As a fan, as well as a would-be pundit, I didn’t want it to be this way.
2-7-and-2, coming off a seventh loss in a row, against the team the Wings can never defeat in the Tampa Bay Lightning, with another game in Tampa to come before back-to-backs against the unbeaten Panthers.
The Red Wings are a team in distress, on the ice, on the bench and behind it, playing “losing hockey” in a big way. A month removed from a training camp so full of promise of at least a season where the team would be “competitive,” as the losses piled up, so full of promise that, this time, the self-inflicted mistakes that cost the team would be the kinds of mistakes made by a learning, growing, younger, faster, stronger and better team, if only incrementally so…
It feels like we’re in for another Lost Season, another season like 2019-2020, which was a season in which the Red Wings’ fans learned that tanking and tanking hard offers no tangible benefit due to a punitive draft lottery that actively seeks to punish the teams most in need of a draft-aided boost.
Last year, to be blunt, I didn’t watch all the Red Wings’ games. I was grieving the sudden, unexpected loss of my mother, and so I watched, I read, on Facebook, on Twitter, but I didn’t write any blog entries. Between the actual grief from losing my parent and the struggle that was watching a team that people still call “garbage,” I couldn’t stand taking it all in, so I watched maybe 3/4ths of the games, and taped the rest.
One of the main reasons I came back as someone who comments on games, even if those comments are weaved into links to other people’s articles, is because I wanted to be here in the same way that a grief counselor comes to a funeral–to provide some positive news and at least some positive comments during a difficult period of time, even if it meant another season of gallows humor.
But I expected more than we’ve been given. I didn’t expect the Wings to be winning games–2-7-and-2 is a fair record given the Wings’ opponents and COVID-related absences thus far–but I was expecting learning from a slightly younger core, I was expecting competitiveness from the Wings’ roster reinforcements, I was expecting better goaltending, some actual defense, if only in fits and spurts, and the same from secondary scoring.
Even if the record was the same, I was expecting a team to start learning from its mistakes, regardless of whether Jeff Blashill would be finishing out the final year of his contract (and yes, I believe that he will finish out that contract before the GM decides whether he wants to make a coaching change).
Even if the record was the same, I was expecting to see less Frans Nielsen, less Valtteri Filppula, less Adam Erne, and more from a younger roster, assuming that the younger players earned their ice time. I was not expecting the vets to be ridden so damn hard, or the roster “ties” in terms of battles for playing time going to the vets by default.
Even if the record was the same, I was expecting to feel that competitive, “We can build and move forward as a team” attitude from training camp to last, especially under new leadership, a lot longer than all of 5 days before the losing hit with a vengeance and began to pile up as quickly and in as much depth and volume as discarded beer and liquor bottles in a frat house.
I may be a bit of a contrarian in saying this: I don’t believe that all the blame for this mess lies on the shoulders of the coach. I don’t believe that all the blame for this mess lies on the shoulders of the overpriced, under-performing vets. I don’t believe that the GM or players are intentionally “tanking.”
But I do believe that the Red Wings’ players and coaching staff need to get their shit together in a hurry, if only because they’re putting out a product that represents this beleaguered city (Google the word, it means dealing with tough times) and Red Wings fans all over the world, and the fans of this team have paid a lot of money and invest a significant amount of time in following their team.
I do not expect the Wings’ record to get much better. In a division filled with nemeses (plural) who’ve dominated the Wings over the course of recent play, with players going in and out of the lineup due to the coronavirus, sapping what small amounts of fragile depth that the team possesses in terms of scoring up front and puck-moving on defense, with the special teams still a disaster (that does fall on the coaching staff’s shoulders) and the besieged goaltenders only able to deliver so many miraculous saves…This team is pretty much roadkill.
But they’ve got to put up a damn fight in trying to avoid getting hit by the car. They’ve got to not get hit by the car on occasion. They can’t just roll over and die by default any more.
I understand that the Red Wings fans from the 70’s hold sway when it comes to who’s suffered the most over the course of the team’s history, but that doesn’t make the suffering felt by Red Wings fans who’ve been watching this damn “rebuild on the fly” for the past eight or nine seasons any less valid.
It sucks to lose. It sucks to lose regularly. It really, really sucks to lose predictably. And, at this point in the 2020-2021 season, things are going so damn badly that even gallows humor doesn’t cut it in terms of affording Red Wings fans with a coping mechanism.
We didn’t expect this team to be “good,” but we expected it to be “better,” and, as of February 4th, we may have gotten “worse” somehow, at least from where we’re collectively standing some 11 games into the 20-21 campaign.
Now I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna be here as much as possible, health allowing, and I’m going to try to be as positive or negative as the situation dictates, if only to offer you some comfort and perhaps a snicker here and there.
We may not all be “in this together” philosophically or in spirit, nor in terms of our opinions as to the ways in which the “Yzerplan” (if there is one) should be implemented, but we are (almost) all Wings fans, and if collective suffering makes the individual suffering easier, that’s when it feels all that more necessary for me to be here so the struggle is a shared one.
I just don’t want it to be this damn hard any more, and I believe that the Red Wings can at least lose in a more competitive fashion…If not pull out the occasional win or two.