Matt Larkin of The Hockey News (no relation to Dylan Larkin) recently answered some fan mail, which included the question that Detroit Red Wings fans everywhere are wondering – how can this mess get fixed?
Larkin’s somber assessment that the Red Wings are the furthest away from winning the Stanley Cup may sound a bit over the top, but when you get an idea of where Detroit’s cap situation currently stands, that grim prediction suddenly makes more sense.
Never one to shy away from thoroughness, Larkin had the chance to speak with Red Wings GM Ken Holland in the summer of 2016 following the long-term signings of Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm and ask him point blank about “the streak” that’s kept the team from a high draft choice for so long.
“What if the 25-year playoff streak is a curse?” Larkin asked. “It forces you to hang around this No. 8, No. 9 seed playoff bubble. You make moves to stay competitive but can’t get over the top, and your team isn’t bad enough to finish last, either.”
Holland’s answer probably will not sit well with fans, who are already reaching the limits of their patience with how he’s chosen to manage the team in recent years.
“The philosophical question you’re asking me is, ‘Do we head in a direction where we make a determination that it’s all about five years from now? Or do we continue to try to be a playoff team?’ And when you’re got Mrazek, and you’ve got Larkin, and you’ve got Sheahan, Abdelkader, and you’ve got Tatar, and Nyquist, and you’ve got DeKeyser, and you’ve got Frans Nielsen, and you’ve got Glendening and Miller on a checking line…we either got to have those people and we’re trying to win the division, we’re trying to qualify for the playoffs…or don’t sign Frans Nielsen. Don’t sign Thomas Vanek. Don’t bring in Steve Ott. And just go with a bunch of kids. And let the chips fall where they may, if you’re going to do a massive rebuild. And when I say massive rebuild – get a core of players that you think can carry your team for a decade – you’ve got to miss the playoffs five, six, seven years in a row. That’s what Pittsburgh did. That’s what Florida did. That’s what Chicago did. You can just go team after team. You don’t miss one year, and all of a sudden, ‘Boy, we’re back.’
“I like to think I’m proud of the job that we do. When (Steve) Yzerman retired in 2006, many people thought that the ceiling was going to collapse. And then we kind of kept it going, and when Nick Lidstrom left in 2010, they thought the ceiling was gonna collapse. And now Datsyuk is gone, and they’re waiting for the ceiling to collapse. And at some point in time, they’re probably going to be right. In the meantime, at the deadline last year, it’s the reason why I didn’t trade away any assets for futures.
“So right now we’ve won one playoff series in five years. We’ve sort of eked in. It just gets tighter and tighter every year. Certainly somebody from afar could say, well, the program, sooner or later it’s got to fall apart. But I’d like to think we’ve built a culture and a structure that’s gonna allow us to be competitive. Does that mean I’m telling you we’re going to make the playoffs this year? No. We might miss the playoffs. But I’d like to think that Athanasiou is coming and Mantha’s coming and we like Tyler Bertuzzi, I think he’s a real prospect. Larkin’s just turned 20, and Mrazek’s 24. Tatar is 25. Nyquist is 26 and DeKeyser’s 26. Sheahan’s 24. What we haven’t been able to do is get that superstar, those players that carry franchises like Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Lidstrom and Yzerman. Ten, 15 years ago, we did find a sixth and seventh round Zetterberg and Datsyuk. But that’s not a philosophy I go by, ‘Let’s try and wait around until we find a superstar in the seventh round.’ That can’t be your managerial or organizational philosophy.”
Read the rest of the interview here.