It is something fans in Detroit have been dreading for a few seasons now, and something fans in other cities have been waiting for almost as long—the decline and fall of the Red Wings.
For those faithful to the Winged Wheel, it was simply a matter of preparing for the inevitable. All great runs eventually come to an end and just like the New York Islanders or the Edmonton Oilers of the '80s, the Red Wings' routine dominance over the rest of the league surely had an expiration date.
This season, those fans of other teams who wished to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude upon seeing the Detroit Red Wings summarily dismantled by injuries, seemed finally to be seeing their wishes come true.
The Detroit Red Wings will finally, officially, become an NHL-afterthought as they are destined to miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons and, somehow, try to regain a shadow of their former strength in the seasons to come.
While a playoff berth is still a toss-up for Detroit (though the Red Wings now sit in the seventh spot in the East), any fears (or hopes) of a long, painful decline in hockey excellence in the Motor City are essentially groundless.
Playoffs or no, the Detroit Red Wings' future is decidedly bright.
Despite ever-mounting injuries over the past several of weeks, the Detroit Red Wings have gone 5-4-2 in the month of March.
That may not appear to be particularly impressive, especially considering what this team has accomplished in years past, but it reflects a strength and depth of commitment to winning that just might be enough to get this team into the playoffs.
While nothing and no one can replace the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, players like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar seem to have taken it as a personal challenge to at least attempt to do just that.
The loss of defenseman Jonathan Ericsson just four games ago loomed large on Detroit's blue line, but second-year defender Brendan Smith seems to have found his game just in time to take up the slack.
Added to these performances are the gritty and determined play of rookies Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening, and one sees a team that looks to be going nowhere but up in the years to come.
Young players contributing when things are good is one thing, younger players putting the team on their back in a fight for their playoff life is something else again.
Yet that's exactly what has been happening in Detroit over the past several of games, and the results are encouraging beyond what anyone might have anticipated.
Any discussion about the performance of the Red Wings' young players could not be had without also mentioning the man mentoring them from behind the bench.
Perhaps the brightest light of all when considering Detroit's future is that head coach Mike Babcock is, for now, a part of it.
Babcock's contract will carry him through the end of next season. While it should not be taken for granted that he will continue his service in Detroit, that general manager Ken Holland will do whatever he can to convince him is a foregone conclusion.
The Detroit Red Wings, despite their valiant efforts of late, may still miss the playoffs this season.
However, with the young talent they have on the ice and the man managing it on the bench, missing the playoffs will signal nothing more than the start of another rise to NHL dominance right around the corner.
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