For the last 23 seasons there has been three guarantees in life. That is death, taxes, and the Detroit Red Wings playing playoff hockey. The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs I was about 18 months away from putting on my first pair of skates. And even though it is only the second day of NHL free agency I feel that Joe Louis Arena will be empty come spring of 2015.
Now that I’ve begun to dig a grave for my hometown team I shall head into the Witness Protection Program tomorrow (sarcasm). But after seeing general manager Ken Holland strike out while other teams are striking key free agents this is a new era that Hockeytown isn’t used to. Our fans have been spoiled by years of success, blank checkbooks to land whomever we wanted before the 2004 lockout, and having a roster stacked full of legendary players. I knew times were changing earlier this past season when I was sitting at a bar watching a game and the two females next to me were complaining that they couldn’t name half the roster like they used to back in the Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Russian 5 days.
Yes the Red Wings struggled last season due to a million injuries. And yes I did feel that Mike Babcock should have won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year (he finished second to Patrick Roy). But ever since Max Talbot scored twice in the second period of Game 7 in the 2009 Final, Detroit hasn’t come close to being a contender since. That was five years ago, and they are slowing becoming the high school prom queen that doesn’t look so hot at the 10-year reunion.
Detroit used to be a destination for free agents. You can save your Detroit/bankruptcy jokes but there was a time (1995-2009) where free agents used to take less money other clubs offered to come here. There could be many reasons why free agents aren’t lining up for the privilege to wear the red sweater. I’m led to believe the arena has to do with it, as Joe Louis is among the oldest in the NHL and is considered a dump in hockey circles compared to newer, modern buildings around. Sure we are supposed to have a new arena built but shovels can’t get in the ground fast enough to be first on free agent’s wish lists.
Now there were free agents at a key position we need (a right-shooting defenseman) and we struck out like stepping in a fast pitch batting cage. Pro Hockey Talk referenced four free agent defensemen that are right handed shooters and we lost out on all four. Dan Boyle took two years and $9 million to New York. Why? Because he wants a second ring and the Rangers are closer to being contenders than their fellow Original Six member. The Rangers basically swapped Boyle for Anton Stralman, who is heading south to Tampa Bay.
Matt Niskanen left one superstar (Sidney Crosby) in favor of another superstar (Alex Ovechkin) and $40.25 million over seven years. Detroit simply couldn’t compete with what Niskanen wanted. Tom Gilbert went to Montreal, another team who needed a right-handed defenseman as their only righty is P.K. Subban and there’s a chance they might lose him if they can’t re-sign him.
The pickings are getting slim on the blue line, and they might have to resort to trading for a defenseman during the season. Could they land an offensive-minded defenseman like Dustin Byfuglien? He has two years left in Winnipeg but his contract might be a little out of what Detroit can afford.
Would they ask Boston to sit at the negotiating table regarding a trade? They apparently have a surplus of defenseman. But partnering with a division rival will come at a price. And you better believe Peter Chiarelli knows he has leverage over Holland. Boston has nine NHL-caliber defenseman and there’s no way he’ll go into the season with so many.
Stay tuned to see how this scenario will play out, but as of July 2 this season could be a long, rough one for Red Wings fans. More so than last season.