Detroit Red Wings 2013-14 Season Highlighting Team's Uncertain Future

Matt HutterAnalyst IDecember 17, 2013

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings reacts to a goal that is waved off during first period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on December 10, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

There’s been plenty of handwringing, fretting and naysaying associated with the Detroit Red Wings’ season to date.

Some have argued they’re not as good as they could be, while others think they’re exhibiting just what they are—a team in decline.

The Red Wings' season has been nothing but inconsistent, and the only certain things that can be said about it is that the Red Wings are 15-11-9 through their first 35 games, have a god-awful 5-8-6 home record and an Atlantic Division-best 10-3-3 away record.

Go ahead, try and put those stats together and come up with a solid argument for this team’s ultimate success or demise this season.

The 2013-14 season may not be going as some predicted it would, but the Red Wings still have a lot of hockey left to play, and only time will tell if all the current hope or despair associated with this team is warranted.

However, casting a wider gaze, is there really anything that suggests the Wings’ longer-term future is anymore certain?

In a practical sense, any team’s future is a mystery.

But assuming there’s a sliding scale for mysteriousness, the Red Wings’ future plots somewhere on the extreme end, somewhere between who really built the pyramids and Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place.

Consider answering this question—are the Red Wings trending up or trending down, long-term?

Well, if you think the former, you’d have plenty of reasons to defend your view.

Young players such as Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser appear to be forming a solid core group around whom to build in Detroit. Add in the continued excellence of the Wings’ current core of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall, and it looks as if the future could be bright in Hockeytown.

Still, one might see this as just over-optimism about unproven youngsters and a continued reliance on aging stars whose skills can only decline as they enter the downslope of their careers.

After all, if one wanted to point to the only season that has mattered in Detroit the past two decades— the postseason—evidence of decline can easily be found.

2009-101022nd5thLost in Semifinals
2010-111041st3rdLost in Semifinals
2011-121023rd5thLost in Quarterfinals
2012-1356*3rd7thLost in Semifinals

*only 48 games played due to lockout

After losing Game 7 in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, and that on home ice, the Red Wings have not made it out of the second round since, and in the past two seasons, concerns about making the playoffs at all have suddenly become real.

Still, the Red Wings were all but written off last season before storming back to force their way into a seventh-seed playoff spot and forced the eventual 2013 Stanley Cup champions to overtime in Game 7 in the semifinals.

Is this evidence of a team on the rise, able to succeed in the face of adversity? It could be.

And when it comes to a team’s long-term outlook, examining its front office and coaching staff can certainly shed light on a club’s trajectory.

In Detroit, general manager Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock are under contract through the 2014-15 season. No other general manager in the NHL has been as successful as Holland since he took the reins in 1998. Babcock is widely considered one of, if not, the best hockey coaches in the world. Surely, the Wings’ future is secure in these capable hands.

DETROIT - OCTOBER 12:  Executive Vice President and General Manager, Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings address the media during a press conference to announce the retirement from hockey of Kirk Maltby #18 before a NHL game against the Colorado Avalanch
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Then again, all coaches have a shelf life, and Babcock is in his ninth year behind the bench. If his voice is growing stale, then the Red Wings are headed in the wrong direction. Holland, long a fan of signing veteran players, has seen that strategy fail of late with the recent flops of Jordin Tootoo and Mikael Samuelsson prior to last season and the disappointing performances of Dan Cleary and Stephen Weiss so far this season.

Will Holland continue down this path the rest of his tenure? If so, his strategy may be growing as stale as Babcock’s voice, yielding little hope for long-term success in Detroit.

Where is this team going, and what will it look like getting there?

I suppose this question can be applied to any team, but these answers are decidedly more elusive when directed towards the Detroit Red Wings.