How Detroit Red Wings' 21-Year Playoff Streak Clouded Management's Judgment
On the surface, asking if a playoff streak is bad for a team seems rather ridiculous. Of course making the playoffs is important and a good thing, however, when just making the playoffs becomes the end goal, not only do you have a problem, you have your 2013 Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings are now in the middle of a 21-year streak in which they have made the playoffs. This season has not gone as planned, as injuries and poor play have them sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference with only four games left.
Such a streak is great if a team is challenging for a title. But when the only goal becomes just to make the playoffs, then the team is in trouble.
Now I can hear someone pointing out some of the great sports clichés such as “once in the playoffs anything can happen” and “you can’t win it if you’re not in it.” Some will even point to last season’s champions, the Los Angeles Kings, who won as an eighth seed. This is true, but not the norm.
Los Angeles made many changes during last season. They traded for Jeff Carter, fired their coach and called up rookies such as Dwight King, all of which changed the makeup and mentality of the team. The Kings understood the premise that if you are not getting better, then you are only getting worse. So while they were just an eighth seed entering the playoffs, they were not your typical eighth seed.
This Detroit team has not followed that wisdom. Certainly in the offseason they tried to get better. They chased the top two prized free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, only to see them sign with Minnesota. After not signing any of the other higher quality free agents, they had a decision to make. They could build for the future or try to keep the streak alive.
Now, those choices do not have to be mutually exclusive ideas. However, it is much more difficult to keep the steak alive while simultaneously rebuilding the team for the years ahead. Unfortunately they chose the streak, and this decision will hurt their immediate future.
Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson were both brought back on two-year deals. Both players are on the wrong side of 35 and their skills are nowhere near where they need to be to help the team. Signing them will block the future youth movement and change this season from a stepping stone to a wasted campaign.
Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson should be everyday players. Andersson has played in 34 games while the other two have only played in 18.
Other odd signings such as Carlo Colaiacovo and Jordin Tootoo seem to miss the mark as well. Colaiacovo is talented but often injured. With so many defensive players in the minors, the Wings should have brought one of them up. Injuries did force them to bring Brian Lashoff up early in the season, and he surprised the team with his solid play. Even more surprising is that he is not even the top-rated defender playing for them in Grand Rapids. Just imagine what other players could do if given the chance.
With Tootoo they were trying to get tougher, but other than a couple of games early in the season, he has been pretty invisible. Again, he is taking up a roster spot that the team could have used to bring up one of their own young talented players or recruit a young free agent. They have a knack for drafting great picks late in rounds, but do not seem to find those diamonds in the rough on the free-agent market.
Perhaps the most obvious example came at the trade deadline this season. Rather than making a move to get better now or for the future, they maintained the status quo hoping to keep the streak alive.
They have Ian White, who fell into the doghouse earlier this year and will be a free agent at the end of the season. It would have been wise to get something for him before he walked away for good; instead, they tried to ride him to another postseason berth.
A more pressing point is Valtteri Filppula, who will also be a free agent after the season. For all the love he gets in Detroit, he really has had only one good season, which came last year. He's been regressing ever since, as his point per game numbers have dropped from .81 points down to .43, which is also below his career average of .46.
Reports are that he is looking for a deal worth more than $5 million per season, and that he and the team are far apart in negotiations. That's a steep asking price for a player that has only cracked the 60-point mark one time. In fact, prior to last season, he only scored 40 points once in his career, and his current performance is starting to suggest that 2011-2012 was more of a fluke than of a sign of things to come.
Still, he is young, talented and has that key word that all general managers love, potential. With the two sides being so far apart on a deal, they should have traded him when they had the opportunity. He would have brought players in return and the team could have built for the future.
Now he'll likely walk away in the offseason and the team will get nothing in return.
With these poor moves, the Wings are now looking at possibly missing the playoffs and there is little hope that they will advance past the first round even if they manage to get in. They also haven't put themselves in a position to really make any major moves in the offseason, as they will be stuck with the bad deals that they signed to chase the streak.
It might be a scary couple of seasons of mediocrity in Detroit.
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