Final Report Card for Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season
June 21 is officially the first day of summer in 2014. But for the Detroit Red Wings, summer arrived on Saturday, April 26.
Though summer certainly came much too early for the Detroit Red Wings' liking, now is just the right time to issue them their final report card for the 2013-14 season.
The Red Wings' Game 5 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday was an expected if not anticlimactic end to a season that could largely be defined as "the season of pain."
As the good people at Man Games Lost will verify, Detroit tallied a whopping 421 games lost to injury during the 2013-14 NHL season. Too much ink has been wasted documenting, bemoaning and analyzing the losses of key players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen, so there’s no sense in continuing that here.
No, the only reason to mention Detroit’s epic injury list in a preamble to their season report card is simply to state that all the grades represented most certainly took this fact into account.
What follows is a list of five key aspects of the Red Wings’ season: offense, defense, goaltending, special teams and coaching.
Each of these five areas was graded by looking at Detroit’s ranking relative to their division (bearing in mind there are eight teams in the Atlantic Division) and the league combined with a subjective, albeit informed, idea of what Detroit was capable of given its roster.
The report card will conclude with a final assessment and overall grade of the Detroit Red Wings' season, and this grade reflects not only the aggregate of the five key areas but also the Red Wings' playoff performance. As one would expect, the Red Wings didn't do much in that area to help their grade.
As report cards go, this one isn’t likely to be displayed on anyone’s refrigerator.
Goals For: 2.65
Divisional Rank: 5
League Rank: 16
Final Grade: C
The Red Wings were once the most potent offensive team in the NHL, utilizing superb skill and puck possession and a four-line attack to overpower their opponents.
While the Red Wings still boast some impressive offensive talent in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, their high-scoring glory days are behind them. This season saw the emergence of younger players such as Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco—all of whom showed considerable promise on the offensive side of the puck—but it may be some time before they shake out into top-tier threats.
One player who all but cemented his status as a go-to offensive player, Gustav Nyquist, emerged as the Red Wings’ top goal scorer with 28. However, the fact that Nyquist ranked 26th in the NHL reflects just how difficult it was for Detroit to find the back of the net this season.
While injuries certainly played a part, the Red Wings simply didn’t get enough out of some players when they were healthy. We’re looking at you, Johan Franzen.
Any way you slice it, and even considering the Red Wings' injury troubles, an average grade of a C is the fairest assessment of the team’s offensive performance this season.
Goals Against: 2.70
Divisional Rank: 4
League Rank: 16
Final Grade: B-
The Red Wings' dazzling, championship-caliber defensive corps is a thing of the past.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall remains as the only Detroit defender with a Stanley Cup ring, and, at 33, he is now the elder statesman among a relatively young and inexperienced blue-line squad.
Still, Detroit has signs of promise emerging from the ranks of its rearguards. Rookie Danny DeKeyser lead all Detroit defenseman in plus/minus with a plus-10 rating and also pitched in 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) in 65 games.
Still, a B-minus seems like a pretty generous grade for a team that gave up eight more goals than they scored. The reason for this is really tied to what Detroit reasonably could have expected out of group of defenders who are mostly still learning how to play at the NHL level.
Considering the particular shade of green along Detroit’s blue line, the team's defensive performance should actually be rated as slightly above average.
Jimmy Howard: 51 games played, 21 wins, 2.66 goals against, .910 save percentage, 2 shutouts
Jonas Gustavsson: 27 games played, 16 wins, 2.63 goals against, .907 save percentage, no shutouts
Petr Mrazek: 9 games played, 2 wins, 1.74 goals against, .927 save-percentage, 2 shutouts
Final Grade: C-
Looking at Detroit’s goalies this season, one sees what is largely an underwhelming picture of average performance. However, the fact that this was Jimmy Howard’s worst NHL season ever shows that average was only achieved by the play of backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
Had Howard played up to his outstanding potential, the injuries that plagued the team might not have been as devastating to the team's position in the standings.
The Detroit Red Wings began this season with virtually no concerns about their goaltending. As they head into camp this September, goaltending will likely represent one of the larger question marks hovering over the team.
Howard did not perform well enough or with any semblance of consistency this season to warrant an individual grade above a D.
However, as his netminding comrades provided some relief when needed, the Wings’ overall goaltending grade of C-minus seems more than fair.
Special Teams: C
Power Play: 17.7 percent effective
Divisional Rank: 5
League Rank: 18
Penalty Kill: 83.0 percent effective
Divisional Rank: 3
League Rank: 12
Final Grade: C
Detroit’s special teams play this season was perhaps the most tragic casualty of the team's injury troubles. Without any regularly serviceable units to ice from game to game, the Red Wings coaching staff was essentially left with a patchwork of second- or third-tier options on the power play.
However, Detroit’s penalty kill was decidedly more effective and saw regular and dependable play from veterans such as Drew Miller and Niklas Kronwall and from rookies such as Luke Glendening and Danny DeKeyser.
Given what little Detroit had to work with on a nightly basis, they more than deserve a solid C grade when it comes to special teams.
Final Grade: A
Mike Babcock—Head Coach, Tom Renney—Assistant Coach, Bill Peters—Assistant Coach
The hockey world will need to wait until May 6 to find out who will be in the running for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. That Mike Babcock should be one of them is beyond question.
Few, if any, coaches could have been dealt a hand as shoddy as the one Babcock had to play with this season and still retained at seat at the table come playoff time.
There is no question that Babcock got buy-in from veterans and rookies alike sufficient to extend the team’s playoff streak to 23 seasons. Additionally, the supporting staff of Tom Renney and Bill Peters seemed equally up to the challenge of managing an ever-changing power-play lineup (Renney) and a very young group of defenders (Peters).
However, Babcock is most certainly the captain of this particular ship, and for the way he guided this team through the storm this season, there is no grade to give him besides an A.
Overall Grade for Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season: C-
Special Teams: C
Final Grade: C-
For those of you doing the math at home, you may have found that the cumulative GPA represented by the grades listed should work out to about 2.2. That’s squarely within the "C" category at any school, so the C-minus final grade for the Red Wings’ season seems to suggest something isn't adding up.
Well, something certainly didn't add up for the Red Wings in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins, which essentially saw Detroit swept out after their remarkable Game 1 win. The Red Wings had an opportunity to learn from that victory as well as from their Game 2 loss. However, as intimidating an opponent as the Boston Bruins were, the Red Wings just didn't ever seem to play to their potential or provide much of a challenge.
As Ansar Khan at MLive.com noted in his post-series wrap-up, the Red Wings were anything but a “tough out,” despite what head coach Mike Babcock saw as the potential of his team. For his part, Babcock said as much himself, stating, “We weren’t a tough out at all. We were good in Game 1 and I thought we were good for a period-and-half in Game 4.”
In the end, even a better playoff performance might not have made much of a difference against the Bruins. Still, had the Red Wings pushed them to a seventh game, for instance, their final season grade could have received a boost. With that extra credit, they very well could have earned a B-minus.
However, based on all the work they submitted, their entire performance for the season was slightly below average.
Summer has come early for the Red Wings. Perhaps they’ll use it as an opportunity to study up and make a better showing next year.
*All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.