Red Wings stuck in muck between great and bad teams in NHL
By LARRY LAGE
AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings have been fading from elite status in the NHL for nearly a decade.
A new arena also isn’t going to fix their problems.
In fact, the franchise’s glorious past seems to have a haunting effect in and around Detroit’s dressing room at Little Caesars Arena.
There are empty locker stalls honoring former greats such as Gordie Howe, Nicklas Lidstrom and Terry Sawchuk. And when the players leave their dressing room and turn right, likenesses of Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman loom as a reminder of the good old days for a franchise that won four of its 11 Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008.
Detroit didn’t make the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990. If the postseason started today, the franchise would have its season end in the regular season in consecutive years for the first time since 1979-83, when fans in the Motor City referred to them as the Dead Wings and cars were given away to draw fans into the stands.
The Red Wings are not an awful team now. They’ve showed that by winning four of five games for the second time this season, stretches of success sandwiched around a six-game losing streak.
In some ways, they’re like a lot of teams in the league. They don’t seem to have a shot to contend for a championship, but they’re not bad enough to be among the worst and have a shot at one of the best players in the draft. They have a lot of players who belong in the league, but none of them are stars that can carry the team.
“It’s hard to separate yourself from other teams over the course of a game, or a season, because of competitive balance,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. “The cap system is designed for parity. You’re not going to beat the system. A large majority of the teams are at .500, or just above or below. We’re in that group, and it’s going to be a photo finish to the end to make the playoffs.”
Jonathan Ericsson was a young player toward the end of Detroit’s glory years, and laments how much the team’s culture has changed over the last decade.
The defenseman played in 22 playoff games in 2009, when the Red Wings were a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions, and hasn’t been on another long playoff run since.
“We used to play with desperation and we were so dialed in with our preparations with an older and experienced team,” Ericsson said. “We just knew we could turn around games and win. That feeling, especially last year, wasn’t there. And, it’s tough to get that feeling back.”