Yes, the Red Wings missed a great opportunity to make it to the Western Conference Final. To lose in overtime of Game 7 after holding a 3-1 edge in a series is heartbreaking, and for many fans, it still stings.
There are some residents of Hockeytown who probably still need to adjust their expectations, while others are able to see the positives from Detroit’s 2013 campaign.
In today’s NHL, it’s virtually impossible for a team to contend for a championship year in and year out. The Red Wings may not dominate the way they have over the past couple decades, but they should continue to be a playoff team in their new home in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit showed up when it mattered most this season, winning its last four games by a combined score of 15-3 to qualify for the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season.
Then, it upset the Anaheim Ducks, an accomplishment that should not be overlooked. The Ducks were a strong team throughout the season, finishing third in the league, 10 points ahead of the Red Wings.
Jimmy Howard shook off some early playoff struggles and turned in a number of remarkable performances against both the Ducks and the Blackhawks. He finished 7-7 with a .924 save percentage, 2.44 GAA and one shutout.
Howard’s six-year, $31.75 million contract was questioned by some (myself included) as it seemed like a bit of a lengthy deal for a goaltender who still had a lot to prove.
Well, he proved himself this postseason, single-handedly keeping the Red Wings alive at times.
There were also those youngsters in front of Howard, who seemed to get better with each playoff game.
The line of Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner showed great promise.
Brunner led the team with five goals and finished tied for third with nine points. Andersson was solid in the faceoff circle, winning 55.9 percent of his draws. Nyquist showed good speed and creativity in the offensive zone and finished with three goals and two assists.
Brunner is an unrestricted free agent, while Nyquist and Andersson are restricted free agents. You can expect all three to be at the top of general manager Ken Holland's offseason priority list.
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who broke his thumb in Game 2 against the Ducks, has a year left on his entry-level deal and should play a more prominent role next season.
DeKeyser, Nyquist and Andersson have returned to Grand Rapids to help the Griffins with their championship bid. The strong playoff performance by Detroit’s farm team should also give fans more confidence.
The Griffins defeated the Oklahoma City Barons 5-4 in Game 7 of the AHL’s Western Conference Final and will now play the Syracuse Crunch for the Calder Cup.
They’re led by Tomas Tatar and goaltender Petr Mrazek, who appears poised to make the jump to the NHL in the coming years.
As for Detroit’s veterans, most are under contract next season with the exception of Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary and Drew Miller. More importantly, it appears as though Pavel Datsyuk, who it was speculated could be headed to the KHL after his contract expires next year, may stay in Detroit.
According to a report by Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press (via USA Today), Datsyuk would like to remain a member of the Red Wings after next season. The Russian forward also mentioned his future in a tweet following Detroit’s Game 7 loss.
On top of players and prospects, Detroit’s management and coaching staff are still among the league’s best, despite what some critics might say. It’s clear from both the NHL and the AHL playoffs that the Red Wings have significant talent in their system that should make an impact in the near future.
Is Holland perfect? No, of course not, but you will have an awfully tough time finding someone who could do better a job in this situation.
Meanwhile, Mike Babcock and his staff continue to make the proper adjustments and get the best out of their players at crucial moments. Let’s not forget, this was a 48-game season. Things could look better next year, when a team with many relatively new faces has more time to gel.
Many analysts, experts and fans were forecasting doom at various points in the 2013 season, when it appeared as though Detroit’s playoff streak could come to an end.
It didn’t, and the Red Wings came within one goal of eliminating the Presidents' Trophy winners.
Fans should be proud of what their team accomplished this season and be optimistic for what the future holds.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.