Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Washington Capitals officially closed the book closed the book on the Red Wings’ playoff chances this year, marking the first time in 35 years that the team missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons. Now that we know the team will not be skating in the playoffs, it’s time to bring a few youngsters up from the Grand Rapids Griffins and give them big minutes to see if they’re ready for the big show, right?
Not so fast.
““If I start playing guys because of their age, you lose 100 percent credibility and you don’t teach the lessons of earned ice,” head coach Jeff Blashill told the Detroit News on Thursday.
A few years ago when Detroit had a stellar roster from top to bottom, and plenty of players who had spent plenty of time “over-ripening” in Grand Rapids, their wasn’t such a sense of urgency to get the younger players ready for NHL hockey. Those days are far past us now though.
Now, with a quite-noticeable lack of high end talent on the main roster, the days of relying on high priced free agents or youngsters who are beyond ready for the NHL are over. Instead, Detroit’s strategy for preparing future players isn’t so cut and dried.
“I’m asking our guys to go out and work as hard and compete as hard as possible,” Blashill said. “You want to take one of those guys’ jobs, then you have to play better than them. That’s just the reality of it.
Young players, such as Evgeny Svechnikov and Tyler Bertuzzi (who have been with Detroit for eight games and 40 games, respectively) have been brought up to the main roster and forced to earn their ice time.
“What Svech has to do on a shift-by-shift basis is to be better than one of these guys: Nyquist, Bert, Mantha, Helm, Abdelkader, Double-A. Those are the guys playing wing, right now. So, he’s got to beat one of those guys out.”
Also restricting the team’s ability to bring up a bunch of prospects is the fact that the team is only allowed one more call-up this season, unless injury strikes. After the trade deadline, each team is allowed only four call-ups. Since that time, Detroit has recalled Bertuzzi and Jared Coreau (who were sent back down to Grand Rapids earlier this year in order to qualify for the Griffins’ playoff roster), as well as Svechnikov. With the news of Mike Green’s surgery that has put his season to an end, it is reasonable to expect the recall of another defenseman in the near future as well.
Essentially, the Red Wings are traveling through uncharted territory. A rebuild is not something that this team is very familiar with. But Blashill believes that there is a system to be followed to get the team in a position to be competitive again in the near future.
“I can also tell you the difference between the guys who make it and the guys who don’t is mental toughness,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way of staying mentally tough and keep deriving your confidence from within. But, if you get to a point in this league where you believe in your heart of hearts that you belong, boy, great things can happen. So the more games a young guy like builds, where he believes that he totally belongs, inside, the better it will be for him.”
Whether or not these ideals hold true and get the team back into the realm of competitiveness remain to be seen, however. One thing is for certain though: this is an ugly chapter in the book of Red Wings hockey.