It has been 21 years since the city of Detroit has gone through a summer without Red Wings hockey.
Most of those years, the Pistons were usually entrenched in a deep playoff run. The Lions were always in the news with their fabled high draft picks and the Tigers would be getting into the grind of their season.
For many, the Stanley Cup playoffs were becoming an annual tradition for families and fans alike to celebrate and watch.
Now there is panic and uncertainty for a franchise who dominated the hockey world for so long.
A slow start and multiple bouts with inconsistent play have landed the Red Wings on the outside of the playoffs desperately trying to find their way in.
While they are only two points from the eighth seed in the Western Conference, they've played like a team that is uninspired and don't have much hope of advancing even if they get in.
Needless to say, this isn't the Detroit Red Wings that we are used to.
A common question might be, could the Red Wings have avoided this situation from ever happening? The simple answer is yes. But much of the team's failures may lie in the decisions they made several years ago.
When Marian Hossa signed with the team in the 08-09 season at a modest $7.45 million, they were hoping to give him a long-term extension in the offseason. That season was one of the best in Marian's career, as piled on 40 goals and totaled 71 points in 74 games.
Johan Franzen was looking for a long-term deal as well. He was up and coming through the system, but had spent the last three years playing full-time minutes in the team's forward core. He also had a monstrous postseason stretch from 2008 to 2009 where he had 41 points in 39 games.
Kenny Holland made a long-term offer to Hossa that averaged less in annual salary than his previous deal. Meanwhile, Franzen was eager to work out a multi-year pact with the team. Both players were vital in the run to the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that year.
In the end, Franzen inked an 11-year deal with an average annual salary of $3.95 mllion. Hossa was offered a long-term deal in Detroit, but instead inked a 12-year, $63 million contract with the Blackhawks in the same offseason.
The Red Wings have struggled to find a pure goal scorer like Hossa since then, and Holland has little success trying to fill the need in free agency.
Perhaps they have found an answer with Damien Brunner, but his second-half scoring drought is an area of concern.
Finally, the Red Wings have found it difficult to add new players around Datsyuk and Zetterberg. They've picked up a few depth forwards over the past several years, but allowed star forwards like Jaromir Jagr and Jason Pominville become a vital part of another team.
While each issue is not a sole factor for this setback, they can also be a reminder about how fortunate players and fans have been to see playoff hockey in Hockeytown.
Most NHL cities would only fathom to have any type of success like the Red Wings. It's become a tradition in Hockeytown from late April to (in most cases) mid June. Seeing a spring that is devoid of hockey would be hard to take in the motor city.
Luckily, they are in a position to prosper again next season. Many of the team's key players (16-of-23 active players) are under the age of 30. This includes Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner and others.
Another benefit is that the prospect system has now become a reputable source of talent. Gustav Nyquist is producing at a strong level and will carry more responsibility next season. Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Calle Jarnkrok will all be fighting for NHL roster spots in 2013-14.
Martin Frk, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen are a few years away from playing in the NHL, but will all step into primary scoring roles.
The Red Wings have also stockpiled talent on defense. They have Ryan Sproul, who will play for Grand Rapids next season, and Xavier Ouellet could jump ship to professional hockey after this year. Look for an entry-level deal done this summer with Nick Jensen and Mattias Backman.
Don't forget about Petr Mrazek, Jake Paterson and Jared Coreau in net.
Grand Rapids' future looks extremely bright. The pipeline for Detroit is about to gush with premium young talent that is only a few years away.
Combine that with the NHL Draft and a newly implemented lottery system, and the Wings' transition to the East will be a smooth sail.
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