For the first time since 1990, the Detroit Red Wings are spectators to begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Simply put, their season was a major disappointment. Of course, the team had some positive moments through the 82 games, but they were overshadowed by far too many negatives, and it cost them a playoff spot.
Let’s take a look at the things that went right, the things that went wrong, and then what went really wrong.
The Emergence of Andreas Athanasiou
Andreas Athanasiou took major strides in his second season after having shown promise in his first. When it was all said and done, he was second overall on the team with 18 goals. His explosive speed and good hands help generate offensive chances for the team, and fans were excited to see him on the ice. The only problem with his game is his defensive lapses, and he paid for it by seeing his ice time reduced by coach Jeff Blashill. Regardless, the team is counting on him to be one of the building blocks for the future as they aim to get back into championship contention.
Further Developing of Anthony Mantha
Anthony Mantha entered the season with something to prove to the Red Wings. After being used late last season and showing promise, he began this campaign with the Grand Rapids Griffins. However, he was soon called up to the NHL and made an immediate impact. He finished with 17 goals and 19 assists in 60 games, and also found chemistry playing on a line with Henrik Zetterberg. But, like Andreas Athanasiou, he drew the ire of coach Jeff Blashill due to lapses in defensive play and compete level, and was even scratched for a few games. However, he figures long-term into the team’s plans, and his strong rookie campaign should help him take the next step in the coming years.
Tomas Tatar’s late season surge
Tomas Tatar did not have a good first half of the year. Aside from a December hat trick against Anaheim, he struggled offensively, and it hurt the team. However, he showed flashes of what the team saw from him in his first two years by scoring 13 goals in the final 25 games of the year. He’s a restricted free-agent going into this summer.
Jimmy Howard’s Resurgence
After all of the rumors of Detroit looking to move on from Jimmy Howard after Petr Mrazek’s emergence, Howard effectively silenced his critics. He posted terrific numbers before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup for 2 1/2 months. The reason that his record doesn’t look so great is because the team provided him with nearly no offense. The Red Wings will have some thinking to do on which goaltender they intend to expose to the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft.
The Team Offense
In a word, woeful. The Red Wings offense was so bad that they produced their lowest goal production since 1977 – two years before Joe Louis Arena opened. That just can’t happen. Several members of the team failed to provide the offense that the team needed. Justin Abdelkader didn’t even hit 10 goals all year. Gus Nyquist continued to struggle after having potted 28 and 27 goals respectively in 2014 and 2015, with only 12 this year. Dylan Larkin took a step backward following his strong rookie campaign. Frans Nielsen, though reliable, only put up 41 points. You can’t win if you don’t score enough, and the team certainly found that out first hand this season.
Following the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom in 2012, one thing the Red Wings have lacked is a true, bonafide number one defenseman. Niklas Kronwall is on his last legs, and it showed in his play this year. Age and injuries are certainly catching up to him. Danny DeKeyser struggled all season after being viewed as one of the central figures on the team, putting up a minus 22 rating and being prone to too many turnovers and errors. Only four teams allowed more goals against on the year than the Red Wings.
It’s become apparent that the Jeff Blashill experiment hasn’t been working out the way the team envisioned when he was promoted from Grand Rapids to take Mike Babcock’s place in 2015. Nearly every player on the roster has taken a step backward under Blashill’s term, and he’s not getting nearly enough out of them. He’s also drawn the ire of fans with his decisions to bench players like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou while continuing to trot out struggling players like Riley Sheahan. However, he will apparently be returning behind the bench next year.
One of the biggest surprises in the NHL this year was the lack of goal scoring from Riley Sheahan. After having scored 36 goals in his last three years, Sheahan didn’t score a single goal all season until he potted two in the final game on the schedule. He’s not a bad player, which is why his stunning drop-off was so surprising. It certainly didn’t help that he was rated fifth worst in the NHL with a minus 29 rating. He also earned the dubious honor of setting the Red Wings team record for most games without a goal by a forward.
The Red Wings powerplay unit was an abomination for most of the season. At one point in the season, it was the worst in 50 years. The team also failed to score a powerplay goal on the road for not one, not two, but three months. Absolutely inexcusable. Coach John Torchetti, who is in charge of running the powerplay, isn’t going anywhere either. Why?