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What We Learned: Is this the Red Wings' last stand?

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock looks up at the scoreboard during the third period of a first-round game in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins, in Boston, Saturday, April 26, 2014. The Bruins won 4-2. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock looks up at the scoreboard during the third period of a first-round game in …

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

It seems like every one of the last four or five years have come with predictions that the Red Wings' time in the sun was over.

As everyone in hockey is well aware, the Red Wings haven't missed the playoffs since Erik Karlsson was about a month away from being born, and 23 years in a row of doing anything is awful impressive. But the hockey world as a whole seems to generally be in agreement that if this coming season isn't the end of the line — and you wouldn't be a fool to bet on that — then that train's still going to be coming around the bend soon.

The team has two bonafide stars whose fuel can't be too far from burned out. Henrik Zetterberg is still elite, and Pavel Datsyuk remains great despite not really producing big-time points any more. But these days both were injured for the majority of last season, and will be 34 and 36, respectively, for pretty much the entirety of this 2014-15 season. You can't expect them to recover from the bumps and bruises one picks up in a normal hockey season as quickly as they once did, and likewise, one cannot expect them to put up points forever. It's for the same reason: Age erodes all.

To be fair, though, these Red Wings aren't the creaky oldsters of yesteryear; for the most part, in fact, the 30-plus crowd on the team has been cleared out in favor of younger players who never used to be able to get a chance with this club because of how many established veterans crowded the roster.

For years now, those aged stars have slowly made their way off the team for one reason or another, and not really been replaced with willing free agents as was the case even half a decade ago. It really wasn't so far back that an in-his-prime Marian Hossa went to Detroit for a season on the basis that he saw it as his best chance to win the Cup (though he was, obviously, wrong).

The question, then, is whether those younger players are capable of replacing the older ones when necessary, or taking off the pressure that might come if injuries happen again this season.

One major issue, as far as that goes, is that the team's biggest point-getters last season should bring with them considerable worry: The possibly retiring Daniel Alfredsson and aged Niklas Kronwall tied for the team lead in points last season, at just 49. That's the lowest total to lead a Red Wings team in a non-shortened season since — and I swear this is true — Gordie Howe was 18, the year after the end of World War II. Of course, they only played 48 games in a season back then, so Joe Carveth's team-leading 35 points was actually pretty good. Meanwhile, Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist were only a point back at 48 points, and they played shortened seasons because of injury and an inability to stick with the big club for a while.

They used 38 skaters last season because of that huge rash of injuries. And while that bug is very unlikely to bite nearly as hard, it nonetheless remains a point of concern that 28 of guys got 20-plus games, and only 20 of them cracked double-digit point totals.

That should be a major point of concern for the club, though, because Alfredsson doesn't seem likely to come back, Kronwall can't be expected to put up those numbers again (the were two shy of his all-time career high of 51, set in 2008-09), Zetterberg is no guarantee to stay healthy, and Nyquist needed to shoot 18.3 percent to get anywhere near 0.8 points per game; at league average, he would have scored about 13 goals on his 153 shots, rather than 28. With Alfredsson's apparent departure comes the use of younger players like Riley Sheahan and Tomases Jurco and Tatar, maybe Joakim Andersson, in bigger roles, but neither seem likely to reach his levels of production. And even if Zetterberg and Datsyuk can play full seasons, there isn't much to inspire anyone about this team's chances to do much at all.

The Red Wings' most obvious problem has been much-discussed this summer. They can't attract free agents any more. And so the team is stuck in a weird state of limbo: They have lots of pretty decent kids laying around — few to none of them anything resembling actual stars, which the team used to have in spades — to complement guys who are closer to retiring than they are to being 30 again. It's a genuinely tough situation for the club, which apparently lost a shrewd evaluator and deal-maker when Jim Nill jumped to Dallas last summer, and one that doesn't seem as though it can be worked out of any time soon.

None of this is to say that this team is not fundamentally good. It is, mostly. Even despite all the injuries, their underlying numbers — beyond the mere 93 points they squeezed out of the Eastern Conference — were 11th in the league in score-close situations. Ahead of Anaheim, ahead of Pittsburgh, ahead of Montreal. That doesn't make them world-beaters by any stretch, but it shows that the process Mike Babcock continues to peddle is solid, even if players largely grumble about it.

They were, however, a little luckier than many other teams in the league, posting a PDO that was fifth-best in the league, and certainly not inflated by Jimmy Howard being anything better than league average. In fact, he was a little below it overall. Can the team keep shooting as it did last season to artificially inflate its points totals? History indicates the answer is “probably not:” their 8.8 percent even-strength shooting efficiency was the highest seen by the team in the last four seasons. Expecting a come-down there would be a pretty smart beat.

It's sad that this is kind of the expectation in Detroit now. It used to be that if you said the team was falling off a little bit, fans were furious. Now you say it and they mostly just nod in grudging assent, because they know the sun is setting for these halcyon days.

