The Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes would do well to recall one of the best lines from one of the best movies of the past 20 years.
It’s from the classic gangster flick Goodfellas, delivered early on by first-person narrator Ray Liotta as he justifies the actions of his young hood character who’s sinking deeper into a life of crime despite fierce, physical objections from an abusive father who’s furious his boy is skipping school to hang with thugs.
“Every once in a while I’d have to take a beating, but by then, I didn’t care. The way I saw, everybody takes a beating some time.”
Both the Wings and Canes, on different levels, are absorbing their licks right now.
After saying summer good-byes to Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson, Detroit has lost key cogs Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and, most recently, Jason Williams to long-term injuries.
That’s two lines worth of players who range from highly competent to high-end NHL talent.
The injuries in Carolina aren’t as plentiful, but just as crippling considering franchise goalie Cam Ward is out for a handful of weeks with a lacerated left leg, while star forward Eric Staal isn’t expected to return from his upper-body injury until late November.
The consequences have obviously been more dire for the Canes, but the reaction of both teams should be the same; submit, regroup and stay the course.
Giving in to what’s going on around the team is never an option at ice level, so I expect the players on both Detroit and Carolina to act like pros and continue to seek out the only acceptable path for single-minded athletes: Victory.
But the urgency losses and the loss of bodies creates on the ice can’t be mimicked by management, which must constantly take stock of the big picture.
For the Wings, it means coming face-to-face with a reality every other NHL team is intimately familiar with – that being the fact the playoffs aren’t actually an automatic extension of the league schedule, but something you must qualify for.
Senior vice-president Jim Devellano conceded as much during a radio interview a few weeks back, noting the Wings have simply lost too much scoring to expect regular season results like they’ve posted…well, seemingly forever.
Devellano also pointed out the normally cap-strapped squad will actually have some cash to play with this summer. The last thing Detroit should be after is a quick fix via dealing away picks and prospects in the hopes of squeaking out one more Central Division title this year, while jeopardizing what still looks to be a bright future, especially with franchise forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk locked up long-term on very reasonable contracts.
And hey, assuming the Wings do find a way into the post-season, how anxious do you think anybody in the West would be to face them?
It’s a different story in Carolina, where last overall is officially looking like the best possible scenario. Expectations were high for this team entering the season after a final-four appearance last year. In truth, the Canes went well beyond where anybody anticipated they would last spring thanks to consecutive Game 7 squeakers over New Jersey and Boston.
They came within 1:20 of being eliminated in the first round by the Devils before requiring overtime in the decisive game to knock off the Bruins. So while Carolina gets full marks for the character it showed, let’s keep things in perspective.
The Canes really seem to subscribe to the theory that suffering makes victory all the sweeter. They lost the 2002 Cup final to Detroit, only to miss the playoffs the next two seasons, then won it all in ’06. They followed that up with two more dormant springs, then made the East final last year after climbing back into the post-season derby.
It’s too early to decree anybody dead and buried in a playoff chase, but realistically, Carolina would have to catapult past seven teams just to earn the No. 8 seed and, in all likelihood, be dismissed by a much better team in Round 1.
Why not stick with the dramatic season-to-season swings, take a top-three pick in next June’s draft and add it to an already impressive mix of prospects that includes Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman.
Put potential No. 1 overall man Taylor Hall on a team that already has Staal in his prime and you’ve got the makings of something special.
Again, teams that employ the likes of Rod Brind’Amour and Chad LaRose aren’t about to start tossing in towels or running up white flags.
But GM Jim Rutherford can’t cough up valuable young assets in a misguided attempt to slap a bandage on this already-disastrous season.
The best course of action – for both Carolina and Detroit – is to swallow some medicine and return spittin’ mad.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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