Updated significantly at 5:48 PM: Pro Hockey Talk is spotlighting the Red Wings today, and unlike NHL.com, PHT tends to stagger articles over the course of the day, so I’ll be posting their Wings stuff in this blog entry.
PHT’s Wings coverage kicks off with a “state of the team” article penned by James O’Brien…
The 2017-18 season was rough for the Red Wings, but you could argue that it was “the right kind” of rough. Or at least close enough.
As underwhelming as the Red Wings were, they remarkably finished ahead of three other teams in the Atlantic, which says a lot about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in that division. Nonetheless, management could continue to prattle on about the team’s “culture,” as they enjoyed some of the fruits of tanking without fully doing so.
(Granted, the team would be better served pulling off the Band-Aid, but asking Ken Holland to go to a full-on rebuild seems like a waste of energy at this point.)
The Red Wings did acknowledge reality to a decent extent during the trade deadline, sending Tomas Tatar to Vegas for three picks and Petr Mrazek to the Flyers for a lesser package. Some wanted more – was there really no market for Mike Green? – but this is about as committed as you’ll see this proud franchise get to really trying to load up on future assets.
And, hey, it paid off quite nicely.
By just about all accounts, the Red Wings nailed it with their first-rounders, seeing two interesting forwards drop to them (Filip Zadina at sixth, Joe Veleno all the way down to 30th). It was a busy draft weekend overall, as the Red Wings drafted two players in the second round, three in the third, and then had the usual selection in rounds 4-7. We may look back at those 10 selections as the turning point for a franchise that seemed to be stuck in neutral for a while after their peak window closed.
Again, the regular season wasn’t much to write home about, although it was nice to see some young players thrive.
O’Brien continues, and he also spotlights the 2017-18 campaign of Anthony Mantha:
2017-18 was a “finally” season for Anthony Mantha.
Now, that relief and glee didn’t really have anything to do with the forward’s own failings. Instead, this past season was the year when The Winged Wheels finally took the training wheels off Mantha, for real. It’s no coincidence that Mantha took off like never before when the Red Wings truly gave him a full chance.
Consider that, in 2015-16, he played in 10 NHL games and 60 AHL contests, while it flipped to 60 in the NHL and 10 in the AHL in 2016-17. Mantha played 80 games in 2017-18, and responded with career-highs in goals (24), assists (24), and naturally points (48).
Back in November 2017, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill liked what he saw, even if he managed to squeeze in some criticism of Mantha’s previous efforts.
“I think when he first came to us he skated about 25 percent of the time,” Blashill said, via MLive’s Ansar Khan. “Now he skates closer to 80 to 90 percent of the time. When he’s skating, he’s a real elite player. Skating with the puck, skating without the puck to get it back, and then he can obviously use his real gifted skill set.”
Again, O’Brien continues, and I’ll post the balance of his Wings articles here as updates to this entry.
Update: Among O’Brien’s “three questions facing the Red Wings“:
Will Ken Holland remain committed to the rebuild?
Between the trade deadline and draft weekend, the Red Wings got out their hardhats and did some real work in rebuilding. Getting some serious assets for Petr Mrazek and especially Tomas Tatar put Detroit in a nice position, and they knocked it out of the park – as far as we can ever know with teenage prospects – at the 2018 NHL Draft.
It’s long felt like there’s been a tug-o-war for Holland between competing (and now, merely saving face) and making the painful-but-necessary moves to replenish Detroit’s talent.
Such thoughts resurfaced in early July when the Red Wings signed 30-year-old Jonathan Bernier, 32-year-old Mike Green, and 34-year-old Thomas Vanek, with Green getting two years and Bernier inking for three.
Those aren’t “end of the world” decisions, yet it’s tough to make much of an argument for the upside of those deals, either. Strong play from Green and Vanek may only increase the odds of Detroit falling in puck purgatory: too good to land a blue-chipper like Jack Hughes, too bad to contend.
Worse yet, every shift that goes to Green and Vanek could instead go to a developing player who could be part of a (hopefully) brighter future.
And O’Brien also suggested that Dylan Larkin will be “under pressure” to perform this upcoming season:
His greatest pressure will come in being asked to help restore the Red Wings to the long-held lofty status they saw not long ago. Such a thought comes to mind when you consider that the team acknowledged Henrik Zetterberg‘s cloudy health situation on the same day that Larkin’s big deal was announced.
Even if Zetterberg plays much of the 2018-19 season, you don’t really need to dig too deep to realize that the torch has either been passed, or it will be very soon. With that, comes spotlight, and if the Red Wings rebuild stalls out on the highway, scorn will accompany that added attention.
Larkin isn’t oblivious to the pressure that comes with his new contract, if nothing else.
“I think with this, there’s definitely a pressure,” Larkin said, via Dana Wakiji of the team website. “But I think it comes from within. I want to earn this and make the team proud. I want this to be something that they look back and they say that they made the right move to sign me to five years. There’s a bit of pressure there but it’s still the game that I love and I can’t wait to start up. Now I want to win and get the fans back, make them happy and get back in the playoffs.”