Before we get started here, let me just make something abundantly clear. If you are a sensitive Detroit Red Wings fan and you are already triggered by that headline, you have to trust me that this is intended to be a positive blog about your team. I thought the Red Wings would be in the basement of the league this year but after a great first quarter of the season by guys like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit is right around the playoff bubble right now. They’re overachieving for sure, but therein lies the issue. Because Red Wings fans are just getting used to meddling in mediocrity. There was a time when this franchise advanced to the playoffs for 25 seasons in a row. They’re not used to being a below average team. But as a Philadelphia Flyers fan? Well I feel like nobody knows better than I do that what the Red Wings are doing right now is not worth it in the long run.
The Detroit Red Wings are probably in the worst possible spot right now. Think about the division they have to play in. You’ve got Tampa who is at the top and still has a pretty significant amount of time remaining on that team’s Cup window. Granted there’s a chance that things can start to fall about once Yzerman leaves (we’ll get to that in a little), but Steven Stamkos is the oldest piece of that core and he’s still only 28. Hedman is 27, Kucherov is 25, Vasilevskiy is 24. There is your Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Vezina Trophy candidates right there all 28 and younger still, all brought in via the draft. Then you have the Toronto Maple Leafs. We don’t need to talk about them too much but let’s just have fun and rattle off some names real quick; Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Reilly. They are young and they are loaded and besides Tavares, they were all brought in via the draft. Then you’ve got the Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen. That’s a loaded roster for the future, all 26 or younger, and all brought in via the draft besides Skinner. Plus they also have three 1st round picks coming up in the 2019 draft. The rest of the division is solid as well but those are the 3 teams that Detroit is going to have to keep up with over the next 5-10 years.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings?
Larkin is a center piece for sure. Players like Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha have potential. But that’s just not a very good roster. Not only is it not a very good roster, but they are old and they are expensive. The currently don’t have a single penny left to spend in terms of the salary cap. They’ll get some relief next season with Nyquist and Vanek coming off the books. Also they’ll have to make a decision on guys like Kronwall and Howard who have been with them forever. But there’s not a lot to look forward to with this roster. I’d say the one player to really look forward to playing alongside of Larkin would be Filip Zadina who was the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft. And that right there is the type of player that Detroit needs more of.
That’s the point of this blog. Look at the best teams in the division. They were all built via the draft. The Red Wings haven’t really had to worry about the draft much over the course of their history because they were constantly a playoff team. But now that their roster is depleted of legends? It’s time to start rebuilding. And the only way for a rebuild to truly work–which the Flyers still haven’t been able to figure out yet–is to stay the fuck away from the playoff bubble. What the Red Wings are doing right now is great for the confidence of guys like Larkin. But they’re tied for 17th place in the league right now. They aren’t good enough to be a playoff team but they’re not sucking enough to land a top 3 pick in draft. They’re setting themselves up to stay on that playoff bubble for the next 10 years while team like Tampa, Toronto and Buffalo torch them. You need to land high end talent in the draft. You need to land game changing talent in the draft. The Red Wings need to understand that this season means absolutely nothing to them in the long run and to look ahead to the next 5 years.
Now I mentioned that we’d talk more about Yzerman later. That time is now because I think that’ll be the one thing that can truly save this team from winding up like the Flyers. If Yzerman goes back home to Detroit this summer and takes over as GM, then I’m sure that they’ll start to build their team the right way the same way that Yzerman built that team in Tampa. I think that Yzerman would realize that even though winning games right now is good for putting asses in seats at Little Caesars Arena, the more the team wins right now the more it hurts their chances of competing with the Tampas/Torontos/Buffalos in the future. He has a strong eye when it comes to the draft, and I think that once the team is out of the salary cap hell they’re currently in, Yzerman is going to be the type of GM who can get guys to go to Detroit in free agency.
But if you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan right now, you can obviously enjoy your team playing .500 hockey when everybody thought they’d be at the bottom of the league. However, you should probably start rooting for a few more losses and praying that Yzerman comes back. Because without those two things happening soon, your life will become the exact same as mine. And I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.