Are Wings fans spoiled?

15 Min Read

This is an article I have thought about writing for a while, but now seems like the best time to do it. With the Wings on a three game losing streak, the critics have started to come out of the woodwork to voice their displeasure with the current direction of the team. So, the question is simple…are Wings fans spoiled?

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For the last two decades or so, dating back to Nick Lidstrom’s first season in the NHL, Wings fans have been treated to at least one playoff series per year. Other teams, like the Columbus Blue Jackets have qualified only once (and lost in four games to the Red Wings) in their history.

Not a fair comparison, you say, because the Blue Jackets are an expansion franchise without the pedigree of the Red Wings?

Fine. The Toronto Maple Leafs, whose 13 Stanley Cups make them one of only two teams in the NHL who have more Stanley Cups than the Wings 11 (the other is Montreal at 24), have not made the playoffs since the NHL locked it’s players out for the 2004-2005 season.

The New Jersey Devils have been the only team to even come close to matching Detroit’s level of success over the past two decades, missing the playoffs only twice since 1988-1989. Over that stretch they won three Stanley Cups to the Red Wings four, and 11 division championships to the Wings 14. Detroit has also won 6 President’s Trophies as the league’s best team during the regular season. No other team has won more than two, and the Devils have not won it once.

The Wings have been the model of consistency and excellence on, and off, the ice for years. Players want to come to Detroit because they know they have a chance to win, and because they are treated better here than anywhere else.

Todd Bertuzzi came back because he was treated better here than any of his other stops.The team rewarded him by flying his family out to Minnesota for his 1,000th career game.

Mike Modano put off retirement to come to Detroit. In November, Modano suffered a devastating wrist injury. It was so bad that no one could have really blamed him if he had decided to hang up the skates for good. However, he decided to work through it and return to the team that made him feel wanted and welcomed when the only franchise he’d ever known showed him the door.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard recently re-signed for two more years, due in part to the advice of older teammates who confirmed what he already knew: that there was no place better to play. Howard put off his honeymoon to prepare for the 2009-2010 season, and now finds himself as the league leader in wins.

Right now, the Wings are in the midst of a three game losing streak (0-1-2) to end a five game road trip that spanned four time zones. In all, they picked up 6 out of 10 possible points, while playing 5 games in 8 nights. That would be a rough schedule at home, but considering they flew from the Midwest, to the East coast, all the way to California and then on to Arizona in doing so, it only multiples in difficulty.

There has always been chatter from Wings fans about the teams flaws, even in years where they won the Stanley Cup.The issue I take with it is that instead of recognizing that the team has flaws, as do all teams, and accepting it for what it is, they insist that the team rid itself of these players who are apparently dragging the team down with them.

People have told me that re-signing Howard was a horrible decision by the management team due to his less than stellar GAA and SV%. To those people, I will point to his league leading 31 wins and the fact that he was a key reason that our team didn’t drop completely out of the playoff race when the injury total started to rise. I will also point to his numbers in October, when the team was healthy, that were among the best in the league.

Does Jimmy Howard have flaws of his own? Absolutely. Should be thrown under the bus every time the Wings lose? Not a chance.

I’ve heard that Mike Babcock needs to go. No really, there are people out there that want him on the next train out of town. I wish I were kidding. All the man has done in his first 6 seasons is lead the Wings to two Stanley Cup Finals (one of which they won), another conference finals appearance, and has this team on pace to compete for the Cup again.

He is also the only person in history to win the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, World Junior Gold, and the World Championships as the head coach. The Wings won 4 division titles in his first 4 years as coach, and are on pace for a fifth this year. They won two President’s Trophies.

Does that mean that he is going to execute his coaching game plan perfectly every night? No way in hell. Players have off nights, as do coaches. And even if a coach does everything possible to put his players in position to be successful, an unlucky bounce could ruin even the best of game plans.

People will pick at Ericsson, Kindl, Hudler, Rafalski and others, calling them everything from complete trash to overpaid and anything in between. The fact is that these guys are Red Wings, and they have the same goal for themselves that you as a fan do for them: win the Stanley Cup.

Every day when you go to work, are you perfect at your job? Why is it that hockey players are any different in our eyes? Is it because they make so much money? If so, then that’s not fair. The fact that they make more money than the average North American doesn’t mean that they are required to be perfect, or even capable of doing so.

