Time to Face It: Red Wings Crumbling Before Our Very Eyes

The Red Wings are an injured bunch right now. But even before the players started dropping like flies, the Red Wings weren’t all that healthy.

This is an organization, once revered, that has fallen down a notch or two, overall.

The Pittsburgh Penguins came to town on Saturday night. It wasn’t too long ago when a Penguins-Red Wings match at Joe Louis Arena would have been the hottest ticket in the city.

But the Penguins, who played the night before, took the game so seriously that they started their backup goalie.

That was the latest indicator of how far the Red Wings have fallen as a franchise. For 20-plus years, it was unthinkable to put anyone less than your #1 goalie between the pipes when facing the Red Wings, especially in Detroit.

But the Penguins looked at the game on the calendar for December 14 and felt that they could be just fine with starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury opening and closing the door to the bench all night.

Why wouldn’t the Pens feel that way? With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin et al up front, the Penguins have more than enough firepower to subdue the Red Wings. So why make your top goalie play both ends of back-to-back games, if at all avoidable?

Even before the injuries hit the Red Wings hard, the roster was filled with holes. The most glaring one is the lack of a 20+ goal scorer, beyond Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

The Red Wings have trouble scoring on most nights, and that’s because they rarely get any sort of production from anyone not wearing 13 or 40 on the back of their sweater.

It’s a roster made of pluggers and diggers and character guys, but not very much on talent.

It’s not helping that the veterans who were counted on for so much more, have failed thus far.

I’m talking about you, Danny Cleary—and Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Stephen Weiss.

The Red Wings’ lack of successful player development over the past five seasons or so has come home to roost. This is  a team that is getting old fast—and I don’t mean by age alone but rather by a combination of certain players wearing down and the young guys unable to fill the void on a consistent basis.

I challenge you to name more than a handful of players, home-grown by the Red Wings, who have blossomed into solid NHLers since the Stanley Cup win…of 2002!

The Red Wings have been held up, for years, as a model NHL franchise. But that simply isn’t the case anymore. The Red Wings aren’t producing very many good NHL players, and haven’t for over a decade.

This is another time to compare them to the New York Yankees in baseball: a once-great team whose roster capitulated to old age in a hurry, with precious little home-grown talent to replenish it.

There isn’t a sniper. There’s not even a sharp shooter. It’s a team made up of a bunch of pluggers and pop-gunners.

The Red Wings shocking inability to win a shootout is exemplary of their lack of star power up front.

The draft has dried up in recent years. Right now, the roster is filled with Grand Rapids Griffins, and except for Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, these Griffins aren’t ready for the NHL. Some of them may never be.

The goaltending situation is inexplicably back in flux again. The special teams, once a strength, are cracking.

Confidence appears to be waning. It’s a beaten down bunch, yes, but even when healthy, the 2013-14 Red Wings didn’t strike fear into anyone.

I fear what we are seeing now is a sneak preview of a stretch of mediocre hockey, the length of which will be directly determined by the GM chops of Ken Holland, who until recently was beyond reproach. Not any longer.

Holland is as culpable as anyone in the Red Wings organization for what this team has become: a boring, plodding group of non-scorers, many of whom are over the hill and fading fast.

This isn’t a team that is re-tooling. It’s rebuilding, but no one seems to want to admit it.

Not even, I suspect, a good portion of its fans. Even though, with a 5-8-6 record at home, the Hockeytown fans should know better.