Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland estimates he’s been asked whether his team will miss the playoffs for about 10 straight years.
“If you’re out there externally you think, ‘well at some point the Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs.’” Holland said in a phone interview with Puck Daddy.
Holland points to all different lines of reasoning in recent years why people have believed his team would miss the postseason for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
The salary cap was supposed to crush Detroit in 2005-06.
The team from that year finished with 124 points.
Steve Yzerman’s retirement and Brendan Shanahan’s leaving via free agency before 2006-07 was going to create a major void.
That team finished with 113 points and made the Western Conference Final.
Losing Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement after 2011-12 was supposed to be the biggest blow to their streak.
The following season the Red Wings upset the heavily favored Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs’ first-round and then gave the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks their toughest test the next round.
Holland says he hears the same doubts and questions about this year’s team – a group that’s been fighting with the Philadelphia Flyers for the last Eastern Conference Wild Card spot the last few weeks. He said he tries not to think about the big picture of the playoffs and the streak and focuses more on the next game.
Currently Detroit has 85 points, tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot. The Flyers have one game in hand on Detroit.
“This group of players wants to make the playoffs. They want to make some playoff noise and have an opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Holland said. “I don’t think they want to make the playoffs (to make it) 25 years in a row (for the Red Wings). I think they want to make the playoffs because they want to play in the playoffs.”
Really scratching and clawing into the playoffs may be Detroit’s new normal as their once-dominant veterans age.
In 2012-13 the Red Wings used a four-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to squeeze into the playoffs by one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 2013-14 they finished the year three points ahead of the Washington Capitals for the last Wild Card spot. That team saw forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg hurt for much of the year.
“Certainly we’ve been in this position before,” Holland said. “Two of the last three years I would say.”
For a while this season, it appeared Detroit’s streak would remain in tact. At the All-Star break they were firmly in the postseason picture with a 25-16-8 record. Since then Detroit has gone 12-10-3 and slowly fallen backwards towards the red-hot Flyers.
Their offense, which ranked 10th in the NHL a year ago, has fallen to 22nd this season. A lot of their players have seen major drop-offs as well.
The 35-year-old Zetterberg has 45 points in 74 games and is on pace for how lowest output since his rookie year. The 37-year-old Datsyuk’s 0.75 points per-game are his lowest since his rookie year.
Tomas Tatar’s points per-game have gone from 0.68 to 0.58 this year. Two years ago, Gustav Nyquist scored 28 goals in 57 games. So far this year he has 16 goals in 74 games. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall has fought through injuries, but has three goals in 56 games.
Meanwhile new additions like Mike Green and Brad Richards haven’t helped the power play, which has dropped to 18th in the NHL from ranking second last year.
Holland sees the power play as a major reason why some numbers have dipped, pointing to the fact that the team may score more than 20 goals fewer this year with the man-advantage. The last three games Detroit has gone 4-for-8 on the power play.
“We’re hoping our power play comes alive down the stretch,” Holland said.
Holland notes that a lot of Eastern Conference playoff teams will likely finish with worse records this season than a year ago.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins made the final Wild Card spot in the East with 98 points. Six teams finished with 100 points or more in the Eastern Conference. Currently four teams in the East are on pace for 100 points or more. The Red Wings and Flyers are on pace to hit a mid-90s point total.
“I think it speaks to parity in the East, parity in the league, competitive balance,” Holland said. “I think we’ve been like a lot of teams. We go at a pretty good pace for a clip then we go .500 for a bit.”
Are there any deeper issues with the Red Wings? Have Detroit’s younger players simply not filled the shoes of the older players as former coach Mike Babcock foretold in his last postgame news conference with the team last season? There hasn’t been any chatter about problems with first-year coach Jeff Blashill and players even admitted early on that a new voice was needed.
Holland said he wasn’t ready to discuss evaluations about the team – simply because their season could be far from over. The Red Wings have been in the playoffs enough times that an entire course of a year can be changed with a deep run.
“They want their chance to play somebody in the first-round of the playoffs and see if they can win the series and see how far they can go and how far they can go in the playoffs,” Holland said. “I don’t think we’re going to go down there with any rallying speeches. We’re going to play our way into the playoffs if we’re good enough. And if we’re not good enough we’re not going to play our way into the playoffs.”
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