The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most consistent franchises in North American sports for the last 20 years or so. There hasn't been an NHL playoff in 21 seasons that didn't involve the Winged Wheel. They haven't finished outside of the top eight since I was three years old.
And all that could come crashing down during the 2012-2013 season.
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: I'm not an alarmist fan or writer. I try my best not to exaggerate ideas just for the sake of doing so. But I'm not a homer either, and as it stands right now this is a franchise in a bit of a decline.
The squad hasn't made it out of the second round the last three seasons, dropping two phenomenal playoff series to San Jose before getting hammered by the Nashville Predators last year. 2008 may have only been four years ago, but the differences between the team that won the Stanley Cup that year and the edition that appears to be heading into 2013 are astronomical.
The biggest difference is on defense, where the Red Wings have lost three of their top six blueliners over the last two seasons. Brian Rafalski retiring unexpectedly last summer coupled with losing Brad Stuart and Nick Lidstrom leave a massive crater on the back end.
Expecting Niklas Kronwall to fill that gap isn't realistic. Neither is assuming that Brendan Smith is ready to take a huge step in his progress towards being a top-four guy.
What irritates me the most is that two of these three departures were predictable, and Ken Holland has done nothing to insulate his team against a downward trend. I'm going to assume that he did everything he could to lure Ryan Suter to Detroit, but if that was plan A, B and C then that's a huge problem. Mostly because Suter just isn't a true No. 1 guy, but I digress.
Right now Detroit's top four looks like this: Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, uh...Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson...I guess.
Sorry folks. That's just not going to cut it—especially not in arguably the toughest division in hockey.
I understand Holland's unwillingness to overpay for anything (except for Quincey) at any point, but sometimes you just have to make a move to keep pace with the field. I'm not calling for a deal just for the sake of making one, but not getting in on serious negotiations with Columbus for Rick Nash or jumping on Shea Weber with an offer sheet because of a misguided and unspoken rule is silly.
Nashville isn't going to suddenly lose 10 more games this season because they lost Suter, and St. Louis is going to be a very good, dangerous hockey club for a long time. Chicago is still stacked if they figure out their goaltending, and Columbus isn't going to be an easy team to play against this season.
To be blunt, adding Jonas Gustavsson and Jordin Tootoo probably won't cut it.
Not much has changed for the Red Wings up front, and depending on how you view things this fact could either be positive or negative. The team isn't getting any younger, and they don't have any surefire, can't-miss top-six guys in the system right now. They have a lot of could-be-a-good-player forwards, but I'm still a bit nervous about the group moving forward.
Damien Brunner is someone to keep an eye on during training camp, and hopefully Gustav Nyquist can make the jump and continue to evolve into a solid player.
Detroit finished No. 5 last year, and I don't see them finishing higher than that in the upcoming season. I wouldn't be shocked if they won the Central, but I am not banking on it either. As we learned last year, coasting through the last month of the regular season isn't going to work like it used to.
Due to what I view as a porous defense, I honestly see Detroit finishing between fifth and ninth place this upcoming season. Even if they make a trade (Bobby Ryan) or add another forward (Shane Doan), the issue is still going to be in their own end, and there are no quick fixes there. Especially considering Detroit needs three top-six defenders out of thin air.
Once a team makes the playoffs anything can happen, but I think this season will be one of the most stressful in recent memory.
Thanks for reading. As always I'd love to hear your rational disagreements or irrational praise in the comments section.