I really question whether or not a lot of Red Wings fans would be able to handle cheering for a team that doesn’t enjoy the yearly success that our organization does.

Would the majority of Red Wings fans be able to handle cheering for the New York Islanders, who are in a perpetual state of rebuilding?

Could they take the frustration that faces fans of the Ottawa Senators? Just two years ago they were among the league’s elite teams, and at this year’s trade deadline they sold off anything they could for draft picks and prospects. They are years away from having anything resembling a competitive roster.

The Colorado Avalanche were among the league’s elite for almost a decade, winning Cups in 1996 and 2001, bottomed out to 14th in the Western Conference two years ago. Last year they made a surprising rebound to make the playoffs, but this year they are back down into lottery pick territory.

Could Wings fans handle this kind of fluctuation on a yearly basis? I really doubt it.

We’ve been spoiled by years of success. I’m too young to remember it, but surely there are still fans out there that remember the Dead Wings era.

I understand the criticism from fans of other teams. Success breeds jealousy. It’s the nature of the beast. Once you are on top, everyone else can’t wait to see you knocked down.

The Wings have avoided being knocked off their perch for two decades, and the decline doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

Yes, the Wings have lost three games in a row. They also picked up two points over that span.

Yes, they haven’t been playing great as of late. They are still in third place in the NHL

If this is what a lot of people are considering a down year…I feel bad for you if the Wings ever experience an actual drop-off.

The Wings have admittedly not had their A game for their latest stretch of games. In their last 10, they have a 5-3-2 record. Going 5-3-2 for the whole season would put you comfortably into the playoffs.

The best part of this whole “slump” in my opinion is that, though we haven’t been playing up to our lofty standards, we have still been competing and winning games. We were in the game from start to finish against San Jose, the league’s hottest team. We were ahead of Phoenix for 56 minutes despite an unspectacular performance. We took it to the Tampa Bay Lightning, this year’s Cinderella team. We swept division leading Boston in a home and home.

Every team’s hit rough patches, and it just so happens that right now is the Wings turn. You know who else is struggling right now? The number one and two teams in the league, Vancouver and Philadelphia. They are a combined 10-9-1 over their last 10 games apiece, including a 7-0 Flyers loss to a playoff bubble team, the New York Rangers.

It is not a coincidence that the top teams are struggling in March. They are already entrenched in the playoffs, while everyone else is struggling just to make it.

It’s taken 8-2-0, 9-1-0 and 7-2-1 streaks for San Jose, Chicago, and Calgary to separate themselves from the pack and put some heat on the Wings and Canucks.All three teams were out of the playoff picture just weeks ago, and have had to scrap and battle to get to where they are. And where they are now is still looking up at the Red Wings in the standings.

There is a reason that certain teams are hot from October to January and other teams get hot in February and March. The good teams get their work done early and don’t have to burn themselves out.

We saw this last year, when injuries decimated the Wings lineup and they needed a torrid finish to even qualify for the playoffs. They came in as the 5 seed, but since they had spent so much energy qualifying they weren’t physically able to compete with the Sharks in the second round.

The same can be said every year, for any of the bottom few seeds. They fight and scratch and claw to get in, and are usually one of the hotter teams heading into April, and they still lose out to the higher seeds. It’s not rocket science, it’s just facts. I’ll say it again, the better teams get their work done early so they aren’t burnt out by April.

So, while it would be nice for the Wings to go out and dominate every opponent, every night, it just isn’t going to happen. Not in a league with a salary cap that has virtually eliminated the possibility of teams developing into dynasties. The Red Wings are the closest thing to a modern day dynasty that we will see.

Appreciate what you have in front of you, which is one of the best teams in the NHL.

Appreciate what we have already witnessed, which is years of greatness by an elite organization.

Appreciate what is in store for the future, which is the continued excellence of players like Datsyuk and Zetterberg, as well as the development of future stars like Smith, Tatar and Nyquist.

As a Detroit Red Wings fan, you occupy one of the most revered positions in all of sports. You get to cheer for a team that is annually one of the best in the league, and always has a shot to win it all. There are fans of teams that won’t experience a fraction of the Wings success in their lifetime.

Appreciate what you have, because if you don’t you will miss the ride.

Go Wings

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Posted by Jeff Bilbrey
Founder of Detroit Sports Nation - Jeff Bilbrey manages the day to day operations of Detroit Sports Nation as well as all content delivery systems, ad networks and social platforms. Email him at [email protected]