Since the Detroit Red Wings have made the Stanley Cup playoffs every season since the 1989-90 season, one could be excused if he or she could not imagine them missing the playoffs.
Over the 21 playoff seasons since then, Detroit has had plenty of superstars and role players to help lead the charge to the playoffs each season.
Even though the 1989-90 season seems like light years ago, it is important to note that with a far more competitive NHL in today's game, Detroit went from first in the NHL midseason to finishing fifth in the Western Conference in the 2011-12 season.
A mere seven points were all that separated the Red Wings from eighth place, and they were only 12 points up on ninth place Calgary.
But, Detroit couldn't really miss the playoffs could they?
Well, most NHL fans would say not a chance, but there's always the distant possibility.
Here are four reasons they could struggle to make the playoffs next season.
Nick Lidstrom has a few nicknames: "Saint Nick," "Captain," "The Perfect Human."
The list goes on.
But what really stood out about Detroit's former captain was his excellence in playing his position. Part of that was smarts and knowing where to be, but combine Lidstrom's smarts with his training efforts every offseason (even more so while getting older last season at age 41) and one can see why he was a cut above the rest of the NHL's defensemen.
In fact, saying that Lidstrom was "a cut above the rest" doesn't even do him justice.
Lidstrom is in the conversation for best defenseman of all time with the great Bobby Orr.
Lidstrom's Norris Trophy total (seven in all) shows how great a player the Detroit Red Wings needed to get in this offseason to match (or come close to matching) Lidstrom's talent on the top defensive pairing if the Red Wings wanted to stay relevant this coming season.
That replacement has not materialized.
In fact, the only new Red Wings' defenseman this offseason is Carlo Colaiacovo.
Nothing against Colaiacovo, but he is neither Nick Lidstrom nor remotely close to Lidstrom's talent level.
If Detroit struggles out of the gate this season (if the season starts), look for Lidstrom's absence to be the main reason.
Jimmy Howard was selected as an All-Star last season.
But, that All-Star game happened at the end of January when Howard was still in contention for the Vezina Trophy.
Two games after the All-Star weekend, Howard broke a finger and was out supposedly for "two games."
That two games turned into six games, and all of a sudden, Howard was trying to re-acclimate himself to NHL games in time for the playoffs.
The main problem was most of the teams the Red Wings were playing down the stretch were either vying for a playoff spot or for position.
This meant that, instead of playing games that most fans view as "meaningless" in October and November, teams were upping the anti on a nightly basis.
Howard's numbers spiraled, and post-injury, he was 3-6-3 with a no-decision, and his post-injury save percentage was .830.
Howard could not get any help in the playoffs either, as the Red Wings lost in five games to the Predators. Although Howard did get let down by his defense frequently, there were just some saves that he should have made that he did not make.
If Howard struggles at all out of the gate with a shortened season, the Red Wings will suffer, and their playoff chances may hang in the balance.
If Detroit sees a slow start from their star tandem of Zetterberg and Datsyuk, the Red Wings could possibly struggle to miss the playoffs.
Last season, Zetterberg had seven points in the first 18 games of last season. Datsyuk was slightly better with 11 points in the first 17 games.
It should be noted that, although these players can break out at any time and completely take over games (Datsyuk had eight points in the next three contests after those first 17 games, while Zetterberg had six points in the next four games after his season opening slump), consistency is the name of the game.
If Detroit cannot find a way to spread out Zetterberg and Datsyuk's point totals, they will be hard-pressed to win games early in the season.
Combine that with the fact that the season is already starting later than normal and the Red Wings simply do not have the time to make up this lack of points (and possibly lack of wins if the rest of the team cannot get going) in the brief schedule this season.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk must start the season on a high note for the Red Wings.
The Red Wings special teams were nothing to brag about.
In fact, neither the power play (16.1 percent) nor the penalty kill (81.8 percent) were in the top half of the NHL at 22nd and 18th, respectively.
Combine Lidstrom's retirement with the status of Holmstrom (who may not be offered a contract as they already have 16 forwards signed (per CapGeek.com) and one can clearly see that the Red Wings have some serious rebuilding to do on their power play.
Holmstrom had 10 of the 48 Red Wings' power play goals and Lidstrom had 17 power play points in all.
The penalty kill wasn't bad, but it could have been better as Patrick Eaves was out for most of the season.
Special teams can make the difference in games, and these games become increasingly important as there will be (assuming the season starts at all) fewer games this season due to the lockout.
Will the Red Wings be able to overcome these issues?
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