The wheels are coming o≠ the Red Wings
It’s all going wrong for the Detroit Red Wings. With a 23-25-10 record, the onetime gold standard for hockey excellence is languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the final wild-card spot with seven teams ahead of it.
According to Hockey-Reference.com’s playoff simulator, the Red Wings have just a 1.2 percent chance of reaching the playoffs even after they beat the Capitals on Saturday, making it more likely than not we will see an end to the third-longest playoff streak in NHL history (25 years).
“It’s not fun,” Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg told reporters. “Nothing else we can do but keep fighting, keep battling and keep getting better every day.”
Detroit’s decline was inevitable. Nicklas Lidstrom, voted the league’s best defenseman seven times, retired after the 2011-12 season. Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time Selke winner as the league’s best defensive forward, decided this past summer to return to his native Russia to play with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Both were included among the NHL’s top 100 players of all time, announced in January. That leaves Zetterberg, 36, as the best skater remaining from the 2008 championship team.
No team could readily replace two of the best players in league history, but the drop-off for Detroit has been stunning. According to point shares, an estimate of the number of standings points contributed by a player, the talent level on Detroit’s roster is less than half what it was during the title run of 2008.
The lack of talent also has eroded the hallmark of Hockey Town: Detroit’s relentless puck possession.
In 2007-08, the year they won their first Stanley Cup in the salary cap era, the Red Wings put a league-leading 58.5 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor, after adjusting for score effects. They led the league again the following season (57.5 percent) and made the Cup final. This season they are putting just 47.8 percent of shot attempts in their favor, seventh worst in the NHL.
Perhaps as the younger players on the roster mature, Detroit will return to the upper echelons of the league, but the early results are not encouraging. Eleven skaters 25 years old or younger have played at least one game for the Red Wings this season, but only three of them — forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha — have scored double-digit goals. Six of those youngsters haven’t scored at all.
But having the fifth-worst offense (2.4 goals per game) isn’t the team’s only problem — the left side of its defensive pairings is subpar. Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Niklas Kronwall all have below-average game scores, an all-in-one metric used more in baseball and basketball that gives a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game.
DeKeyser, one of the team’s top-pair defensemen, is the most worrisome. The Red Wings give up 2.8 even-strength goals against per 60 minutes when he is on the ice, but those same linemates allow 2.3 per 60 when he is on the bench. Not exactly the results you want from a blue-liner skating more than 22 minutes a night.
The Red Wings also have the league’s worst power play (12 percent efficiency) and the 10thworst penalty kill (79.8 percent kill rate), leaving few silver linings for a fan base that has grown accustomed to perennial success. The best news? The prize for a season of suffering should be an early draft pick. And considering their history of success with late draft picks, that should serve as some measure of encouragement.
“It’s not fun,” Henrik Zetterberg said of Detroit’s recent struggles. The Red Wings are in danger of ending their 25-year run of making the playoffs.