Red Wings struggle in unfamiliar territory

John Matisz
March 22, 2010

To say that the Detroit Red Wings – a franchise that has won 11 Stanley Cups and has been the most elite NHL team of the past two decades – relies on luck to win would be outright stupid. Their legacy as a storied club will live on forever, even if the wheels fall off in the Motor City somewhere down the road.

Nonetheless, to state that their luck has finally run out in certain aspects of hockey operations would be an acceptable claim.

Plain and simple, the Wings are having a difficult 2009-10 campaign by their lofty standards. As it currently stands, Detroit is sitting eighth in the West with only a pair of points separating them from ninth-ranked Calgary. Since the lockout, the worst the Wings have finished a regular season is second in the Western Conference, last season, either holding or sharing the top record in the whole NHL in the other three.

Now they’re in eighth place with 11 games remaining. Talk about a team culture shock.

Several luck-induced activities that have been trademarks of the Wings’ ’90s and early 21st-century triumphs have been absent this season. One Charlie-horse has been the injury to Valtteri Filppula – the team’s predicted up-and-comer in terms of solid secondary scoring. Through 80 games last year the Finn recorded 40 points, while this time around he has collected 26 points in 41 games – hardly breakout numbers.

Injuries are often a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or in other words, luck.

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On top of this is the “luck” that has been deficient in late-round draft picks blossoming into NHL superstars. The trend-setting Wings scouting crew certainly didn’t just luck out with 171st and 210th gems like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They, of course, deserve credit for these picks but at the same time cannot perform miracles year-in and year-out.

Sticking with drafting, the Red Wings have been so dominant for so long that the last time the team had the opportunity to select a top-20 player was in 2005. You have to go back all the way to 2000 when they drafted Niklas Kronwall 29th overall to find their next first-round choice.

To make matters worse, their farm team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, are not a hot ticket by any means. There are virtually no valuable prospects coming through the system. Nothing substantial has come of the last four drafts with the most notable player being Darren Helm, a 20-point guy for the club this year.

Then there’s the tandem of Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper who have been quintessential components of elite Wings squads. Their downward spiral has more to do with grey hair than a lack of luck.

Nevertheless, this is all happening to the Detroit Red Wings in one season. General manager Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock, masterminds of their trades, may be in for an unusual ending to their club’s 2009-2010 story.

Could the elusive Detroit Red Wings miss the NHL playoffs?

Whether you place the blame on the luck well running dry in Detroit, or place it elsewhere, one way or another, things have definitely changed in Hockeytown.

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The Author:

John Matisz