By Darren Eliot –
In a regular season that was arguably better than anticipated, the Red Wings’ playoffs ended more abruptly than anyone around here is accustomed, or expects. In a five-game series in which the scores were close, the series was not. As coach Mike Babcock pointed out after the Nashville Predators advanced, his group has lost in the second round, the second round and now the first round over the past three springs. Definitely the team is not trending in the right direction.
So now what? Certainly, change is afoot. Captain Nick Lidstrom will sit with GM Ken Holland and talk timetable, direction of the team and parameters – i.e. economics – for his decision to return, or not. Undoubtedly, some current mainstays won’t be back, with Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom heading that list. There will be other as well. This process will be about re-tooling as well as refocusing.
Part of the makeover will come via free agency, with both defenseman Ryan Suter of the Predators and forward Zach Parise of the N.J. Devils prime targets. Beyond that, though, the Red Wings need an infusion of players who are fast enough to play in the open ice, while being comfortable playing in the trenches as well. Clearly, the Predators were younger, stronger and deeper up front than the Red Wings. And that the loss of Darren Helm – a third-line center – was so damaging, is evidence of that exact point. If we were talking basketball, we’d be calling on the need for more players who can get up and down the floor, but have no problem playing in a half-court set.
More and more, NHL success comes to those teams that have the ability to exploit in the open ice and that can also hold the puck down low and make explosive plays off the boards and out of the corners. That’s what the Predators did, with seven of their 13 goals originating from plays below the Red Wings’ goal line. Their forwards forced turnovers and made quick, precise plays to a teammate driving the net. Rush chances were few for either team, so, even while the Red Wings had the puck for long stretches in the Predators’ zone throughout the series, they generated very little in the way of center lane net drive away from the puck – whether from a winger or a defenseman.
The good news is that the framework is in place; the culture is long established and the organization has done a marvelous job of adjusting to the cap era constraints. The Red Wings have available money to bolster the roster this summer. The reality is that it is the longest summer for this benchmark organization since 2003. That provides plenty of time to change the look and feel of this roster.
And the time has come.