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Dr. Wingslove: Or How I Learned to Stop Panicking and Love the Rebuild

NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon, y’all! The 2018-19 regular season is officially underway, though everyone knows the actual important game is tonight. Stanley Cup banner raisings? Pshh, the hockey party don’t start til the Red Wings skate in, and we all know it.

This offseason, while seemingly endless, has been one of more excitement and change than we’ve seen in a long time. Grabbing up projected-third-overall Filip Zadina in late June was a Big Deal. Following up with the additions of Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, and Jared McIsaac with their next few picks seemed like a luxurious influx of talent into the Red Wings system that I don’t think any of us could have predicted. Easily the best draft we’ve had in a long time.

But over the summer there were these snippets of not-so-good news out of Sweden. Captain Henrik Zetterberg was dealing with some of the same back problems that have plagued him for years, necessitating surgery during the 2014 Olympics. I don’t seem to remember there being a whole lot of details in these reports at first, but as camp drew nearer, it was revealed that Zetterberg hadn’t been able to train properly, and finally that he couldn’t train at all. And then the sadness train came rolling into Hockeytown with news of Zetterberg no longer being physically able to play hockey at the professional level.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of my hockey heart breaking yet again at writing that sentence.

We’ve waxed poetic about Zetterberg’s career, his accomplishments, and his contributions to Detroit as a whole. It’s still going to hurt when he drops the ceremonial puck tonight. But I’d argue that his LTIRetirement kick-started the most promising season for the Red Wings in quite some time.

A few years ago, Ken Holland told us that a rebuild would take 8-10 years. We all thought he was nutso-crazy, or had been watching too much of Edmonton’s spectacular failures in assembling a competent hockey team. But his insistence on this fact was what caused the organization’s delay in truly committing to the major changes necessary to get this team back to greatness. Dylan Larkin making the Red Wings out of camp after one year in college seemed like a huge move forward for the long-overdue rebuild.

There was already promise for more to come this season. We watched as Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi made their cases to stay with the big club and then actually did. The organization made a necessary trade in Tomas Tatar (sob) and made a decision on the Goalie Tandem Problem (who would have predicted that trajectory in 2015?). And then we saw how well Michael Rasmussen played in the preseason, how Dennis Cholowski suddenly looked NHL ready and Libor Sulak came out of nowhere the Czech Republic and will be starting the season on the roster.

I believe that the loss of Zetterberg was the green light for a true rebuild to begin. Only Niklas Kronwall really remains of the old guard, the last player to be on the regular roster in 2008 when the Wings last won the Stanley Cup, and a likely retiree after this season when his contract ends. A true generational shift was already on the horizon, and now that sunrise is throwing gorgeous streaks of red into the morning sky.

Right now, with injuries taking out most of the defense corps, we’re looking at 9 or 10 players on opening night under the age of 25. That’s half the iced roster, and will probably be the norm for the entire season. With upcoming retirements and more prospects waiting in the wings Griffins, the influx of youth looks to finally be in full swing.

It’s about time, and personally, I’m the most excited about the trajectory of this team than I have been in years. Who else is feeling the hype?

Good things are coming, my dear hockey friends, and I’m glad I’m here to witness it.

Let’s Go Red Wings!!