Why the Red Wings can still be a playoff contender

Monday’s NHL trade deadline came and went, and the Red Wings were among active teams. Winger Tomas Tatar found himself traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a bundle of draft picks – a 2018 first round pick, 2019 second round pick, and a 2021 third round pick.

At the moment, Detroit currently sits at 26-26-10, with 62 points. They trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by seven points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes sandwiched between the two teams, with 65 points each. The Florida Panthers are also in the hunt with 64 points and a couple games in hand.

Considering that the team traded both goaltender Petr Mrazek and Tatar, would it be crazy to think that they can vault themselves into playoff contention? No, it would not.

General manager Ken Holland cannot be blamed for unloading Tatar, who was in the first year of a new four year contract that carried an annual cap hit of $5.3 million. For the season, he has potted 16 goals and added 12 assists. It would have been absolutely absurd for Holland to look past this offer, especially considering the team’s current outlook on the future.

Personally, I don’t think the loss of Tatar is going to negatively affect the team. In the team’s 62 games this season, Tatar was held scoreless in 36 games (.58 points per game). He has also been rather streaky for the better part of the season, holding streaks of consecutive goal-less games of seven, six, seven, and eight.

If anything, this gives the Red Wings an opportunity to bring up a youngster or two from Grand Rapids. A hungry, hard-working player who has earned just such an opportunity. Among the players who might be ready for a call up from Grand Rapids are Matthew Ford (20 goals and 14 assists this season), Ben Street (10 goals and 33 assists), Eric Tangradi (22 goals and 21 assists), Matt Puempel (18 goals and 23 assists), Matt Lorito (19 goals and 23 assists), and Dominic Turgeon (13 goals and 17 assists).

Also worthy of consideration is the confidence level of one Jimmy Howard. With rumblings over the past year or so on both his and Mrazek’s futures, the fact that the team decided to stick with Howard as “the guy” between the pipes for the foreseeable future has to boost his confidence. We’ve seen in the past how much a confident goaltender can positively affect a team’s play, and Howard is in exactly that spot right now.

The team is looking at a tough remaining schedule, however. Nine of their next ten games are on the road, with the only home game in that stretch coming against Tatar and the Golden Knights. The bright side? Detroit has statistically played better on the road this season (13-13-2, 53% of possible points) than at home (13-13-8, 50% of possible points). If the team is able to make a jump in the standings over the past 16 games, they would then be in a position to make the final four games of the season interesting, if nothing else, when they wrap up the regular season with three of their final four games at home.

Am I saying that the Red Wings are a shoo-in for the playoffs, and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? No, far from it in fact. Am I saying that the team would be better off in the future by making the playoffs this year? No, that’s also far from the truth. It may improve their allure to future free agents, but would also put this “rebuild” in a more precarious position. Considering some of the changes that have occurred in Detroit lately, I would say underestimating a younger, hungrier team with a confident goaltender would be unwise.

What do you think?

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