Regular season and playoffs are two different battles, and we are not a team built to win in the playoffs right now. We got lucky and overachieved for a minute a couple seasons ago and then Chicago reminded us what it takes to really go the distance and win. Boston completely manhandled us after the first game. It was the same story in the 90s for awhile too. Great regular season team, a talented team, but not enough teeth to get the job done in the playoffs. Except we're nowhere near as good as those mid-90s teams even, though thankfully, on some level that's a league-wide problem that relates back to the cap.
frank, you were there this past season. The injuries were a nightmare. They won't be that bad this season. Don't say they will, because there's no way they can be. There's absolutely no way. I say that as a hockey fan, a sports fan, not just a Wings fan.
Do you know what a slightly healthier season and/or fewer boneheaded mistakes from Kyle Quincey and/or better luck in the shootout means? Well, for one thing, one more point in the standings gets us the Penguins in the first round. (We ended the regular season tied with the Jackets in terms of points.) I remember very cleary - we wanted the Pens, because we knew we stacked up well against them (even without Zetterberg and Ericsson), and the Pens fans didn't want the Wings, because they knew the Wings stacked up well against the Pens (even with Crosby and Malkin and Neal and Kunitz and The Mighty Matt Niskanen and Future Hall of Famer Brooks Orpik). The Pens were let off the hook and given the Jackets. Because of a tiebreaker rule. Because Johan Franzen and Joakim Andersson spent time as our top center and our heart-and soul-leader had surgery and...Jared Cowen*. (*Don't say we need an enforcer.)
Seven more points? We're even with ZOMG CUP CONTENDERS THE MONTREAL CANADIENS. Eight more points? We're even with ZOMG 2015 EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS THE TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING. The Flyers? They finished a whopping one point ahead of us. The Rangers, who went to the Stanley Cup Finals? They finished a whopping two points ahead of the Flyers, three points ahead of us.
Look, I get it. We're the Red Wings and the Red Wings are Cup-or-bust, no excuses. But this is our first real protracted dose of Adversity in two decades, and we're still right there, knocking on the door. It's really easy to say the glass is half-empty for the Wings, I know this better than most here. I registered here in 2004 and I've been complaining ever since. I could make - and have made, countless times - a really compelling case for why Ken Holland should be fired. But, at the end of the day? If I'm being honest and objective? If I'm looking at what I think is the bigger picture, the bigger plan? I give Ken Holland credit. I think he's doing the right thing, for the most part.
If any GM in this league has earned the benefit of the doubt, it's probably Holland. He knows success. Chicago and Los Angeles win two Cups and everyone's talking like they're the greatest teams imaginable. The Wings were contenders for longer than some of the people on these boards have been alive. We came soul-crushingly close to winning back-to-back Cups in '09. We probably should've won it all in '07. We beat the Ducks and had the aforementioned Blackhawks on the ropes in 2013.
We have three or four years to win one last Cup for Datsyuk. With Zetterberg, Kronwall, Franzen, Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco, Mantha, Pulkkinen, Athanasiou, Sproul, et al. in the system, I'm liking our chances. I'm not just saying that. I think about this stuff every day. I obsess over this stuff. I definitely have my problems with Ken Holland's decision-making. I definitely have my concerns. I definitely don't like seeing the Wings as anything short of serious contenders. But in due time we're going to be looking back on all this and laughing. I believe that.
I don't think we're as far off as some think, but we absolutely need some serious tweaking to get there. What blows my mind and infuriates me about Holland is that he doesn't seem to recognize this as he squanders the last years of Datsyuk's and Zetterberg's careers. He still hasn't found a way to make the D at least a little better and solid front to back, and he keeps signing the wrong guys to bad deals. He needs to find a way to turn it around, and given that we can't bring anyone in via free agency anymore, he needs to be okay with the fact that we're going to get ripped off in trades for a minute until we reclaim a bit of our status. Make the right moves and have some real success again and the free agent problem disappears for the most part.
But he's got to do something, anything, first, to actually make this team better.