachelor of Applied Arts, majoring in Sport Management and minoring in Athletic Coaching. Meyer also works for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant to the General Manager and Coaching Staff. Meyer spent three seasons as the Head Coach of the CMU Women’s Hockey team from September of 2013 until he resigned in February of 2016 to begin his current work in Saginaw and in his graduate program. Meyer has a passion for hockey and athletics that is second to none. Reach him at meyer4ms@cmich.edu

2 COMMENTS

  1. But hey, I REALLY wanna see us get revenge on Toronto for beating us on New Year’s Day in 2014. That was sickening to watch. But hey, karma is coming, Toronto! LGRW!!!

  2. Big Wing fan here, and let me say this: Matt, you’re spot on with EVERYTHING you said in your article (except we have been winless in the playoffs between 1990 and 2012 once, that was in 2003 when Anaheim swept us in the first round). This has been a difficult five years since St. Nick hung up his skates. One playoff series victory in the last five years, and three of our last four first-round losses have been in five games. And you know what else? I will be much more frustrated if we make it to the playoffs and lose in the first round again than if we miss the playoffs entirely. Like you, that’s how tired I am of falling on our faces in the first round of the playoffs and drafting 19th, 20th, etc. The notable exception to that was Larkin, of course (15th). We need a new GM and an overhaul. Even coming into the season, I didn’t care about making it to the playoffs. Because I know we wouldn’t be able to compete in the first round, whoever we would play. I’d rather see this team miss the playoffs for a few years and mature as a young team (which we’re NOT a young team right now) rather than be a veteran-loaded bubble team with complacent management.

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