It’s official: The Detroit Red Wings are the worst team in the NHL.
Dylan Larkin shows up every night to give his best effort. He tries to will this team to some sort of victory, even if it’s not on the scoreboard. He leads by example. He plays with a sense of pride. And then his heart is broken, on a nightly basis. So much so, he’s dropping the gloves.
Because hockey is a team sport, after all. When the team is in such disarray -- no power play, a terrible penalty kill, barely any goals per game, deplorable team defense and a goalie tandem that suffers from all of it -- it doesn’t matter how much heart your “captain without a C on his sweater” plays with. You just lose.
And perhaps we should be happy Larkin isn’t the “captain.” Would it not make this losing -- one win in their past 12 games -- even worse? Would we even want to have pictures of Larkin with the C during this dark period in Red Wings history?
I don’t know. It probably doesn’t matter at all.
Low expectations, but not this low
The Red Wings are 16 games into the season with just 4 wins. There is no sign of this situation getting any better. While no Red Wings fan in their right mind thought this season would be a good one, I think the majority of us believed the team would compete at a higher level than the year before. The young group of forwards -- Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Andreas Athanasiou -- would be even better this season, right? We were very wrong for believing that, and in hindsight it makes sense that the Red Wings would be worse than the previous season.
The defense is less experienced and suffering from injuries to Danny DeKeyser, and now Mike Green and Trevor Daley. I think the word chaos best describes the defense. There is a revolving door of young and old players, and without the consistency of a Niklas Kronwall or Nick Jensen, the Red Wings blue line has zero identity and more resembles a group of guys meeting for a drop-in game. That’s really what it feels like when you’re watching them. And it’s an unfair situation for players like Dennis Cholowski, Madison Bowey and Filip Hronek. These are young players who are trying to learn on the job.
Without a dependable defense, the forwards are left helpless. The 200-foot game cannot be sacrificed in today’s NHL. Teams capitalize in transition way too easily, and it’s obvious the Red Wings are victims of a terrible transition game. There is carelessness with the puck in the neutral zone, and a breakout plan appears nonexistent due to that inconsistency on defense. They can’t hold onto leads, and they rarely -- if ever -- outscore their opponent in the 2nd and 3rd periods. In fact, that’s when they get scored against the most.
At this point in the relatively young season, the Red Wings’ loss count isn’t as much of an issue as the way they are losing. They rarely have a lead, and when they do they never hold onto it. Overall, they aren’t scoring many goals -- they have 34 through 16 games, putting them at 30th overall in the league. Only the Chicago Blackhawks have less goals -- 33 -- but they have played 14 games, not 16. Read more about this here.
So what now?
I think it’s definitely fair that when a team is this bad -- no matter what the roster looks like -- the coaching staff can be criticized. Jeff Blashill is in his 5th season as Detroit head coach. His job, more or less, has been to help this organization develop a young group and guide the team through a transition.
As his lineup as been ever-changing over the past few seasons, Blashill’s record as head coach is now way below .500. His fate behind the Red Wings bench now rests with GM Steve Yzerman. Would firing Blashill really do anything but create more instability for the team? That’s a tough decision the GM will have to make.
Yzerman was brought in as the savior for this franchise, just as he was when he was drafted by Detroit more than 30 years ago. How quickly will he act now that he’s seen such a flat, downright dismal start from this team? He’s made minor moves to try to help bolster the lineup, but bigger moves could be expected sooner than later as this season progresses.
Yzerman, of course, is aware that this is a draft lottery team, meaning the Red Wings should grab a top four position in next year’s entry draft. If the team continues to struggle so much, a first overall pick could become more likely. For all we know, Yzerman could have plans to blow up the entire roster before the season ends. He has good incentive to do so -- 13 player contracts are up at the end of this season. The roster likely will look very, very different by next November, and perhaps sooner than that.
How much is too much?
The problem is, how much longer can the players like Larkin, who is part of the team’s future, take this kind of losing culture? This was the reason Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen were kept away from the NHL club this season. The team, apparently, did not want them to be immersed in such a losing spiral.
But for the young players on the NHL roster, it’s total distress. This is something Yzerman knows all about. He was Dylan Larkin once -- a young leader surrounded by a disorganized team in the 1980s. So we must trust he has a plan for now and the future. He may be taking a patient approach to this season and trying to get a better grasp of the value some of these young Red Wings hold.
But I can’t imagine he’s loving these losses, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see his patience run thin. He will have to weigh options ahead of the trade deadline.