I think we all remember the excitement of the NHL trade deadline in 1999. I faked sick getting out of my sixth-grade classes, purely so I could go home and watch ESPN‘s (then) wall-to-wall coverage. When ESPN/ABC had broadcasting rights to the league, they made the trade deadline a HUGE freaking deal; Barry Melrose, Steve Levy and special reports from TSN‘s Bob MacKenzie would make sure you didn’t miss a damn thing. Even if it were the most innocuous trade–an AHL contract from San Jose going to Ottawa for future considerations–we’d get an in-depth 20 minute break down.
That day, March 23, 1999, the Red Wings were far from innocuous, wheeling a pocket-book full of blank checks and reckless abandon, the Wings acquired Chris Chelios, Ulf Samuelsson, Wendel Clark and goalie Bill Ranford. Three of the four players were former all-stars and all three skaters acquired had previous bad blood with the Wings. Everyone was stunned and downright giddy, believing this had to equate to a third Stanley Cup in a row for Detroit. Lo that did not come to pass, the Wings were knocked out rather easily in the second round by Colorado. Still, Clark and Ranford had some spirited games in their short time wearing the Winged-Wheel and we know Chelios went on to win two Stanley Cups and play another 10 season in Detroit. The payoff wasn’t immediate from that day, but you remember feeling it would be, you were certain Ken Holland couldn’t let us down, it couldn’t be any other way.
As we sit here 14 years later, I can’t seem to remember a deadline acquisition that made me feel this way. I think the best anyone could come up with is Brad Stuart in 2008 and I can’t argue his impact on the way to a Stanley Cup. That was five years ago though. As a Wings fan, could you imagine going five years without an impactful deadline deal? In 2008, most of us couldn’t have foreseen this. In 1999, none of us could’ve foreseen this. We truly were spoiled before the salary cap era. Now, even though the Wings have been in good cap graces the past couple deadlines, we still haven’t seen significant movement.
Over the past three deadlines, Penguins GM, Ray Shero, pulled a rabbit out of his hat in a deal robbing the Dallas Stars of defenseman Matt Niskanen and high-scoring forward James Neal. This past season Shero gets Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray and future hall of famer Jerome Iginla.
The ’12 deadline saw significant movement in the Central division, yet little from Detroit. Nashville nabbed face-off specialist Paul Gaustad from Buffalo. He went on to dominate the Wings on the draw and penalty kill, leading to their first round victory over Detroit. The Blackhawks scooped up veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, who has paid off steadily playing over 20 minutes a night.
Last night, the St.Louis Blues, who are in direct battle for a playoff spot with the Wings, traded for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Reports have it that he was in target of Detroit but Holland chose not to pull the trigger because he was unwilling to give up a first-round pick. A confounding reason considering the only real deadline move the Wings have made in the past two seasons was trading a first-round pick for (playoff healthy-scratch) Kyle Quincey. Sooooo is Holland trying make up for a mistake he made last year or in his evaluation Quincey is better than Bouwmeester? While neither are top-line defensemen, most would agree, Bouwmeester would be an upgrade.
Today, even the COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS made a surprise power move for sniper Marian Gaborik and depth-liner Blake Comeau. Currently trailing the Wings by only four points in the Central standings, Columbus is directly battling for Detroit’s playoff spot.
While rivals surrounding the Wings seem to improve these recent deadlines, they appear rudderless. I can’t figure out what direction Holland is trying to take this team in.
I hear about all these highly touted prospects like Nyquist, Tatar and Lashoff, yet they struggle for NHL playing time. I hear about the Wings being in eleventh-hour negotiations for Ryan Suter, Justin Schultz, Jagr, Hossa, and Nash, yet the deals are not getting done. I hear about Filppula’s alleged trade value and how he may not re-sign, yet I don’t hear him being traded or even dangled in rumors. I hear about Iginla, Gaborik, Bouwmeester, Jagr, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy being traded to rivals and contenders for assets the Wings seemingly should be able to match. I hear about steady puck-moving defenseman Mark Streit and forward Ryan Malone rumored to be available for trade, yet hear nothing leaking about Holland even making a phone call.
The signing of Danny Dekeyser was the first fresh, positive news I’ve heard from the Red Wings since signing Hossa five years ago. Though my basis is subjective, that’s a very long period of stagnation. Even with his signing–a relative lay-up considering he was born and raised in the area– it’s not the powerful change this team needs to make to win in the next couple seasons or to begin moving in a new, youthful direction. While Dekeyser will hopefully represent the Wings future, I don’t see a commitment to the future until Bertuzzi, Cleary and Samuelsson are let go.
A path needs to be chosen because the current path has been treaded through and long worn. While my expectations were sadly low, it would’ve been nice to be surprised like we all were in ’99. Today could have been a day to choose that new path, instead this was another deadline of little-to-no activity that makes me feel the Wings are stubbornly or incompetently being left in the previous decade.
THIS IS THE FREAKING RED WINGS. We deserve and should expect better out of this franchise.
– Kyle Bauer
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer