We’ve had... well, a bit of a rough summer in Red Wings fandom. From the first round destruction the team faced at the hands of the Eastern Conference runners-up Tampa Bay to the loss of Pavel Datsyuk leading to his cap hit being traded at the draft only to make space for a superstar who stayed home, eventually leading to a bit of an underwhelming free agency period followed by a quiet summer of stagnant defense, the overall mood of the fans still paying attention to hockey in Mid-August is a mix of antsy and dour.
We’ve broken down the tidbits Ken Holland has given us over the summer in regards to his plan and have come to the conclusion that the Red Wings’ most-pressing priority is extending the franchise’s playoff streak, even if it means lacking the real competitiveness needed to make a run for the cup. “The Streak” it seems has gone from a point of pride to a point of contention among Wings fans who want more than facade-marketing winning and are willing to suffer more bad hockey in the short run for a chance at less-mediocre hockey in the long term.
I’ll tell you this though: I feel many of us have lost the way in terms of appreciating the streak and it’s kind of unfairly being blamed as a detriment where it doesn’t have to be. As a fan looking forward to watching what might be the least-competitive Red Wings team of the last 30 years, I’m still only at a point where I’m willing to gamble with the streak rather than outright abandon it.
I want the streak to continue for as long as it can, and here’s why:
Bragging Rights (Fan vs. Fan)
Listen, I know the Red Wings don’t have a lot to brag about in recent history. Seven straight years falling short of the conference finals and four of the last five being first round exits is kind of embarrassing for a team that’s no longer the league’s model franchise. The difference is that no fan of a currently competitive team has the bragging rights to say they didn’t suffer to get there. The Wings have taken missteps and it looks like they’re falling apart? Sure, but they haven’t fallen apart, at least not completely.
All pulling the chute on the team in August does is take away the ability to brag about my team having been in the playoffs longer than a lot of fans have been alive by doing it their own “never quit” way. The Wings can trade the “we’ve been great since the older Bush’s presidency” for a “just you wait, we’ll be great again soon,” but that’s what Buffalo and Toronto fans have been saying for the last few years and Buffalo/Toronto fans are insufferable.
I’d rather be the other kind of insufferable. RED WINGS FAN insufferable.
It’s Still a Rebuild
Whether we want it to be or not, the Red Wings are in the process of returning to greatness. While we’ve got lots of room to worry about rebuilding by half-measures here and not committing to the tank method, the Wings are trying to get better. Trying to do that while also staying in the playoff hunt is trying to have their cake & eat it too, which I like because screw everybody else and their stupid desire for our cake.
It’s Too Late to Sell Anyway
Let’s be honest: if the Red Wings are going to commit to the plan of really going through the big painful rebuild, a huge part of that process is selling off all the veteran talent that isn’t really going to be any good four years down the road. Toronto sold off both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. Calgary sold off Jarome Iginla. Buffalo sold off Ryan Miller. Those are the keystone rebuild moves you’ll see.
Who are the Wings going to do that with? Is Henrik Zetterberg worth a first rounder at this point? Is Niklas Kronwall? I’m sure Justin Abdelkader would return something decent if they committed to that, but you don’t really start your rebuild around the Abdelkader trade. They’re not dealing away the just-signed Frans Nielsen either. While Nyquist and Tatar are bandied about as trade bait, they’re not exactly the “sell” pieces that tick off the asset-gathering phase of a total rebuild plan.
Besides, both Zetterberg and Kronwall are cap hit time bombs for a sell-off anyway, where trying to get back to competitive in a timely fashion can backfire thanks to a poorly-timed retirement and the accompanying recapture.
This leads us to our last point
Bragging Rights (Fan vs. League)
In a lot of the talk about Ken Holland’s inability to operate in a salary cap world, one thing that gets specifically overlooked is that Ken Holland absolutely gamed the salary cap world to his team’s advantage so well that he got retroactively punished for doing so and that’s part of the team’s problem with the relative inability to commit to a rebuild.
Cap recapture came about because after the 2004 lockout put in measures to save teams from their own GMs in ways the Wings never wanted in the first place. Ken Holland figured out how to leverage his team’s willingness to spend in a way that followed all of the rules of constraint placed on him, gaming the system so well that the NHL had to specifically stop his copycats DURING the CBA that allowed him to do so.
Then, when it came time to close the loophole, the NHL was so embarrassed by how badly they had been played that they made sure to add a punitive measure going back to manacle GMs for giving out such deals via cap recapture.
Being stuck with the deals for Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall doesn’t feel good from a hockey-watching or future-planning standpoint, but to imagine the chances of a Red Wings captain taking the cup from a commissioner who saw to it that his team was punished for the contract he signed is a dream that will keep my nethers warm in the coldest of winter nights.
Listen, I know the stakes right now. The Wings are throwing hail mary passes late in the 4th quarter using their punter. They’ve loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth and are sending a middle-reliever up to bat & telling him to swing for the fences because they’ve exhausted their bench. The likelihood that what they’re doing right now is going to lead to short, middle, and long-term glory seems much less than the overall chance for glory by just doing their best to dismantle now for a rebuild.
But, continuing the streak isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is abandoning it just a few years shy of the all-time record and ending up no closer to competitive four years down the road than if they had just stuck with the plan and stuck it to the league by refusing to slink away. Ask me again around the trade deadline whether I think the Wings should be pushing for the streak and I might give you a different answer, but right now, I say make a run.