And even if they do keep the playoff streak alive, which seems unlikely, to what end do they do so? They're not contenders for anything noteworthy, short an improbable and any run they go on would like be just as fueled by upsets in the other playoff brackets as the Rangers' was last year. They look far more like the team that got absolutely creamed by Boston, lucky to win a single game, in the first round. They might even be a little worse, especially because a few teams that weren't far behind them in the standings (the Devils chief among them) are making up ground.

If this team misses the postseason, you have to think big changes are coming. In the end, though, that would be for the best. The way things are going now, there's very little reason for hope in Detroit.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler says the Ducks know what it takes to win now that they've lost in the playoffs (again). That's right, Cam! It's “shooting 11 percent all season!”

Arizona Coyotes: Someone just guaranteed the Coyotes would make the playoffs next season. And that might be like the fourth-craziest thing said in this.

Boston Bruins: People in Boston are awful high on David Pastrnak all of a sudden, and not in the way that fans of teams are normally too high on their prospects. There's persistent, semi-legitimate discussion that he might make the team next year.

Buffalo Sabres: Sabres preseason tickets go on sale Monday, Aug. 25, in case Buffalo fans hadn't seen enough AHL players in NHL jerseys over the last few years.

Calgary Flames: TJ Brodie helped raise more than $15,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. What a nice boy.

Carolina Hurricanes: It really is crazy that Eric Staal has only been to the playoffs twice. And that he's never been eliminated earlier than the Conference Finals.

Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith is the second-best defenseman in the league, according to NHL 15. More evidence that EA's NHL series is bad.

Colorado Avalanche: “... AKA: Goals against.”

Columbus Blue Jackets: You can tell this is a great league because we still have to read announcements like this instead of that just being a given.

Dallas Stars: Valeri Nichushkin seems a very reasonable candidate for a big breakout in Dallas. Their forward corps might not be very fair to everyone else in a year or two.

Detroit Red Wings: I think we all know the answer to this question is: “Oh yeah, that second one you said.”

Edmonton Oilers: That Oilers center situation remains quite bad. They might have to resort to signing Scott Gomez.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers hired Brian MacDonald as director of hockey analytics. One has to assume that this is a direct reaction to the Dave Bolland contract.

Los Angeles Kings: Luc Robitaille really should have had a statue outside Staples Center before this.

Minnesota Wild: No owner should be making personnel decisions for his hockey team. Craig Leipold is not an exception to this rule.

Montreal Canadiens: August means we get to hear about, “Boy these hockey players sure do get paid a lot!” Yeah it's almost like they play in a league that pulls in $4 billion in hockey-related revenues annually.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Yes, having Pekka Rinne for 60 healthy games instead of 24 injured ones will probably help.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils played in 50 games that ended with just a one-goal deficit last season, and 27 of them went to overtime. It really is crazy how little additional luck they needed to make the playoffs.

New York Islanders: The Isles really only need to add a defenseman or two to finish off the roster, but that could be done internally. Team really is looking solid this season.

New York Rangers: Dan Boyle sees a lot of pressure for the Rangers this coming season. If you were going to bet on a repeat trip to the Cup Final, though, you might want to just save your money.

Ottawa Senators: Curtis Lazar would really like to be on the Senators next season instead of playing junior for another year. His junior numbers would indicate that he deserves a look, if nothing else.

Philadelphia Flyers: Brayden Schenn needs to take a step forward this season. He wasn't good last year, so he actually needs to do that to even be decent again.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have a lot of pressure on them this season. You know, how that's different from all the other seasons.

San Jose Sharks: We're already looking at the possibility of a second outdoor game for the Sharks in the next few years, this time at AT&T Park. Good lord, enough

St. Louis Blues: Jim Corsi now spends more time talking about a stat named after him than he does coaching goalies, which explains a lot about the Sabres the last few years.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop is finally facing live shots again. Didn't realize he hadn't been doing that all along. Makes the extension seem even curiouser.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Oh, now the Leafs are connected to a pipeline with the Soo. Come on Dubas.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks might not use an enforcer this season. Hmm, what a novel idea. Says Trevor Linden, who just got done saying Shawn Thornton is useful, “Fighting is supposed to be there to protect our top players. I’m not sure it has that effect. I think that happened in the ’70s and ’80s, but I think that ended when the game progressed.”

Washington Capitals: Well, yes and no there, Rod.

Winnipeg Jets: And yet the answer's pretty simple: “Fire everyone.”

Gold Star Award

I think this McDavid kid could turn out to be pretty good.

Minus of the Weekend

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Nerds again!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Optimus Reim” is thinking good.

Tor gets:
Duchene
Landeskog
EJ

Col gets:
Kessel
Bozak
2015 first
Phaneuf

Signoff
I decided I don’t wanna be like you: A 60-year-old man, still battling his bully.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is hereand his Twitter is here

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