Q: What do you get when you mix a playmaker, a shooter, and a power forward?
A: Mike Babcock's lines...supposedly.
That's been the formula since the days of Monty Babcock's Flying Circus, when Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Holmstrom dominated the league on a Red Wings team that was unquestionably a contender. It makes sense to do it like that. The big guy makes space for the playmaker to get it to the shooter. Tic-tac-toe, bingo-bango, holy-jumpin' and whatnot and you've got a goal.
The formula isn't the problem here; it's the personnel. Let's look at the top two lines:
Valtteri Filppula (playmaker) - Henrik Zetterberg (playmaker/sniper) - Damien Brunner (sniper)
Justin Abdelkader (grinder) - Pavel Datsyuk (playmaker) - Daniel Cleary (grinder)
Positionally, Valtteri Filppula is being used in a power forward's role while Dan Cleary is being used as a de facto sniper. I actually don't hate the makeup of the top line as much as I wish they'd stop turning the puck over. Filppula actually scored a net-front goal against Columbus and has been making space, even using the body in the corners...at least a little.
But oh man does that 2nd line suck. Justin Abdelkader has one point this season and has been invisible since joining the top six rotation in Johan Franzen's absence, which has now stretched to five games. Danny Cleary hasn't been as team-killingly bad over the last three games, even adding a goal and an assist to piggyback nicely off Pavel Datsyuk's work, but his overall play has not been impressive.
So is Abdelkader getting those minutes because of what Ken Holland paid him in the offseason? How long does Danny Cleary need before he gets on a hot streak? I get that a guy may need some time to adjust and then will start clicking, but Babcock can't have it both ways when Tomas Tatar has played approximately two periods in the Red Wings' top six that were no more or less noticeable than what Abdelkader's done and he hasn't been given a chance to "get used to it."
So is Tatar being coddled to build his confidence or is Abdelkader being coddled to protect his investment? Is it a meritocracy or a monetocracy: where a player's line responsibility and ice time is dictated more by his cap hit than his ability? How far does loyalty for past accomplishments get Cleary?
Hell, it doesn't have to be Tatar up there (who is my personal choice). Maybe Joakim Andersson could expand his skillset by temporarily taking on the role of a net-front grinding winger. Patrick Eaves has actually worked and produced in the Wings' top six, but he keeps getting scratched. I can believe that he's not 100%, but he's looked damn engaged when he's been in. For craziness sake, we could go apeshit and put Jordin Tootoo up there just long enough to take a dumbass penalty. Drew Miller has been playing physically lately. If we're not worried about having any centers in their correct positions, we could move Emmerton, whose hustle has been great.
Something is not working for the Red Wings lately. They're not getting consistent effort from players who are playing roles for which they're ill-suited. Injuries certainly take their toll, but those aren't something which is under the head coach's control... the lines are.