For me, the Red Wings being knocked out of the playoffs is a lot like ending a relationship. This is actually a weird feeling for me because I've been happily married for....a number of years. Still, if I were a part of the dating scene, I'd imagine that a break up would feel a lot like being a Wing fan after an early loss. Initially, there's shock (how could this have happened?); next there's some anger (are you kidding me?) followed by some self-pity (poor me because the Wings didn't win this year), and finally, acceptance (you can't win every year).
Maybe it was because this year was like the rebound girl that you knew wasn't going to end up as a long-term relationship, but there was something about this loss that was easier for me to get over than in years past. I'm not quite sure what the reason is, but I'm not nearly as upset as I normally am after the Wings fail to win the Cup.
Follow the jump where I get optimistic and give a hint at things to come here at WIIM.Let's get one thing straight right away: there are very few things in this world that put me in a worse mood than the Wings failing to win the Stanley Cup. Every single April, I get myself ready to engage in the roller coaster of emotions that is the playoffs, and whenever that ride lets out midway on the track, I put my hat back on, shove my hands in my pockets and find the nearest funnel cake stand where I can forget my feelings in an orgy of pastry, whipped cream and strawberries.
However, this year I choose to look at the positives and focus on what the Wings did well this year, rather than look back and wonder "what if". Many (especially the haters) will look at the Wings and see a team that failed to advance to the conference finals for the second straight season, the first time since the lockout the Wings have failed to reach the third round in consecutive years. I look at a team that lost four 1-goal games to a higher-seeded team that held home ice advantage with two of those losses coming in overtime after shots deflected off the stick of a Wing player. This was not a team that was blown out of the playoffs, and in fact did something that only 7 other teams in the NHL have ever done: forced a Game 7 after being down 0-3. That alone still causes me to beam in pride.
Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be looking back at the season in great detail while turning an eye towards the next year. We've got a few things planned in the next couple of weeks that will give you an opportunity to voice your opinion on the direction of the team. However, before we dissect the crap out of the 2010-11 season, I want to give you a few reasons why I am optimistic about the future.
Let's start with Jimmy Howard. There's no question that he was off his Calder-nominated pace of 2009-10, but Jimmy was solid if unspectacular this year. However, when the playoffs started, he ramped up his game to another level. He ended the playoffs with a 7-4 record, 2.49 GAA and .923 SV%, the latter stats being improvements over his regular season numbers. I don't think the Wings would have swept the Coyotes without Howard's strong play in Games 3 and 4, nor would they have gotten to a 7th game without him stealing Game 5 at HP Pavilion. For a guy only in his second playoffs, he played extremely well, even when the team in front of him didn't look great.
Before this season began, there were a few people who wondered whether Nicklas Lidstrom was on the decline. To be fair, Lidstrom's 2009-10 season was one to forget for him. However, to say he rebounded nicely is an understatement. Don't be fooled by his negative +/-; J.J. explained that pretty brilliantly. Instead, focus on his 62 points (2nd among NHL defensemen), while playing 23 minutes a night against the opposition's best players. As in years past, it was always a relief seeing number 5 on the ice, regardless of the situation. He showed that despite being over 40, he is still easily among the best defensemen in the NHL.
Pavel Datsyuk also served notice that he is one of the true elite players in the league. His 15 points in 11 playoff games led all Wing skaters, but it was so much more than that: it was the way he took over the game, whether the Wings were down and needed a goal or they were up and trying to lock a win up. Datsyuk absolutely ran roughshod over the Coyotes, and he was the best player on the ice for either team against the Sharks. I actually believe that he is getting better, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.
There's so much to be proud of as a Wing fan this past year. An 11th straight season with 100 points, a new NHL record; another Central Division title, their 9th in 10 years; a 5th straight season advancing past the first round, the longest active streak in the NHL; Chris Osgood's 400th win (over the Avalanche to boot); 4 Wing rookies scoring their first ever goal; the return of Curly Fries; and most importantly, the 20th straight season the Wings have made the playoffs, the longest active streak in all of North American professional sports.
The Red Wings fell short of their stated goal of winning the Stanley Cup, but this is not a team that needs go through a major overhaul. Not yet, anyway. Some tweaks are needed, but this team is still a legitimate Cup contender, and the right piece or two could put them back on top where they belong. It will be a longer summer than we had hoped for, but it's going to be a fun one. The quest for number 12 starts soon.