In my daily perusing of the world wide web, I am always on the lookout for Red Wing-related news. This little ditty by Mike Brophy at Sportsnet was brought to our attention by Mike Serven on Twitter. Now, the basis for the article is one we've seen 2000 times from bloggers and MSM alike: the Wings are an old team, and this could be their last year as a contender. Normally I read these stories, get mad for a second and then move on. However, there were a few points in the article that I could just not get my head around, and it really drove me crazy. Follow me after the jump where I will explain exactly what ticked me off with this.
Now, let me get one thing out of the way early: I understand the Red Wings have a lot of veterans who are approaching the end of their career. The average age of the team is over 30, so saying that they are an older team is nothing new. I guess I just fail to see where "old" equals "no chance at winning". I wish this was a new trend. I remember this team being labeled as "old" after they won the Cup in 1998; then again in 2002; then again after the lockout; then again after 2008. Here's the thing: the Wings have always bounced back from "bad" seasons (keep in mind that "bad" for the Red Wings involves not making the third round, unlike the rest of the NHL where "success" means making the playoffs in the first place). However, there were certain things in this article that just drove me absolutely crazy.
All-world defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom has turned 40 and there's no denying he's slowing down. Don't get me wrong, he's still considered one of the best in the league, and certainly one of the very best defenders to ever skate in the NHL, but it would be silly to suggest he's still capable of being a serious Norris Trophy contender. Three years ago he led all NHL defencemen in scoring, but two years ago he ranked third and last season he slipped to ninth - still respectable, but you can see the trend.
I'm sorry, but I did not realize that in order to be a Norris Trophy contender, one must be the best offensively. Silly me. I thought it was for the "best defenseman". Apparently Lidstrom's exquisite positioning, amazing ability to kill penalties and play against the other team's best players night in and night out while maintaining a positive +/- and taking very few penalties combined with his ability to stay in the top 10 in defenseman scoring is just not enough. I guess Mike forgot that Lidstrom went through one of the driest stretches of his career offensively to start the season last year, and finished up at almost a point-per-game pace to finish in that lowly 9th position. So if he's still one of the best in the league, why would he not be a contender?
There was a time when the Red Wings pulled rabbits out of hats; unveiling young European stars who were either overlooked in the draft or picked late because they were late bloomers. Holmstrom was the 257th overall pick in 1994 while Datsyuk was picked 171st in 1998; Zetterberg 210th in 1999 and Ericsson 291st in 2002.
Picked rabbits out of a hat? How about scouted players well and brought them in because they had skills that could be honed, all while ensuring that these players would fit into the system the Wings employ? That sounds more like good management than luck.
Lidstrom is not the team's only greybeard. Kris Draper has turned 39 years old; Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood are all 37; Todd Bertuzzi and Ruslan Salei are 35. The add-to-the-mix newcomer Mike Modano who is 40 and you really have to wonder how the Red Wings will keep up with younger, faster teams?
Now, my first issue is that he thinks that Draper, Modano and Rafalski are slow skaters. Holmstrom could be 17 and he'd still be one of the slowest skaters out there, and Salei is not there for speed. But here's the thing: lack of speed can be supplemented with on-ice intelligence, including positioning. Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL (yes, I said it), and he will devise a game plan that will accentuate what the Red Wings do have, which is a ton of skill and smarts. Also, notice the players he mentions here: besides Lidstrom, you've got the front-of-the-net presence in Holmstrom, the back up goalie, the third line center, the fourth line center, and the number five defenseman. Keep this in mind for a second.
It's not that the Red Wings don't have youngsters, Darren Helm is 23, Jiri Hudler, Jonathan Ericsson and Drew Miller are 26. But, aside from Hudler, who returns to the club after spending last season playing in the KHL, the others are role players.
He points out the younger players on the team are role players, but did you notice who a number of the older players were? That's right: role players. Notice that he doesn't mention that Pavel Datsyuk is only 32, Henrik Zetterberg is 29, Johan Franzen is 30, Valtteri Filppula is 26, Niklas Kronwall is 29, Brad Stuart is 30, and Jimmy Howard is 26. That's 4 of their top 6 forwards, 2 of their top 4 defensemen and their starting goalie. In case Mike has forgotten, the period between 26 and 32 are generally known as a player's "prime". So the Wings have their entire core in their prime, and have supplemented that core with veterans and young players. Sounds like a recipe for success, not cause for alarm. But what do I know? I'm not a professional sportswriter.
Look, I get that people think the Wings are in trouble after this year. Like I said, I know the Wings are older, and who knows how many players on the team are entering their last season, Lidstrom included? Maybe we are witnessing the end of the current "dynasty". However, does that mean the Wings won't ever win again? Hell no. I have total faith in the Red Wing management and coaching staff, and as long as Ken Holland is running the team, the Wings will always be a contender. Personally, I think the Wings are just going to reload and start another run, one that will involve captain Henrik Zetterberg hoisting his 3rd Stanley Cup in front of the Joe Louis Arena faithful in 2013. Then they will all take their walkers and scooters out for a night on the town.