Red Wings Should Embrace the Tank
The Red Wings are going to make the playoffs... probably.
How insanely fun it is that I can't say that with more confidence almost a full week into April. With three games remaining, the Red Wings currently occupy the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has a three-point advantage over 9th place Ottawa with three games remaining in the season for both teams. The Wings meet Carolina twice and Montreal once. Ottawa plays versus Pittsburgh, then at Philadelphia and New York.
In stricter terms, the magic number is 5. If Detroit earns one more ROW, they can immediately lower their magic number by another point by guaranteeing themselves the tiebreaker over the Senators. It's possible that the Wings could clench as early as Tuesday if things go well.
Then there's Boston. With Detroit blowing their game in hand against the Bruins on Sunday, the Wings fell out of the third spot in the Atlantic. The Bruins hold the head-to-head tiebreaker which plays in. Boston's three remaining games have them facing the Capitals, Panthers, and Lightning. There's a decent chance that even if Detroit makes the playoffs, they're going to do so as a wild card team instead of a division contender team.
That's not so bad. Here's why:
The Stakes Stay the Same
It's been a couple weeks since we officially gave up on having home ice advantage in a first round series. By this point, you're looking at the team against whom you're going to start on the road and you're seeing that it's going to be a tough opponent. Being the third Atlantic seed isn't any more prestigious or useful than being the 2nd Wild Card.
The Path (might) be Easier
I'm sure Rangers fans are laughing about the idea that the Wings may want to play the reigning Eastern champ more than they want to play the team that got swept out of the first round last season, but here we are. Either way, Detroit faces a real life tough Eastern contender on the road to start. Neither of those series sounds fun. However, an assumptive second round matchup based on Detroit having beaten the favorite probably means the Metro path is overall a better bet to the Conference Final.
As per the standings right now, winning the first round against New York gives the Wings the winner of a Capitals/Isles series. Both of those teams are good, but they're also fairly flawed. In the other bracket as the 3-seed, Detroit is looking at facing the winner of a Montreal/Pittsburgh series. I think the Habs are a paper tiger, but Carey Price is insanely good. If Price falters, it's going to be against a Penguins team that's figured out how to stop playing awfully at just the right time. That is scary. They either get an unbeatable goalie or an unstoppable goon squad. No thanks.
The Hedge is Always Greener
The good news about being a team that you're not sure can make the Conference Final is that failing to do so can give you a higher draft pick. The Wings wouldn't have a ball in the lottery if they make the playoffs, but being the 2nd Wild Card seed rather than the 3rd Atlantic seed means a better pick. If the Wings fail to get out of the first or second round this season, they'll have an earlier pick in a deeper draft than has come around in a while. This could be huge for the team's continued reload.
Lipstick on a Pig
I'll level with you. I figured by now I'd be calling out people who said the Wings would miss the playoffs during last summer. I'd really rather be doing that. I hate the position that Detroit is in right now. I hate that I'm looking for a silver lining in the Wings potentially being an eighth seed. However the lining is there. Detroit may be in better shape for either a deep run or a more solid pick in a good draft.
I think that Detroit has the talent to make a deep run. I haven't seen it come to bear much in 2015, so I severely doubt their ability to do so consistently in the playoffs, but I wouldn't trade the chance of seeing that again for a very small chance in the McDavid sweepstakes. The path is clear for the week's final season: Win just enough, Red Wings. It's for the best.