The Detroit Red Wings made the NHL playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons from 1991 to 2016. They won the Stanley Cup in 1997, ’98, ’02, and ’08.
This season, they’ll be watching the playoffs, not participating in them. The Wings missed the postseason for the second straight year in 2017-18, winning just 30 of 82 games. Detroit had the fifth-worst record in the league, finishing with 73 points. That’s their lowest point total since 1989-90, not including the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-95 and 2012-13.
Teams that don’t make the playoffs sometimes make changes, such as firing coaches or general managers. That’s not happening in Detroit. Red Wings president and CEO Christopher Ilitch is giving Ken Holland two more years as GM, and Holland is keeping head coach Jeff Blashill.
The decision to retain Holland may have raised some eyebrows among fans and the NHL media. Yes, he built the four Stanley Cup champions. But that was when he could spend Mike Ilitch’s money freely to sign top-notch free agents. He signed starts like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to expensive long-term contracts. When the NHL reduced its salary cap for the 2012-13 season, those pricey deals hindered Holland’s ability to lure the game’s best players to Detroit. As those stars got older, the Wings continued to make the playoffs. But that success came with another price–low draft picks that made it harder for the team to stockpile and develop young players.
Helene St. James covers the Wings for the Detroit Free Press. She says Christopher Ilitch is relying on Holland’s experience to rebuild the roster. The thinking is he did it once, he can do it again.
“I’ve noticed (Holland) has done more scouting this season than he probably has in quite a while, because there’s renewed emphasis on drafting,” St. James says.
Detroit currently stands fifth in the NHL’s 2018 draft order, but that could change depending on how the draft lottery plays out. But it could be years before any of this year’s picks will be ready for the Wings. Even those that are ready might not turn the team around right away.
“Edmonton has a generational player in Connor McDavid, and they’ve missed the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons,” St. James says. “It’s incredibly hard, and you need a lot of luck along the way.”
That said, the Red Wings do have some young talent. Last year’s top draft pick, Michael Rasmussen, is leading the Western Hockey League playoffs in scoring. St. James says the 18-year-old could make the team next season. She also points to the progress of Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin this season as one reason why Holland is bringing back Blashill has head coach.
“My sense in talking to higher-ups within the organization is that they feel he did a good job.”
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.