5 Biggest What-Ifs from Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season
The Detroit Red Wings are among 29 teams that could find their fans playing the what-if game this summer after not winning the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings qualified for the playoffs for a 23rd straight season, but were a relatively easy out in the first round, losing four of five games to the Boston Bruins.
So what could have changed the Red Wings' fortunes this season?
Here are the five biggest what-ifs from Detroit's 2013-14 season.
"Biggest what-ifs" in this case refer to players or circumstances that were expected to make Detroit a legitimate threat prior to the start of this season.
All statistics via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
1. What If Stephen Weiss Hadn't Been Hurt for the Vast Majority of the Season?
When a team pays a player $4.9 million a season to be a No. 2 center, it usually helps if that player plays more than 26 games and contributes more than four points in a season.
Unfortunately, those were the numbers for Stephen Weiss.
The longtime Florida Panther couldn't seem to stay healthy, and even when he was "healthy," he never really contributed offensively in the way that Red Wings fans and management envisioned.
Weiss "replaced" Valtteri Filppula, who went on to have a 25-goal, 58-point season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Filppula signed for just $100,000 more per season than Weiss for the same duration (five years).
So, comparatively speaking, Tampa Bay got 14.5 times the points for just $100,000 more per season.
What if Weiss had never gotten injured at all? What if he had been healthy and contributing all season?
Certain AHL players would not have gotten the call-up to join Detroit, but the Red Wings would have also been a harder team to play against. Detroit would have a bona fide No. 2 center instead of scrambling around to find one before finally deciding on Riley Sheahan in the playoffs.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland summed up the season that Weiss could have had when speaking with reporters on Sunday.
"We made a significant signing — we thought Stephen was going to be our second-line center...It was a disappointing year. He struggled early, and then he had a bit of a groin injury, then he came back...He never felt right," he said.
2. What If Datsyuk and Zetterberg Had Played More Than 90 Games Combined?
Injuries were a defining part of the Detroit's season, with Man Games Lost indicating the Red Wings ranked second in the league in man-games lost.
The team saw its two best players in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk unable to dress for almost half of the team's games, respectively.
Their injuries allowed them both to play just 45 games this season, a big part in the Red Wings' inability to score more often. It doesn't take a genius to imagine what could have been had they each been able to play more than 70 games this past season.
What no one can put a value on is what would could have been for the Red Wings in the playoffs.
Datsyuk played all five games, but Zetterberg could not return until Game 4 for Detroit and was far from in game shape, having not played a game since Team Sweden's first Olympic game in Sochi.
While one can't fault either Red Wing for their inability to be on the ice more often, it won't stop fans from playing the what-if game as far as what would have happened if they had been able to be healthy more often.
3. What If Any Red Wing Player Had Scored over 50 Points This Season?
For all the success that the Red Wings found in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and other call-ups this season, they still could not find anyone to crack the 50-point barrier this season.
The closest player to that number was Daniel Alfredsson, who hit 49 points and led the team.
Now, some of this can be directly attributed to the previous slide describing the Zetterberg and Datsyuk injuries. For example, Zetterberg had 48 points in 45 games and most certainly would have hit far higher than 50 points had he remained healthy.
However, some of this is inexplicably bad luck.
Other than Tomas Tatar, Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader, no one in the Red Wings' top 10 in scoring finished with more than 70 games played this season. That is a recipe for an offensive disaster.
The inability of most Red Wings this season to remain on the ice and develop consistent chemistry with the same players will show up in the end-of-season statistics.
What if Detroit hadn't needed to use as many call-ups due to injury and actually had consistent, bona fide offensive threats this season? Would the team still be playing?
4. What If Jimmy Howard Had Won More Games This Season Than Last Season?
The above picture represented Jimmy Howard far too many times this season—dressing as a backup.
Howard posted his worst regular-season numbers since the 2010-11 season with just a .910 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average. He won just 21 of his 51 starts.
Now, the lack of team offense didn't do anything to help Howard, but he didn't prove himself capable of stealing games for his club this season.
From November 4 to January 1, Howard won just one of his 11 starts.
He won 21 games for the second season in a row, but took nine more games played to do so, as last year was the lockout-shortened season. He did no good for Detroit sitting on the bench, but that was more due to the play of Jonas Gustavsson, who won 16 of his 27 games played.
One is left wondering, what if Jimmy Howard could have channeled his inner All-Star-caliber self all season long?
5. What If Detroit's Veterans Hadn't Left the Scoring to the Young Players?
The Detroit Red Wings would not have made the playoffs this season if it hadn't been for the play of their younger players.
However, these younger players were only given the chance to play based on the shortcomings of their senior Red Wing counterparts.
|Note: According to CapGeek, the Red Wings only retained approximately $923,000 in the David Legwand deal. This has been taken into account in the "cap hit" column.||Combined Cap Hit||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points|
|Forwards over 30 not named Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen or Daniel Alfredsson||$15.898 million||302||29||34||66|
|Players born in 1989 or later that have played over 5 games with Detroit in 2013-14||$4.922 million||329||73||77||150|
The results really do speak for themselves in this table.
The Red Wings' veterans failed to contribute even half of what the youngest players on the team did, and they got paid just under one-third of what the Wings' veterans did.
This paved the way for a new era of sorts in Detroit, as a substantial amount of these players will go into unrestricted free agency with no contract offer from Detroit.
The Red Wings already have 11 forwards under contract next season, with only Tomas Jurco being eligible to be returned to the AHL without having to go through waivers.
This might be the only positive what-if on this list, as Detroit can finally move on from some injury-prone players and focus on the future.
Salary-cap and contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.