What’s next for Detroit?

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The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL postseason last night. It was the second year in a row they lost in the first round to the Bolts, and also the third year in a row they lost in general.

That’s bad, and if you ask me (someone did) you’d almost rather miss the playoffs than just make it and lose in the first round every year. Fortunately, it might not be something the Wings have to worry much about next year.

After all, there’s a very distinct possibility that Pavel Datsyuk hops a jet back to Russia and never suits up for the Wings again, and we all saw early in the season how bad Detroit was in his absence. Probably that overstates things, but the Wings are barely making the postseason with a guy who can still reliably drive possession (and is just about the only guy on the team that can do so on a level that actually makes a big difference for the team). No Datsyuk, plus an extra year of miles on Zetterberg and Kronwall, and so on. Yeah, they’re developing young talent, but it’s tough to develop guys who can replace Hall of Fame talent.

And yeah, that’s the kind of doom and gloom Wings fans have gotten sick of hearing for years, but we’ve been looking at diminishing returns for years since Nick Lidstrom retired. At some point they diminish to the point the team needs to really consider its long-term future.

If you routinely draft in the mid-teens or later, you’re not usually getting  difference-making talent. NHL talent? Sure, absolutely. Reliably so. I would note that the Wings’ drafting prowess is often overstated but they do routinely get guys to the bigs, and that’s not nothing. That helps. But it doesn’t get you back to the point where you can reasonably expect to, say, compete for a Stanley Cup or even, probably, a division title.

Let’s put it this way: With all the talent on the roster, and Petr Mrazek (probably) punching well above his weight class for a good chunk of the season, they still only ended up with 93 points in a soft-as-heck division. I don’t see them getting better than that next year, that’s for sure. Yeah they can PDO their way to a better point total, but in terms of actual quality, you kind of have to feel like they’re topped out right now.

Who’s in the pipeline that’s gonna put the puck in the net next year? Anthony Mantha maybe, then who? Tough to say with any certainty. Sure, they can spend money on the free agent market, but when’s the last time the Red Wings got someone actually good via UFA? Mike Green? Yeah okay. There are certainly guys worth acquiring this summer. It’s a good UFA class for once. But that still feels like putting a bandaid on the problem, rather than addressing it directly.

I dunno. If it were up to me, and I were running just about any team in Detroit’s position, I’d start selling hard and get a few years’ worth of high picks. They’re a rich team, moving into a new building soon. Do what Toronto did and use your resources to take bad contracts and prospects from teams in dire cap positions. Let someone take the Datsyuk cap hit. And so on. You have enough young talent on hand that you don’t have to tear it all the way down, but a few years of missing the playoffs probably does everyone some good in the long run.

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