DETROIT – It was another in a long line of games for the Detroit Red Wings this season. They played hard, they competed, they scored first and finished checks. And maybe they should have even won. But the reality is that, even when healthy, on most nights the roster the Red Wings put on the ice is not good enough to compete in the NHL.
The Red Wings have zero confidence at the moment. They’re playing for a team that has been historically bad, perhaps shaping up to be the worst in franchise history. To be sure, they’re the worst of the salary-cap era and have the ugly numbers to show for it. They were officially out of the playoff race before the trade deadline and there’s a chance their coach will pay the price for this mess with his job. Because how do you bring Jeff Blashill back after a season like this, after all this losing? Then again, GM Steve Yzerman still has a free pass in Detroit and if he thinks bringing Blashill back is what is best for this group, then he’ll be back. Remember, Yzerman is all about what is best for the team. Back in 2014, he originally cut his own team’s superstar from the Canadian Olympic team.
And things aren’t about to get much better in Hockeytown, USA. Is this the bottom? One would hope, but great things are not on the immediate horizon just because Detroit goes into the draft lottery with the best odds of winning. Ken Holland, who quite frankly is responsible for much of this, has always maintained that true rebuilds don’t happen in two or three or even five years. If you’re going to bottom out and rebuild, it’s more like eight-to-10.
Perhaps a microcosm of their season came in that game, a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Monday night. Wings captain Dylan Larkin took a high stick that went uncalled and he took a slash on a breakaway that he thought should have been a penalty shot. He was frustrated after both and it was understandable that he showed it after the season he and the Wings have endured.
“Where we’re at, we have to earn our respect in this league,” Larkin said. “We have a lot of young players, including myself. It takes time to do that and we have to fight through that.”
So, it’s going to take some time. But that, and the fact that anyone could see this coming from miles away given the success the Red Wings had prior to bottoming out, doesn’t make it any easier to take. But the Red Wings will continue to show up, to persevere and try to make the best of things. It’s not as though they have any other choice in the matter. And don’t talk about winning lotteries and getting No. 1 picks. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept what has happened this season. To their credit, the Wings know who they are and know they have to stay in the fight and make games meaningful.
“The one thing that we’ve had is we’ve had a tough year all year,” Blashill said. “It’s not like all of a sudden we were out and we have this new challenge we have to face. The couple of years we’ve been eliminated haven’t been as early as this year. So you kind of reset. We’ve had a number of those conversations. I think what we’ve been able to do here, is we’ve been able to have a ‘next game’ and ‘next shift’ mentality – not worried about the previous 10 games, not worried about the previous 50 games. Those games are over and besides learning from them, they don’t matter. All that matters is the game tonight.”
Speaking of which, that comes tomorrow night against Chicago. The Red Wings will approach that one as they have all the others to this point. The reality is they’ve won 15 games this season and have one victory to show for their past 11. (Thank goodness for the Montreal Canadiens or this would even be worse.) Surprisingly, it’s still fun to come to the rink.
“We get to coach and play in the NHL and every day you do that is super special,” Blashill said. “I hopped out of bed this morning just like I hopped out of bed for Game 1 of this year. You’re excited to come to the rink and coach in the NHL. You’re excited to come to the rink and play in the NHL. Is there frustration that sets in? Absolutely. But frustration is a waste of time. You can just let games in the NHL click off, because you’re never going to get them back.”
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