Detroit Red Wings: Still No Telling If Playoff Hopes Are Fantasy or Reality

Matt HutterAnalyst IFebruary 16, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 7: Members of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a goal against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on February 7, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Ambiguity, applied to any state of affairs, is pure torture.

Whether you're waiting to hear about a job, a family member's prognosis or just how much you'll be shelling out to that mechanic to get your car back on the road, the waiting is worse than knowing.

It would be easier to know, today, that you didn't get the job, your loved one is not long for this world or the mechanic's bill exceeds your bank balance than to wait for better news tomorrow.

Even when the news is bad, there is comfort in knowing the waiting is over.

So, given the current state of affairs of the Detroit Red Wings, it would be easy, even comforting, to simply accept the fact that this team will miss the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.

It would be easy, but not fair.

Sure, one could point to the abysmal special teams play, the spotty scoring, the shaky defense, the ever-spreading rash of injuries and the dramatically shortened season as overwhelming evidence for the fact that this team has no chance of making the playoffs.

But if these are the factors at play, basing such drastic opinions on them is foolhardy, if not unfair.

For the better part of this truncated season, the Red Wings have not had a full NHL lineup, and certainly not the lineup they assembled over the summer.

Would the penalty kill be better with Darren Helm healthy?

Almost certainly.

Would the power play benefit from having Mikael Samuelsson in the mix?

Sure it would.

Would the defense be better off with a shockingly reliable Brendan Smith not nursing a bum shoulder?

You bet.

Look, this team has yet to play any extended stretch of games with a full roster of regular players.  The 7-5-2 record they've amassed to date is as shoddy and pedestrian as their lineup has been on any given night.

It is the best they've been able to do on short notice with replacement parts.

If and when the team regains Helm, Samuelsson and Smith—not to mention Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen and now, Pavel Datsyuk of all players—just how shoddy and pedestrian their record remains is wide open for debate.

All that said, if one wanted to state for the record that the Detroit Red Wings are no longer an elite team, no one with half a hockey mind could argue that fact.

Honestly, the Red Wings fell from that status well before this season, as their three straight seasons of early playoff exits can attest.

The Wings, even when healthy, are now far from Cup contenders.

But in today's NHL, it is all about getting into the playoffs, not necessarily what will happen once you get there.

After all, did anyone really put the "elite" label on the Los Angeles Kings or New Jersey Devils last season? Likely none but the most biased of fans.  Still, those are the two teams that ended up playing for all the marbles last season.

The clock is certainly ticking, and louder by the minute, for the Red Wings to assemble a regular, NHL-caliber roster.

However, until they do, it's still too early in the season to write them out of the playoff picture.

The uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding their nightly lineup hangs as thick as fog over a team whose playoff worthiness is equally as cloudy.

Clearing the air by tossing playoff hopes out the window would provide a fair amount of comfort (however cold) to fans who would rather know for sure there's nothing to look forward to but misery than hang on game after game waiting for things to improve.

But until further notice, this team's playoff worthiness is officially a coin toss, and that coin is spinning with tortuous hang time.

I for one am willing to see if it comes up heads or tails.