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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Why the Red Wings missed the playoffs for first time since 1990

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Michael Whitaker
Always at the front lines of Detroit Sports.

The Detroit Red Wings will not participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1990 – a streak that lasted 25 years and was the longest active streak in professional sports.

The past three years, the team has had to fight and claw the last few weeks of the season to barely qualify for the playoffs, and were promptly bounced in the first round by stronger teams. There was no such opportunity this year, as the streak was officially snapped in late March – though it may as well have been snapped weeks earlier.

There are many adjectives that can describe what Red Wings fans have gotten from their team since their 6-2 start to the 2016-17 campaign. But one word stands above all else when it comes to describe it – inconsistency.

A team that was already strapped for offense lost Pavel Datsyuk, who decided to forgo the final year of his contract and return home to his native Russia. The team was expecting forwards Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist to take the next step and build off their strong first few years in the NHL. Both took a step backwards last year, and despite a recent surge from Tatar, both players have woefully underperformed this year.

The team has gotten fair play from Frans Nielsen, who was signed to help offset the loss of Datsyuk. The team also got consistent scoring from winger Tomas Vanek, whom they elected to trade away at the deadline. Additionally, captain Henrik Zetterberg has enjoyed a strong bounce-back year, leading the team in points with 66 in 80 games.

Nothing else has gone right for the team, however. Perhaps the poster child for their offensive woes is Riley Sheahan, who was held goalless through 81 games this year. Justin Abdelkader has been a major disappointment after signing a massive contract extension. The team’s powerplay was historically bad, going three months without scoring on the road and sinking to levels not seen since the pre-Steve Yzerman years.

Goaltending was another issue. Petr Mrazek was been up and down far too much for a goalie who was viewed as the team’s future in net. Jimmy Howard put up strong stats, but was injured for much of the year. Third stringer Jared Coreau showed flashes, but also at times looked nowhere near prepared to play at the NHL level.

And then, of course, there’s the coaching. Second year bench boss Jeff Blashill simply hasn’t been what the team was expecting when he was promoted from Grand Rapids to replace long-tenured coach Mike Babcock in 2015. Nearly every player has taken a step backwards under him, and fans are calling for his replacement.

Despite everything, GM Ken Holland has repeatedly stated that the team has no intention of undertaking a full-scale rebuild. This isn’t what fans wanted to hear, as it echoes the theme of his off-season “less can be more exciting” gaffe. It doesn’t appear as though the team will be challenging for the Stanley Cup any time soon if management is content to continue to make minor adjustments and just try and sneak into the playoffs.

The team is at a crossroads as they close Joe Louis Arena and move into the brand new Little Caesars Arena this fall. Of course, all of the banners from the Joe will be moved to their new home – but if the team continues on their current path, it may be a while before we see a brand new banner raised to the Little Caesars Arena rafters. And that’s not something that should be acceptable.

 

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