The Self-destruction of the Detroit Red Wings
For years, people have looked at the Detroit Red Wings as the model of excellence when it comes to building a hockey team. After all, they've made the playoffs every year for the last 25 seasons and won four Stanley Cups during that span. They have drafted franchise players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the late rounds of drafts, and have done an exceptional job of developing young players. However, take a good hard look at the Detroit Red Wings I don’t see a dynasty or a model for success, I see a flawed way of thinking.
You see in a league like the NHL, with a hard salary cap, sustainable success is extremely difficult to achieve. In fact I would say it’s almost impossible. The reality is that every team has a window for success. I finite amount of time, where they have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and St.Louis Blues are all currently in their windows, and teams like the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers are slowly approaching theirs. Eventually these windows will come to a close from either aging players, salary cap constraints, or both. It’s inevitable. Every team is eventually going to plummet to the bottom and have to work their way back to the top. For some teams it might take two or three years before their a competitive team again, for others it might be a decade (looking at you Edmonton Oilers), it all depends on how that team has been managed.
The Detroit Red Wings have made a catastrophic mistake when it comes to managing their team, and that is trying to stay in their window for as long. They are simply delaying the inevitable crash to the bottom of the standings, and as a result it’s going to have a major impact on the future of their franchise.
Right now the Red Wings are stuck in a ‘limbo’ state of sorts. They aren’t good enough to be a cup contender, and not quite bad enough to be able to draft a ‘blue chip’ prospect. Instead of scrapping their roster and rebuilding, they have filled their roster with free agent signings with the hope of remaining competitive. Since 2012 they have signed guys like Jordan Tootoo, Stephen Weiss, Brad Richards, Carlo Coliacovo, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Green, Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen. Three of those signings resulted in buyouts while Green and Nielsen currently occupy over 11M of Detroit’s salary cap. Sure these signings have helped them get to the playoffs, but the Red Wings haven’t been able to make it out of the second round since 2009. All they've done is tie up a bunch of money in players who are past their prime.
Here is what’s going to happen to Detroit. In a few seasons Detroit will have finished last in the league. They will then have to start rebuilding. However due to their playoff streak, they will lack any high end prospects in their system. Sure they will have guys like Larkin, Tatar, and Nyquist, but what happens when those contracts expire. Detroit will have to much money tied up in veteran players and won’t be able to afford all of them. So now they have to trade one of them.
Then they finish last again, draft first overall, and continue to rebuild which will take them years and years.
Detroit’s success has been self destructive. They have mismanaged themselves into a position where they lack any blue-chip prospects, have millions of dollars tied down in useless veterans, and are trending downward. It’s an unenviable position to be in, but at the end of the day they only have themselves to blame.