Detroit Red Wings: Hurting From Age and Only Getting Worse

John GalloContributor IIOctober 15, 2010

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 09: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings looks to pass against the Chicago Blackhawks during the Blackhawks season home opening game at the United Center on October 9, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Before I start, a couple of disclaimers for the Red Wings fans about to say that they are still great even though they are getting up there in age and that all of their veterans still have enough to get them deep in the playoffs.  And to that I have one comment:

I agree.

But, the truth of the matter is that the team is getting older, and there is a steep law of diminishing returns when discussing experience of a veteran, in that the older they get, their skills decrease faster than the increase in experience gained, except for players that are cyborgs or some sort of non-human entity(see Nick Lidstrom).

We will start with last season.  During last season, it seemed as though the Grand Rapids AHL team was playing for most of the season, yet the Wings still found a way into the postseason, and did so in a strong manner.  Despite the early postseason exit, which I attribute to age as well as a reduction in team chemistry because no solid lines were formed during the season, the fact they made the the playoffs at all says something of Mike Babcock.

Last season, the Wings lost 307 man-games due to injury.  A man-game is defined as one game missed by a player.  For example, if John Smith and Joe Sixpack are each injured and miss 5 games a piece, their team lost 10 man-games due to injury.  So, if we assume a standard 18-skater team, times 82 games, that accounts for 1,476 man-games in a given season.  Now, simple arithmetic will tell us that the Red Wings were without one of their normal roster players for 20 percent of its total man-games. 

Injuries are becoming a standard part of the game, blame whomever or whatever you want, but the fact is that injuries are on the rise.  But, the amount of injuries sustained by the team last year was staggering, I'm having trouble finding a list, but here's what I remember:


And many others (anybody that is a Wings fan or knows more, please feel free to let me know!)


The Wings organization and fans blamed injuries and the decline in total points, and with good reason.  But this season is not starting so well, either:

Rafalski (for four weeks min)
And now Franzen

Considering we are only four or so games into the season, this does not bode well, especially since the biggest offseason contribution to the team is the aging Mike Modano.  So the question remains:  Is this team too old?  The average age of a player in the NHL is 27.518 years, and Det is the oldest team in the league, clocking in at an average player age of 31.046, about one and a half years older than the number two team (NJD).

Mark my words, now:  Age is going to catch up with Detroit this year.

The team will not be able to continue at the pace they are used to, and Babcock runs a high-tempo, high-intensity game, that requires large amounts of athleticism and youth.  His game works, and works well, but the athleticism required runs down players, especially those that are older and don't have as much youth any more.  They get run down, and exposed to injuries, and then the team will spiral down.

This year, the team will have to make some deals to replenish the youth of the team, or be forced to play Grand Rapids Griffins for most of the season.  While they will still make the playoffs, the postseason glory that Detroit fans have become accustomed to will be elusive until the mastermind Holland gets more youth.  Signing Modano was a good publicity stunt, but not much more.  Fortunately, they were able to keep Helm and Abdelkador, and I strongly consider Helm to be the future of the franchise.


Well, that's all I've got; bring on the hatemail!