Though Chicago had since dethroned the Red Wings as the rulers of the Central Division, the longest rivalry in the NHL was still burning hot and producing barn-burners as recent as a Game 7 showdown between the two clubs in last year’s semi-finals.
As odd as it may seem, the Red Wings (and their fans) were undoubtedly going to miss the Blackhawks (but probably not their fans) as they established residency in the Eastern Conference.
However, as far as the Red Wings legacy in the Western Conference goes, they got out of the neighborhood in the nick of time.
They were once the fastest kid on the block, the first-picked for every team and would easily bounce any rivals’ head off the sidewalk should they be foolish enough to challenge them to a fight.
By the end of last season, the Red Wings were finding that some of those other kids in the neighborhood were now bigger, stronger and faster than they were.
While the seemingly never ending merry-go-round of injuries has certainly played the largest part in Detroit’s increasingly disappointing 2013-14 season, the fact that it will need to scrape and claw for a playoff spot for the second season in a row is indicative of a downward trend that began before this season.
While injuries were a factor last season as well, the journey that has taken the Red Wings from the cream of the NHL crop to relative mediocrity began a while ago.
Lost in Semifinals
Lost in Semifinals
Lost in Quarterfinals
Lost in Semifinals
Since their Game 7 loss in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Wings have finished no higher than a third-seed (2010-11) team in each resulting season.
Detroit’s declining playoff position and point totals over the past three seasons were the result of several factors.
Player retirements, lackluster power play squads, injuries and increased competition within their division; the reasons for Detroit’s decline were easy to point to. But the reasons why Detroit was steadily falling from atop the NHL standings weren't nearly as important as the fact that it was slowly becoming a team known more for its past than its future.
At this point, if the Red Wings were enduring the same kind of season-to-date in the Western Conference, they’d be hovering around 10th in the conference and, at 52 points, would be 19 points behind the Central Division’s second-best team, the St. Louis Blues.
The once mighty Red Wings would need to strain their collective necks just to see how far their once lesser rivals in St. Louis and Chicago were positioned above them.
To speculate even further, one would be hard-pressed to argue that even a healthy 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings squad (a mythical creature that currently exists only on paper) would be in a points battle with the likes of St. Louis and Chicago.
The defending 2013 Stanley Cup champions have shown no signs of relinquishing that title in 2014 and the St. Louis Blues recently proved to the Red Wings why they have very real designs on challenging for the same title.
Looking at these three rosters, even on paper, it is tough to not pick Detroit’s as third-best among them.
While this season has not gone as planned for the Red Wings, the relatively lowly position in which they find themselves is undoubtedly buoyed by the fact that they’re not having to limp along in the Western Conference; a conference in which their playoff chances would be decidedly slimmer than they are now.
The most positive takeaways from the Detroit Red Wings’ season thus far are the silver linings that one can squint hard enough to see around the multitude of storm clouds that have gathered over and around Joe Louis Arena.
As disappointing as their season has been, fans should take solace in the fact that neither they nor the team has had to endure it in their former neighborhood.