There was a time, oh, maybe around the middle of last February, when the Detroit Red Wings seemed destined to spiral into the ground.
It seemed as if the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, mounting injuries and their herky-jerky offensive production were all going to prove too much for the once-mighty franchise to overcome in time to make the playoffs.
It was during a five-game losing streak last February that many Red Wings’ observers, including this one, thought it was best to simply accept the fact that there was going to be no playoff hockey in Motown come May (which of course, would usually be April except for the senseless lockout we were all forced to endure, but I digress).
But when May came, so did Red Wings playoff hockey. And the team that seemed destined to fail for much of the 2012-13 season quickly morphed into the team that seemed destined to succeed as they had for much of the 22 seasons prior.
Now, we all know how their season ended.
A 3-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the semifinals quickly evaporated, yielding a heartbreaking overtime loss in Game 7.
Still, no one, not even the most faithful of Red Wings fans, expected they’d see their team take the eventual Stanley Cup champs the distance in the second round.
It was an early exit, but the Red Wings were no longer a team in decline. Once again, they appeared to be settled into their well-worn position as one of the NHL’s best teams.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, that’s just where many pundits would put the Red Wings.
While not the odds-on favorites to win it all (for the record, Vegas has them at 16-1), there aren't many who would be shocked to see the Red Wings as the last team standing in June.
There is indeed reason to be hopeful about the Red Wings this season.
They still boast two of the best players in the world in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk; Jimmy Howard has put any of their goaltending questions to bed; and Mike Babcock remains as, quite possibly, the best hockey coach on Earth.
Nevertheless, every silver lining has a dark cloud (read it again, it makes sense), and the Red Wings are facing some potentially serious issues this season that could very well derail their return to the land of the NHL elite.