It’s ugly. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic. Etc. Etc.
Anyway you want to describe it, that’s exactly what this Red Wings season has been so far. The team is as lost as can be. After the offseason brought us hope with the return of our forever captain to the front office, it has seemingly been all downhill since. Loss after loss, injury after injury and young players who looked poised for break out years have been as quiet as can be.
What changed? Where did things start going so poorly? Sadly, there’s not really one area we can sit here and point at to help find that answer. As someone who doesn’t believe in Jeff Blashill, he’s certainly the one to shelter most of the blame, and rightfully so. The team isn’t responding to him anymore, and that’s been noticeable several times over his tenure, not just this season. But in the midst of their worst season since Steve Yzerman was in just his 3rd year as player, something has to give.
However, it’s also not just all on Blashill. Larkin looks like he did during his 2nd season, Hirose’s flashes of greatness last year disappeared, Athanasiou is leading the NHL in +/-, but not the good way, Cholowski isn’t far behind him in 3rd, Howard/Bernier look like washed up vets and don’t you dare get me started on Frans Nielsen who is on his way to becoming one of the worst contracts Ken Holland ever gave out. The blame can be pointed in several directions.
So what’s next? Where do we go from here? It’s December 4th and the team isn’t even exciting to watch anymore. Sure they haven’t been playoff contenders in four years now, but they were fun to watch at times the last few years despite struggling to stay competitive. Even I have to be honest with myself and everyone reading this, there really isn’t anything special they could do to get me to watch every game the rest of the year outside of trading for a superstar (which isn’t happening). However, we have to try our best as fans and I feel everyone could be intrigued by one or more of the listed items below.
1. The Call-Ups
Really poor timing with this one after Zadina was just sent down, but I think that was more so because things are just so bad right now they don’t want to expose him to this anymore. Veleno, Zadina and Seider are all most likely set to play with the big boys at some point this year (Likely after the deadline). Zadina seems like he’s closest to being up for good, but either way all three should be close to regulars by mid-season next year. Could we even see other guys signed? McIsaac, Berggren, Petruzzelli, Tuomisto, Mastrosimone, Johansson, etc.? Maybe. Time for prospect watch to pick up even more than it has the last couple of years because they are the only signs of hope we can manufacture at the moment.
2. Comrie’s Potential
Newly acquired net-minder Eric Comrie should be making his Red Wing debut soon and a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs. The 24-year-old was a 2013 2nd round pick, but has played in just 5 NHL games, all for Winnipeg. He’s 4-0-0 in the AHL this year for the Tucson Roadrunners after the Coyotes picked him up on waivers in September. In his first year of a two-year deal, could Comrie become a bridge goalie to get us to Larsson/Petruzzelli? Or maybe even become a goalie in the future?
3. Playing for Contracts
Athanasiou, Mantha, Bertuzzi, Erne, Fabbri, Perlini, Ehn and Bowey are all expected to be RFA’s this offseason. It’s quite fair to assume all eight players will not be back next year, but all eight are also playing for their next contract. Outside of Fabbri, Bertuzzi and Mantha, no one has really stepped up to show what they can be worth this offseason, or quite frankly, have shown they should be brought back. However, my guess would be the closer we come to seasons end, and their contracts expiring, the better play we see out of all of them.
4. Oh Captain, My (Future) Captain
Dylan Larkin hasn’t noticeably struggled this much since his sophomore campaign. After signing a long-term deal over the summer, no one expected Larkin to fall off quite like this. Many also assumed he would be named captain over the offseason, yet when Yzerman took over, that didn’t become a reality. Coming off 73 Pts in 76 GP a year ago, Larkin’s production has dropped significantly as he is only on pace for just 49 points this season. It’s fair to assume his play will pick up and let’s hope so because there really are few things better than when D-Boss gets rolling.
5. The Deadline
The Red Wings have been sellers the last three trade deadlines, and rightfully so. This year could be different as the Red Wings don’t have any top UFA’s on their team. Daley, Green, Ericsson, Biega and Howard are the UFA’s on the roster, and none of them will bring in that great of a return. However, based off moves Yzerman has made so far, I wonder if he’ll be taking calls on some of the RFA’s. Despite the lack of assets, I don’t really expect the Red Wings to stay completely silent at the deadline. This could be a situation to monitor the closer we get to February 24.
6. How Long Nielsen Can Go Without Scoring
We have Sheahan 2.0 on our hands. Only this time the player is making more than twice as much as Sheahan was for the Red Wings. From the announcement of Holland signing him, I have never liked Frans Nielsen. Year after year his production worsens too and with two more years on his contract after this season, the Red Wings have their hands tied with him. Like I said, there really isn’t much I can sit here and sell you on for why you ABSOLUTELY have to watch this team, but I also know people were hoping Sheahan would go 0-82, so why not do the same for Nielsen?
7. Mantha’s Return
No one was really playing better than Anthony Mantha to start the year. Low bar set yes, but 23 Pts in 25 GP for a terrible team is quite good. However, Mo suffered yet another injury a couple weeks ago and is still sidelined indefinitely because of it. Many expect Mantha to be out for a minimum of a couple more weeks, but when he comes back, hopefully that provides an offensive spark for the team moving forward.
8. Next Coaching Candidate
My guess is Stevie waits the year out with Blashill before going after his guy to be the next head coach. He’s been preaching patience and things are as bad as they can be currently. So if Blashill hasn’t been fired yet, I’m not sure he will be this year. The favorite has to be Bylsma, but who knows if the Lightning keep struggling maybe Cooper becomes available, same with Peter Laviolette in Nashville. The coaching situation will probably be something to monitor much more in the offseason, but doesn’t mean we can’t start looking for our guy now.