Krupa: Season isn't lost for some Red Wings
Detroit — It feels like a low ebb.
Unfortunately, rebuilding can seem like that repeatedly before the job is finally done.
A losing streak of historic note, tied for 12th longest in the 92-year history of the Red Wings, is providing a macabre chapter in the disappointing story of decline that began a couple of seasons before Mike Babcock sought a roster with more talent.
The ignominy, mixed with the uncertain futures of GM Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill, is no way to end a season.
If each member of the current lineup does not understand the responsibility, the Wings are in far more trouble than we think. Throughout these several waning seasons, the Red Wings frequently have shown “there is no quit in them.”
They forced their way, with ample amounts of sheer will, into perhaps a few more playoffs than their level of talent suggested. They have persisted through two seasons with the consequences of a lineup of one aging star, some support staff and several inexperienced players.
Their pluck has served a shortage of talent well, at times. If they abandon resolve now, it will mark them.
Perhaps more importantly on a rebuilding club, there is much to accomplish, still.
This season always has been more about rebuilding than competing for playoff position. A mistake was ever thinking otherwise.
Sure, play to win, always. But manage to win in the long run by properly preparing the lineup for rebuilding.
And, as the expression goes, “coach them up.”
Memories of the last sustained period of winning, “going on a run,” is measured in calendar years. The next lineup to play deep in the playoffs feels a few to several seasons away.
By brute force of mediocrity, they are accomplishing what some people, deluded by a win-the-lottery sense of how to proceed, have counseled for 24 months: The Red Wings are, in effect, tanking.
Take Tomas Tatar and Frans Nielsen out of one of the weaker lineups in the NHL, especially for scoring, and the results are as plain as they were predictable. But there are things to achieve, in the last 19 days.
Dylan Larkin’s season establishes him as the potential future leader of the franchise, a potent playmaker who is filling some of the vacuum caused by Datsyuk’s departure even as he must help replace Zetterberg, possibly after next season.
But Larkin must score more goals. Providing considerable leadership on the ice and in the room already, he can grow even more in the role by supplying what the Wings demand in a large volume, the ability to “finish.”
The schedule is littered with examples, and Sunday provided another one. They fired 65 shots against the rebuilt Avalanche, and 38 were on target.
But the Red Wings only scored once.
To say Larkin cannot start a trend toward scoring more goals in the space of 10 NHL games would be an assertion against a fact: He started his trend toward more playmaking in the space of one World Championship, 11 months ago.
Like Larkin, Anthony Mantha will score more goals when the Wings’ lineup scores more goals.
Mantha has scored well this season, providing evidence that he has turned a corner in his career. One hopes he turns more.
Mantha can score more and play well all over the ice, in part, by eliminating mistakes.
The last 10 games can be an important step in his development, if he is to become a star power forward,
Andreas Athanasiou’s season feels more and more like a lost one.
It began with prolonged negotiations, from which Athanasiou returned in game shape and jumped right into the lineup. Some good performances earning chunks of time on ice followed, but not enough.
His development, especially his play away from the puck and defensively, is not on pace with Larkin, certainly, or Mantha.
It is affecting him offensively, too.
He has three goals and four assists in 25 games since Jan. 22.
Athanasiou’s last 10 games provide an opportunity to demonstrate coming seasons can be different.
Tyler Bertuzzi is excelling, again, after a bit of a lull several games into his season.
His fierceness in pursuit of free pucks and room in front of the opponent’s net, along with his fore-checking and attention to details around the ice are traits that secure him more playing time.
Bertuzzi would solidify the gains of a big developmental season by continuing his better play, to the end.
Jared Coreau might not be back with the Red Wings next season, but any starts he gets over the next three weeks are his hope for staking a claim in the organization.
Nick Jensen can also secure some solid gains in his career, this season.
Gustav Nyquist’s hustle has been admirable, and should have resulted in more goals. Perhaps it will, now.
And, until April 7, perhaps management and coaches will become accustomed to rebuilding as the paramount priority, with the playoffs merely a byproduct of its progress.