The regular season is winding down, and the road to the playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings is becoming more difficult.
Detroit is suffering from injuries, and it’s led to the debut of many young prospects.
Landon Ferraro became the 10th player called up from Grand Rapids this season and the seventh player to make his NHL debut.
Justin Abdelkader suffered a laceration on his leg in Sunday’s game with Chicago and will miss approximately two weeks. Jonathan Ericsson broke a finger Tuesday night against Toronto and may require surgery.
Injuries have plagued the team to the point that Brendan Smith played left wing on Detroit’s fourth line.
The Detroit Red Wings could miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990; so let’s put that into perspective.
Four different presidents have held office since Detroit last missed the playoffs.
Billboard’s No.1 song of 1990 was "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips.
The top-grossing movie at the box office was Home Alone.
Milli Vanilli was still thought to be a legitimate recording artist.
To clarify, this isn't to say it would be more beneficial for the Red Wings to miss the postseason, only that Armageddon is not imminent.
Detroit fans would love to see the streak continue, but at this point, missing the playoffs may be a blessing in disguise.
Since 1990, every other NHL franchise has missed the postseason at least once—some only making it once.
In fact, Detroit has played 286 playoff games since the streak began in 1990-91, according to hockey-reference.com. That means Detroit has played nearly three-and-a-half seasons of extra hockey.
That is 25.5 seasons of hockey in 22 years.
The playoffs bring an added physicality, desperation and drive that wear on players over the course of a career. Injured veterans like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have each played over 120 playoff games.
The extended offseason for a non-playoff team could be exactly what the ailing Red Wings need, but time to heal isn’t the only thing that could help.
There is a lesson that comes with failure. It can provide an added perspective that even a 10-year veteran may not have experienced.
It is possible that complacency has set in with the club, which has practically been guaranteed a playoff spot each of the last 22 seasons.
Perhaps falling short could be the catalyst necessary to recapture the glory previously bestowed upon Hockeytown.
Since so many young players have received their first taste of the NHL, they can develop a better understanding of what it takes to play on the biggest stage.
Detroit’s influx of young talent is notable and perhaps its veteran base is finally waning. The hungry push from prospects could provide healthy competition and spirited camaraderie.
Detroit can credit its current standing to contributions from its prospects.
It currently has 13 players on its roster at the age of 25 or younger. It is no coincidence that an abundance of their injured players are over the age of 30.
Gustav Nyquist, who started the season in Grand Rapids of the AHL, scored his team-leading 18th and 19th goals of the season in Detroit’s 3-2 win over Toronto on Tuesday night.
Tomas Tatar has added 27 points in his first full season, and Riley Sheahan has developed into a reliable center after just 28 games.
There is valuable experience ahead for these young players, and it could provide the maturity necessary to ready them as NHL regulars.
Considering the approximate $20 million Detroit will have in cap space this offseason, there are options aplenty ready and waiting.
Detroit has seven unrestricted free agents coming off the books, and roster space for some of its top prospects could be available for the taking. It is another opportunity to reload rather than rebuild.
Take into account the coaching ability of Mike Babcock. He hasn’t had the opportunity to pencil in a consistent lineup since November and won’t for the final 14 games of the year.
To take the excessive number of inexperienced players and continue to shape the club into a playoff competitor is nothing short of miraculous. In fact it’s better, because it’s real.
Should Detroit make the postseason after all it has dealt with, Babcock is sure to be a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.
The Jack Adams trophy is awarded to the coach considered to have contributed the most to his team's success. There is no doubt that Babcock is responsible for the fight left in this club.
The idea that missing the playoffs this season is a sign of the team trending downward is sadly misplaced.
It would be disappointing to see such an incredible streak end after a run that rivals some of the best dynasties in the game. The end of an era shouldn’t be feared, but possibly embraced.
Some things need to get worse before they can get better, and this season has been a prime example of that for the Red Wings.
Allow Datsyuk and Zetterberg to heal without the pressures of a playoff push.
Send the young players back down to Grand Rapids for more valuable experience during its postseason run.
Let contracts expire and start fresh with younger talent and roster flexibility.
Detroit is currently one point out of the playoffs and doing so without two of the best players in the world.
The goaltending has been inconsistent at best, and the defense currently boasts one player with a positive plus/minus rating—Danny DeKeyser at plus-eight.
A well-rested, healthy and revamped Red Wings team could return hungrier in 2014-15 than it has been in over two decades.
The right combination of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance could spell the beginning of a new era in Hockeytown.
Even if the streak were to end this season, the next one is just around the corner.