DETROIT – Once again the Detroit Red Wings scratched and clawed their way into the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season, but the ouster in five games by the Boston Bruins wasn’t what they had planned.
“I’m general manager of a team that this ownership, this fan base, they want us to be a playoff team,” Ken Holland said. “Nobody seems to have an appetite to miss the playoff for four or five consecutive years to try and replenish and build up this core of players that you can build around for 10 or 12 years.
“Where we draft, we don’t draft high enough to move players from junior to the National Hockey League to make the playoffs,” Holland continued. “We can have the youngest team in the league next year, we’re going to miss the playoffs. How do I know? I just look at other teams and other situations.”
The youth movement was this year’s theme as eight players make their NHL debut in the regular season.
“I want to be a playoff team and I think that when players are ready to help us win, they’ll be here,” Holland said. “The one guy that wasn’t here that probably should have been here at the start of the season was (Gustav) Nyquist. Other than that, Tomas Jurco, when we called him up in November, he was the eighth leading scorer in the American Hockey League. This isn’t a league where you’re going to learn to score in. You’re going to score in other leagues. You don’t come up here and learn to score. If you can’t score before you get here, the coaches aren’t going to give you enough time to learn to score because they want to win. They’re going to put people out there that they know have got a track record to do it. If you can’t defend, it doesn’t matter how many points you get.
“This is a hard league to be a real player in at 22 and 23,” Holland continued. “We don’t have a 22-year-old (Steve) Yzerman. We don’t have a 22-year-old (Nicklas) Lidstrom. We don’t have those players. I’ll be the first to tell you. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, they weren’t Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at 22. They became Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at 26.
Forwards Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening, along with defensemen Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser also played huge roles this season.
“That’s why young players get traded to other organizations,” Holland said. “Because they get there too quick, they’re not quite ready for the challenge and then people get down on them. The manager and the coach, then they go to another city. I’m hoping to leave these players away from here as long as possible so that when they do get here, the growing pains are as short as possible.”
Here are the final positional grades, which includes playoffs and has each of the first three quarter grades after.
Forwards: C+ (B-, B, B)
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk combined to play 90 regular season games. Zetterberg still was third on the team in scoring.
The duo shined in the playoffs with Datsyuk leading the team with five points and Zetterberg had a goal and an assist in just two games.
Daniel Alfredsson, when healthy, was a fine addition, finishing tied for the team lead with 49 points.
Johan Franzen was a complete no show down the stretch.
Gustav Nyquist had a magnificent regular season, leading the team with 28 goals in just 57 games.
However, he and the rest of the young forwards found it difficult to produce in the postseason. The only newbie to register a point in five games was Luke Glendening.
Injury-riddled Darren Helm potted 12 goals in 42 games. His speed is unmatched in the league.
Justin Abdelkader was like a yo-yo with linemates, but still managed 10 goals and 18 assists.
Drew Miller was the lone forward to play the entire 82-game regular season schedule.
The trade for David Legwand didn’t pan out like hoped and Todd Bertuzzi’s best days are behind him.
The signing of Daniel Cleary haunted them all year as did the two-year deal they struck with Mikael Samuelsson two seasons ago.
Defensemen: B (B, B+, C+)
Niklas Kronwall has truly taken over as the leader on the blue line having to mentor a mistake-prone Brendan Smith once Jonathan Ericsson’s regular season ended with a fractured finger.
Danny DeKeyser is here to stay.
Despite getting off to a rough start in the plus-minus category, Kyle Quincey recovered and finished just a minus-5. He was the lone defenseman to play all 82 regular season games.
And just like last season Brian Lashoff leaped over Jakub Kindl on the depth chart when playoffs rolled around.
The team also got a look at a few youngsters on the blue line – Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Adam Almquist – this season to see if they’re ready to make the leap to the NHL.
Goalies: C (C+, B-, C)
Jimmy Howard admitted, “I thought it was an OK season, by no means was it a good or great season.”
He finished the regular season with his worst goals-against average (2.66) and save percentage (.910) since his second season as the Wings’ starter.
Battling injures from groins to shoulders, Jonas Gustavsson appeared in just 34 regular-season games with the Wings over two seasons.
When he’s healthy he’s a reliable backup, going 16-5-4 this season. He also started the final two playoff games because Howard at the flu and gave them a chance to win.
Petr Mrazek will likely spend one more season in Grand Rapids before coming to Detroit fulltime.
Coaching: A- (B+, B-, A-)
When the finalists for the Jack Adams Award is announced on Tuesday, look for Mike Babcock to be on the list of final three.
With the amount of injured players, many of them were the core of the franchise, Babcock changed up his coaching style and put his trust in the kids and it paid off.
“The way I look it the coach of the year gets to raise the Stanley Cup and the rest of us are trying to get better,” Babcock said. “I thought we did lots of good things here this year. It was spectacular to get in the playoffs because our guys worked so hard.”