Rebuilding is tough for everyone involved. Players, coaches, owners and of course the fan base must be patient as the team tries to right the ship and begin anew.
The Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs twenty-five straight seasons from 1990 to 2016. Since then, things have been abysmal in hockey town and as they should be during a rebuild. Although, when the city and the fan base are used to excellence and playoff hockey, it makes one losing season seem like five. In now their third straight losing season, the wings were in prime position to land a top three pick in the upcoming NHL draft in June. This draft will feature highly touted prospects Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, and Vasili Podkolzin. All signs pointed towards Detroit landing one of these three exciting prospects but a winning streak of four in a row and a consistency of taking games to OT have the Wings with the fifth worst record in the NHL.
Now with the draft lottery in place, there is still a small chance Detroit could land one of the preferred players available in the top three but I am here to tell you that winning these games isn’t just all for naught. It would be a different thing if the goals were being scored by players like Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader. Both players are extremely over paid for their production and if they were scoring goals consistently at this point it would just be a slap in the face for everyone involved. Instead, the new youth core are the ones contributing in the scoring and wins that have come with it.
Dylan Larkin, 22 years old, leads the Red Wings in scoring with 32 goals this season and his followed closely by Andreas Anthanasiou with 30 goals. Larkin and Anthanasiou mark the first thirty goal scorers since the 2008-2009 season when Hossa, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen all reached the mark. Anthanasiou is 24 years old along with Tyler Bertuzzi who has scored 21 goals this year and Anthony Mantha who has netted 25. These four players are the Wings top four scorers and all being under 25 years old is very promising for the future.
19-year-old Michael Rasmussen stayed up from Grand Rapids the entire year with the big club and played in 62 games scoring 8 goals with 10 assists. Defenders Dennis Cholowski who is 20 years old and Filip Hronek who is 21, have shown great signs of being solid on the blue line, something that hindered the Wings even when they were making the playoffs.Prospects in the system that will most likely make the roster at the start of next season include 2018 first round picks Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, the latter of which has scored 42 goals and 62 assists in the QMJHL this year.
The major issue moving forward with the Red Wings is the atrocious contracts General Manager Ken Holland has given certain players who contribute next to nothing as mentioned before. Abdelkader making five million this season and scoring six goals and Nielsen making six million and scoring ten goals is detrimental to the franchise. Other bad contracts include Darren Helm $3.8 million for 7 goals, Danny DeKeyser $5.5 million and of course Jonathon Ericsson’s $4.25 million. The only positive thing is Nielsen’s and Abdelkader’s deals get cheaper as they go on and Niklas Kronwall, who will likely retire, will be off the books. Unfortunately, this will only leave wings with about $6.2 million of projected cap space unless some salary is cut or trades are made which seem unlikely.
Regardless of the bad cap situation for next year, a year from now I could be writing about how the Wings will have about $40 million of cap space which is projected in the 2020 offseason. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the Red Wings are getting there, slowly but surely.