By Paul Harris
The Red Wings probably won’t make the playoffs this season and shouldn’t, for the sake of the franchise’s long-term future.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Wings go into the 2018-19 season – which begins tonight when Detroit hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets – in rebuilding mode.
The Red Wings have injected a significant amount of youth into what had been a heavily veteran-laden roster – with questionable contracts – that has not scored enough goals and given up too many. As many as five rookies could make their National Hockey League debuts.
Defensemen Dennis Cholowski, 20, and Libor Sulak, 24; and forwards Michael Rasmussen, 19; and Christoffer Ehn, 22, will definitely be in the lineup against Columbus, while defenseman Filip Hronek, 20, could be called up from Grand Rapids because of injuries to veteran defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
When you add young players who have established they can play in the NHL, and have the potential to improve, like Waterford native center Dylan Larkin, 22; and forwards Anthony Mantha, 24; Tyler Bertuzzi, 23; and Andreas Athanasiou, 24, the best lens to view the Wings through during the season will be how the youngsters develop over the season.
Look Past April
The retirement of captain and longtime star Henrik Zetterberg, due to a bad back, at the beginning of training camp further emphasizes that being one of 16 teams that will battle for the Stanley Cup beginning in April is highly unlikely for Detroit.
But that’s OK.
Making the playoffs always provides excitement and hope, but the Red Wings’ only likely path to do so would be to barely scrape in as a low seed and then face an Atlantic Division powerhouse like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins. That would be the perfect recipe for a quick first-round knockout.
The Wings’ long-term well-being would be better-served by missing the playoffs and focusing on the 2019 NHL draft next June 21-22 in Vancouver. Detroit has at least 10 picks and could continue its recent run of success.
Cholowski, Rasmussen and Hronek are products of the 2016 and 2017 drafts. This past June, the Wings selected two more potentially high-impact forwards with their two first-round picks: right wing Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and center Joe Veleno (30th overall).
Making the playoffs would also eliminate Detroit from the Jack Hughes sweepstakes.
Chance tom Add Talent
Hughes, a 17-year-old center who plays at the U.S. National Team Development Program, which is based in Plymouth, is projected to be the top pick in next year’s draft. Hughes, whose older brother Quinn plays for the University of Michigan and was taken seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 draft, is a generational talent who has been compared to Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.
Who gets the No. 1 pick is determined by a weighted lottery of the teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season.
It would be far better for the Red Wings organization to have a chance to draft Hughes next June than making the playoffs in April. If they win the lottery, it would give the Wings a 1-2 center combination of Larkin and Hughes,
Even if Detroit would not win the opportunity to select Hughes, it still would be in a better position to add the best possible talent in the draft and give the organization a better chance to, return to the ranks of perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
Making the playoffs is not worth jeopardizing that goal.