It’s no secret that Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill have recently been making moves that are setting up the Detroit Red Wings to be a bigger, tougher, and more physical opponent to play against in the near future, and that’s all well and good. Hockey is a rugged sport that demands players who possess a gritty prowess, but is focusing on larger and more physical players the correct long-term goal for Detroit?
The historic and successful Red Wings’ teams of yesteryear most certainly had their fair share of rough and rugged characters. Players such as Bob Probert, Joey Kocur, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Brendan Shanahan all played significant roles in Detroit’s prosperity over the last quarter century. However, both the game and the NHL has changed significantly since the aforementioned names last laced up their skates.
The average size of a modern NHL player is 6’1” and 202 pounds, a statistic that has plateaued and slightly decreased since the NHL lockout during the 2004-05 season as general managers have seemingly preferred to draft skill over size in the last ten to twelve years. While some positions, such as goaltenders, have seen a rise in larger framed players, most positions have not deviated much from the statistical average.
If you look at the Red Wings roster as it currently stands , eight players (both forwards and defensemen) measure just shy of the average NHL players height and weight:
DET Players Under NHL Avg. Size
So, yes, it is obvious that the Red Wings are somewhat undersized, especially at the top forward positions. Is that a legitimate concern that the organization needs to address? Perhaps yes and no.
Take Henrik Zetterberg for example. Despite coming in just slightly under the NHL average in both height and weight, Henrik is still able to protect the puck and produce at an elite level despite his age. While Zetterberg sets the bar pretty high for “undersized” forwards, players such as Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar sometimes find themselves being pushed off the puck too easily and too often by larger defenders and opponents.
In the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Red Wings made eleven total selections, ten of which were six-feet-tall or larger. Many of Detroit’s picks were well off most expert’s radars/draft boards, and size appeared to be a consistent factor in the Wings 2017 draft class. Will a preference of size and grit over skill and small stature come back to haunt Detroit further on down the road? Only time will tell.
The Red Wings efforts to construct a more physically dominant and gritty team goes back further than this year’s draft however. Players already in Detroit’s system, such as Tyler Bertuzzi and Givani Smith, will certainly bring a lot of desired grit and sandpaper to the Red Wings as the team prepares to take up residency in Little Caesars Arena.
Speaking of Little Caesars Arena, if you need more proof that the Red Wings want to become a team with more mettle, look no further than the new barn’s trademarked nicknames. Olympia Entertainment filed for the trademark on both “The Baddest Bowl" and "The Baddest Bowl in Hockey" all the way back in 2014.
Don't get me wrong, I’m all for Little Caesars Arena being “The Baddest Bowl in Hockey”, I think it’s a great homage to Detroit’s professional sports history as well to the city of Detroit’s blue-collar mentality. I’m a fan in both regards. I also support the Wings gaining some size and grit down the road, someone has to standup and defend his teammates against injustice and villainy when it arises.
My biggest concern heading into the future is that the Red Wings will allocate too many resources, including money, term, and ice-time, into players based on their size and grit alone. The landscape of the modern NHL is changing rapidly, players once passed up for being too small are becoming elite and influential players in the game. There will always be a need for an enforcer/instigator, but they also better have some other redeeming skillful qualities.