The Detroit Red Wings currently have the longest active playoff streak of any North American professional sports team. And it’s not close, either. Detroit’s 24 straight playoff appearances sit well above the San Antonio Spurs at 19 years. But with just seven games remaining in this NHL season, and the Red Wings currently sitting outside of the playoffs, their streak is seriously in jeopardy.
Within the next week, the team will come the closest ever to missing the playoffs. This isn’t a new trend — Detroit has been an aging, unimpressive team for a few years now. The Red Wings haven’t even made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 2013. Yet, they were a good team — always skilled enough to scare their first-round opponent — and furthermore, they are a team that is just competitive enough to sneak into the playoffs.
However, that luck may have run out. Detroit is tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference for the last wild-card spot. But because the Flyers own the tiebreaker, the Red Wings will lose out if they don’t pass Philadelphia. So, will this finally result in a changing of the guard in Detroit?
A team that has embodied success for a little more than two decades — particularly through homegrown talent — might be just a bit past its prime. Take captain Henrik Zetterberg and center Pavel Datsyuk, for example. The former is 35 years old and the latter, despite still being one of the most dangerous players in the NHL with the puck, checks in at 37 years old. Even as hockey players go, that’s old. Yet, they’re still the heart of this team.
Now, this isn’t to say that the Red Wings are completely over the hill. Rookie Dylan Larkin is a special player, and Gustav Nyquist and Luke Glendening, among other young, promising players, have played well. But that was always the case during the late ’90s and early 2000s, when the Red Wings were most dominant. The young talent, meshed with the old veterans, formed what has amounted to quite the dynasty.
But something has changed in Hockeytown. That change might result in the end of a winning era. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that this year — the year the streak may snap — is head coach Jeff Blashill’s first year at the helm. Or maybe it has nothing to do with the coach. If it’s not the coaching, then it’s a systematic problem. And that hasn’t occurred in Detroit in a long time.
General Manager Ken Holland does such a good job drafting players, developing them, and then bringing in the right free agents, that he seems like a magician (the same man who drafted the magician himself, Datsyuk). Either way, this next week will determine the Red Wings’ fate. They have not been trending in the right direction — suffering a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Saturday night, for example — it is becoming more likely that the end is near.
Will the end of the streak doom the franchise? That seems a bit farfetched. While the team has struggled this year, there is promising youth. But it definitely could mean a changing of the guard. With the likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, defenseman Niklas Kronwall, and forward Johan Franzen all aging, Detroit will have a different look. If it does end, though, the veterans can look back on one impressive run. If it doesn’t end, perhaps we can credit the veteran experience combined with the youthful vigor. Having been there before (24 times that is), history is on the Red Wings’ side.