During their NHL careers, former Detroit Red Wings players Kris Draper and Henrik Zetterberg were a part of some of the greatest on-ice products that fans in the Motor City and across the world had ever seen.
Multiple Stanley Cup victories between the two of them (4 rings for Draper, 1 for Zetterberg), individual awards, and playing alongside some of the game's greatest players were just a few of the accolades they experienced.
But the current edition of the team they sweat and bled for isn't as fortunate. They're in the midst of a full-scale rebuild, and right now it's just about rock-bottom. 11 straight losses, increasing scrutiny on head coach Jeff Blashill, a porous defense and sputtering offense, and no clear end in sight despite team legend Steve Yzerman having recently taken the helm as general manager.
But in the midst of these struggles, players on the team are leaning on lessons learned from some of the greats that they played with. For example, winger Darren Helm had the privilege of playing with both Draper and Zetterberg, and what he learned from them still helps him despite being in the NHL's basement.
“Early on it was Draper — he was a guy who would go out and buzz around and check and hit, give us a good energy shift,” Helm said after practice Sunday. “Z did a really good job of that when things were kind of doing nothing out there. Guys would be struggling and he’d just go out and throw a big hit and work hard, grind a shift out. Those are important when things aren’t going the way you want them.”
“It’s been hard this year. It’s not easy letting two or three goals in early and trying to stick with the game plan, but it is so important. That culture was here when myself and Abby (Justin Abdelkader) came into this team.”
For Helm, he came to the Red Wings right at the height of that culture – his first NHL experience came during the Stanley Cup run of 2008, and he played a huge role for the 2009 squad that came within a game of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s important for us veterans in the room to keep that culture going,” he said. “It is important for us to show the younger guys, the team, the fans, the organization, that we have a lot of fight left in us and it’s important to play the right way. I might not be here when things start to turn around, but I definitely want to leave my footprint.”
Head coach Jeff Blashill talked about the patience that Zetterberg displayed and preached to his team as captain, and the effect it had on the younger players.
“The biggest thing that Henrik talked about was patience within shifts and patience within games to not force things if they’re not there,” Blashill said. “If you’re a young player, you tend to try to make things happen because you want to win, so you end up forcing plays, and a lot of times they don’t work and it actually hurts you.”
The Red Wings will continue to need to lean on the things they learned from those who came before them in order to make their way through their current skid – they'll appreciate it that much more when it finally looks as though there's some light at the end of the tunnel.