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Red Wings Rebuilding: Be Careful What you Wish For

If you think missing the playoffs will scare Ken Holland into action, you may be right... and you may regret it.

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I'm having trouble remembering how far back the calls for the Red Wings to miss the playoffs and start a "proper" rebuild go (perhaps as early as the loss to the Sharks in the 2010 playoffs), but I do know that the calls have grown louder each year. Recently, after two straight losses to the Blackhawks and then a liquidy bed-crapping against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the din once again grew to a roar.

Right now, we're still in the afterglow of a rare comeback win against the mighty Winnipeg Jets, so perhaps everybody is a little more calm this Friday, but it's still out there among the fans. The basic premise of the talk is that the Red Wings' playoff streak is a placebo which distracts from the real issues which prevent Detroit from returning to the status of a true contender.

The problem with this line of thinking isn't that it's wrong. The real worrisome thing is that I think it's spot-on. Nobody in the organization is ever going to say this and the diggers who actually have access to the front office aren't going to ask this question anyway, so I'm just a crazy fan-blogger speculating here, but it doesn't exactly take a wall full of grainy photos and newspaper clippings connected by string to make sense of things:

  • Mike Ilitch isn't getting any younger and he's seen his beloved Wings win four titles. What he hasn't seen is his big-spending Tigers win any. The worst-kept secret in Detroit is that Ilitch is all-in on the Tigers right now.
  • Chris Ilitch is the next in line. He's done a real good job of staying out of the spotlight, but pretty much everything you read about him is in regards to his business acumen rather than his unfailing fandom.
  • Business and fandom can work together, but come on, we've been through two lockouts killing a season and a half's worth of hockey in the last decade because of business interests. For the most part, those two things are mortal enemies.
  • The Red Wings are about halfway through building (which is about 80% of the way through completing) plans to move into a brand new state-of-the-art arena.

Now it's not a slam-dunk consideration or anything, considering the Oilers are also in the middle of building a new place for themselves and they're garbage, but the Oilers are in a spot where they're still packing their arena with a fairly high cost to see a game. Meanwhile in Detroit, the talk of the team selling out every game comes prepackaged with a wink-and-a-nudge for every fan who's been watching the team over the last several years. We all know what it means every time the team opens up a "rush" two days before a Tuesday night game against a nobody opponent.

Like it or not, there's a very real possibility that the Wings are on the verge of a gate-income collapse at a time in their business cycle where that would be fairly devastating to them. Tanking would only ensure it would happen.

The thing is that, whether or not we fans who frequent internet communities specifically dedicated to the Red Wings are kind of exhausted with the false showmanship associated with limping through a playoff streak almost three times longer than the next closest competitor, the playoff streak puts fans in the stands and puts extra games on the calendar in ways a rebuild would not.

Exactly, so missing the playoffs shakes them out of their complacency and forces REAL changes!

Here's the second half of the equation in regards to the prevailing thought: Ken Holland needs to be "shaken up" in order to realize what a paper tiger his team has become, otherwise he'll continue his business-as-usual approach and we'll continue to get fed a bubble team that seems to be becoming less fun to watch for many year-after-year.

The big assumption at play here is that Ken Holland doesn't already know this stuff or that he's trying to build a real winner but going about it too conservatively because he just hasn't thought to get aggressive.

Here's a secret about the general manager's job in any sport: the GM is a salesperson, and the job is not just selling/buying pieces of the team that takes the field/ice/floor. It's Ken Holland's job to keep the team hyped up and to put fans in the seats. In many places outside Detroit, this job is carried out with much more importance placed on keeping the cash flow in the right margins than winning a title. Are we so sure that's not the truth within Detroit?

So what does a playoff miss mean for the Wings?

We might not notice this day-after-day because we spend a lot of time bickering over why Jonathan Ericsson is still in the lineup or why Luke Glendening gets so much ice time, but the Wings are already doing things fairly differently than they have in years past in regards to the makeup of the team. Dylan Larkin is the first rookie to score 20 goals since Henrik Zetterberg did it almost 15 years ago and the first teenage rookie to stick in a long time. Joakim Andersson is in Grand Rapids while Andreas Athanasiou is up with the team. Tomas Jurco has been a Red Wings player since he was 21 years old.

It's not perfect, and many of us have talked about how we'd like to see the Red Wings take even more chances with younger players so we can get a better shot at taking advantage of their prime years, even if it means losing more games in the process. But missing the playoffs with the Wings currently taking more than their usual amount of gambles on youth probably does compel Holland to change things, just not in the way you'd like.

If Holland misses using more kids, do you think his answer is that the team needs even MORE youth? I don't. I think the Red Wings missing the playoffs compels the front office to improve their bubble standing rather than improve their contender standing. I could see Ken Holland's big offseason move be to acquire more veterans like Brad Boyes to help restart the playoff run just before the new arena opens, which would not only put off a rebuild but also partially derail the reload plan.

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The Red Wings are currently committed to their reload-not-rebuild plan and nothing that happens this year is going to make them flip such a large switch. We want some real changes for the team to happen before next season to make them more than just a bubble team. I believe missing the playoffs this year hurts the chances of that happening.