Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The horse is just about dead, but we keep getting reminders of the age of this team.
It's the day after a Red Wing loss, which is always a tough day. However, this one seems more painful than past losses. Perhaps it's because they blew an early 2-0 lead against a rookie making his first career start. Maybe it's the fact that they had 6 shots in the final 40+ minutes of the game. Part of it is definitely the special teams and their continued inability to sustain any momentum the Wings may have.
A Wing loss always makes people angry, but this year there's been a much different tone to the fan reaction. A few years ago a loss was greeted with the thought that it was a bad game and those happen, but you can't win them all. Then that morphed into a feeling that the team was not the consistent, intense group we were used to seeing, but they were still pretty fantastic and should win more than they lose.
This year, we were prepped by the Wings' management that this could be a tough year. Ken Holland came out and said that he thought it might be possible that they missed the playoffs this year. For a team that has been to the playoffs long enough to legally drink champagne from the Stanley Cup, that's a tough thing to hear.
Most people recognize that this is a team in transition, but after losses like last night I can't help but wonder where this team is going and what their end-game is for this season.
I have nothing against any of the players on this team. But I look at the lineup and wonder why Dan Cleary is playing top-6 minutes when neither his stats nor his play seem to warrant it. Cleary has struggled to start the season, but he continues to get over 17 minutes a game on the top line. Mikael Samuelsson has only played 2 games so far this season as he recovers from a groin injury, but his signing left a lot of us scratching our heads, wondering what sort of role he was being asked to play.
However, what really made people frustrated was when it was announced that Johan Franzen was going to miss last night's game with a hip flexor injury, and Justin Abdelkader was promoted to the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner. Abby's role has always been as a grinder and physical presence, but his inclusion on the top forward pair is a head-scratcher.
Why do people get frustrated with moves like this? Because if this team truly is one that is undergoing a transition, then why aren't the younger players getting ice time to show what they can do? Why aren't we getting a glimpse of the future so that the team can assess what they have in the coming years?
The Red Wings' philosophy of over-developing players in the minors before bringing them up to the NHL is well-documented. But it seems like we're at the point where the young guys need an opportunity to play. It's happened already, and the results have been encouraging. Tomas Tatar scored his second goal last night, a beautiful display of patience and puck-handling skills. Brian Lashoff has been steady since his call-up despite being thrust into service. Joakim Andersson hasn't been great, but he hasn't looked out of place, either. Petr Mrazek was close to perfect in his first-ever start and has the fans really excited. And we haven't even seen Gustav Nyquist yet, despite millions of Red Wing fans desperately hoping that he'll be wearing a Wing jersey soon.
Why is it that we want to see these young players in the lineup so badly? I understand that putting an AHL guy on the top line doesn't mean that that player is going to immediately turn into a superstar who scores 40 goals a year. I'm also not advocating a complete rebuild, because this team has a core that can make the playoffs and possibly make a run in the playoffs.
It's about hope and the future. Mrazek could have been lit up for 6 goals in his first ever start and I would still be ok with it because the Wings are taking a shot with a player they're grooming rather than signing an older spare part to fill the same role. Tatar or Nyquist could go point-less in their first 10 games playing with Pavel Datsyuk or Zetterberg but I can rationalize it that they're gaining experience by being in the NHL and learning from great players. Lashoff can struggle at times and make rookie mistakes but the only way he's going to ever develop into an NHL defenseman is by being afforded the opportunity to learn from those mistakes. Ultimately, if this team is not going to succeed, I'd rather it be due to the team getting younger and the failures were due to growing pains, not because a bunch of older players don't have anything left in the tank.