As we all know, the Detroit Red Wings are currently in the process of re-building the franchise - and as we also all know, the powers that be most likely should have started the whole operation much sooner.
But as every good procrastinator knows, when the deadlines approach and reality/pressure begin to rear their ugly heads, it’s time to get to work. The Wings 2018 off-season needed to be, and currently has been, something that the organization hit as close to the bullseye as they could.
It started in June with many experts and analysts unanimously crowning Detroit one of the “winners” of the draft, getting great value in talented players like Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren. Early in July the team fairly and agreeably re-signed both Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha for my two more years - a term that should allow both players to showcase and prove that they are going to be essential factors of the team becoming a contender further down the road.
However, most recently, Dylan Larkin’s new five-year $30.5 million deal is the most-telling and conversational off-season move, especially if you factor in the ever-growing uncertainty of Henrik Zetterberg returning to captain the Red Wings in 2018-19. It all seems just a bit too coincidental to have news of Zetterberg having a tough summer and Larkin signing what essentially boils down to a captain-esque contract occurring on the same day.
Ken Holland with the most forthcoming comments about Henrik Zetterberg's future: "He’s had a tough summer...There’s a real unknown right now with Henrik Zetterberg."— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) August 10, 2018
Or perhaps it is just a coincidence, Larkin was undoubtedly going to get paid either way, and despite having the most physically adverse off-season of his career, Zetterberg will still be able to go at age 38 in October.
So maybe it’s not so much of a coincidence after all.
In my humble and biased opinion, I believe that Ken Holland knows, and has known for some time, that Detroit’s bearded leader isn’t likely to return in 2018-19, or at least see the entire season through. I also believe that Detroit bringing back Thomas Vanek back was done in part to add a familiar/proven veteran presence in the possible absence of Zetterberg.
I remember last year at about this time when I believed/predicted that Niklas Kronwall’s lingering knee-injury would prevent him from playing and would most likely end up on LTIR. Instead, Kronwall played in 79 regular season games in 2017-18. Both “Kronner” and “Z” are competitors and have proudly upheld what it means to be a leader/member of the Detroit Red Wings and I wouldn’t expect either to give that up unless they were absolutely physically unable to do so.
And if most fans’ gut-feelings are true and Zetterberg doesn’t return or is unable to complete the 2018-19 season, it would come as little surprise to see Larkin get the “C” patch. Just check out his comments to The Detroit News after signing his new contract:
The leadership part is natural. I don’t try to be a person I’m not,” Larkin said. “As the years have gone on, I’ve learned a ton and I’m more mature. I’ve grown up in the leadership part and I’ve learned from some of the best leaders in the game in Henrik Zetterberg, (Niklas) Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, (Justin) Abdelkader and Trevor Daley.
I want to drive the bus and be that go-to guy.
At this point, it’s fair to assume and say that Larkin will more-than-likely be handed the keys to drive the bus, he’s been given the time and compensation to do so, it’s just comes down to when the reigns will be handed over.
Who knows, maybe Zetterberg will grind out all 82 regular season games as he has done the previous three years - and that’s fine. If he’s unable to do so, that’s also fine. With Michael Rasmussen and now possibly Filip Zadina ready to push for roster spots on the team the Wings may soon face some crucial decisions. As much as I would hate to see Zetterberg go, I can also see the possible upside to the situation.
Of course this is all speculation and “what-ifs” at this point, but it’s becoming more evident as time goes on to see the foundation that the Red Wings are currently structuring their hopes and future on. While there are still many important issues to address, there are also some very solid new cornerstones to build on in Hockeytown.