The Red Wings and adjustments: shake things the hell up
Yesterday I wrote a piece about The Red Wings being a decent team who could become dangerous with some relatively minor reshuffling of personnel and slight changes to their systems. The piece was mostly a positive view of a mostly-average team who could really get dangerous when the time is right; I mentioned that these slight changes could end up with the marginal improvements necessary to raise the chances of that happening, but that they could also end up hurting the team's chances of making the postseason.
Now I want to speak to the same concept purely as a Red Wings fan and purely from where I stand in my Red Wings fandom right now:
Pardon me for being a bad fan, but I find myself getting bored with the Red Wings more often than I ever have been. It's kind of hard to admit because it feels like admitting that you can be bored by your favorite team is a gateway drug to drifting away from them entirely. Maybe that happens. I don't know. I guess I'll cross that bridge if I get to it. It's not like I don't enjoy watching Wings games. The engagement in our gamethreads and on Twitter along with the many very-exciting things the Wings do keeps me coming back.
The team still fills me with the highs of emotion when they win and they still have the emotional power to kind of ruin my day when they lose but man oh man does it feel like the team I fell in love with is now more like the team that crushed their cup dreams in 1995 than the team that overcame such heartbreak two years later.
A low-event style team that has skill capable of producing more offense but is more concerned with trapping up the neutral zone and using a good goalie to help them win on the margins? Yeah, that's about right, isn't it? Unfortunately, you can't really compare them to those New Jersey Devils teams because those teams won Cups. Until the system actually works, the Minnesota Wild of the early aughts under Jacques Lemaire is a slightly better comparison. I hated those teams with the passion of a million hockey-induced naps. It's a good thing the Wings have spent so long earning more trust than that.
So what am I here for?
The Red Wings have 24 straight postseason appearances. the record is 29 by our new division rivals the Bruins. I'm torn on prestige here because the Bruins did this through a long period where there were fewer teams and much less parity. While Boston was putting together 29, the other three longest active streaks in NHL history (by the Blackhawks, Blues, and Canadiens) were also actively running. By all logical arguments, the Wings have done it in a tougher era, as they're the only team that has made it every single year since the lockout that cost them what would be one among 25 straight appearances.
I don't want to have to make it by the "logical" argument though. I want the easy "look at the scoreboard, fucker" answer in that argument every time. I know it doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but sports don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Bragging rights are fun and I like fun; kiss my ass if you have fun other ways. I know this is alien to certain people out there of dCourse, but it's possible to have fun doing something you know has no real objective value in the real world.
Yes, I want the streak to continue, but I'm faced with the real tough question: if I feel that chasing the streak is hurting the team's chances of chasing a Cup, which one is more important?
THE CUP IS MORE IMPORTANT, DUMMY
Yeah this isn't a question. If you proved to me that if Wings would miss the playoffs this year it would guarantee a cup next year I'd personally do everything in my power to undermine Petr Mrazek for the rest of this season. I'm spoiled. I want both the streak and the Cup; I just don't have a lot of faith lately that those two things are mutually agreeable considerations. I'm willing to risk having to logic my way through stupid arguments over playoff streaks if it makes the team more competitive in the future, because "kiss the Cup ring" is more fun to say than "look at the scoreboard."
So what's this about "adjustments" then?
I meant everything I said yesterday about how I think fine-tuning the Red Wings is likely the best strategy for them to improve without taking too much risk that they get worse. I honestly think that's the case. As a fan, I'm just not sure how much I care. I've been reminded more than once in my fan life that the Wings are a business and that Mike Ilitch is now more interested in his baseball team than the hockey team (especially given how little he can directly influence with his money anymore). I know that making the playoffs and losing in the first round is worth millions more than missing the postseason and having to sell the increasingly also-bored fans on keeping the gates up.
The streak is likely more financially valuable to the Red Wings than it is emotionally valuable to me as a fan.
The bottom line is that adjustments are designed to make the Red Wings' overall strategy of winning games 2-1 or 1-0 more-repeatable. The wins are still fun to watch, but the high of goals scored for the Wings and the gut-punch of goals against get fewer and farther between. If the fun of winning the cup is going to be a grind until the payoff then so be it... but you kind of have to win a cup for that to be as worthwhile.
Don't shake it just to shake it?
You may remember from several paragraphs ago where I said I'm spoiled. I want the streak AND the Cup, and I'm willing to trade one for the other because I feel we've been doing the opposite of that trade for several years. The thing is that I definitely don't want NEITHER to happen and that's a very real possibility when you make changes just to make changes.
As a fan, I want to see more of Athanasiou, Mantha, Jensen, Ouellet, Sproul, and Russo because they're young and Dylan Larkin is also young and exciting and I want to see how exciting they are. I'm kind of at the point where I'd be willing to find out exactly how much worse than current roster players any of these kids can be because at least it won't be predictable while we're finding out.
I know, the company line is that at some point I should trust the GM, the coaching, the scouts, and everybody else in the organization who is responsible for all those kids still being unknown quantities in Grand Rapids while the Wings currently have known quantities of "meh" sprinkled throughout their lineup. I'm not in the locker room or at practices watching these kids and I don't have the experience, pedigree, or access to information like the professional decision-makers do.
I don't know what I don't know and I don't know how much they know or don't know. I very much want to find out though because more and more evidence from the last several years points to a team that's trading hockey skills for a number of other considerations like veteran loyalty and bridge contract salary savings. I know the long-term plan is important too, but the first round is not an acceptable payoff to playing the long game anymore.
When it comes down to it, I love the Wings. I enjoy the Wings. I think the Wings are good. I just want more and I'm willing to gamble on making them worse in an attempt to make them better. As a fan I find myself bored more often than I ever did watching them. I don't know if trading that boredom for added frustration is a good idea. This is a tough transition for Wings fans. It's always much easier to fuel fan excitement with expectations. Hope is a much more fickle fuel than expectation. It doesn't run as efficiently, it comes on stronger and disappears entirely at times, and it must be refreshed more often. I've got plenty of it to burn, but it sure is a bunch harder on the muffler. You could even say it can be exhausting.