Red Wings finally use 'R' word as Holland signs extension
The Detroit Red Wings are finally admitting it: They are rebuilding.
If there was any question about it, just look at the last two seasons. Detroit’s historic run of 25 consecutive years making the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended last year. And when the Wings lost in overtime to the New York Islanders on Saturday, April 7, it was the end of the second consecutive season they've missed the playoffs – the first time that has happened since 1979-83.
Rebuilding? It’s time.
“It took a while to admit it, but we’re in a rebuild,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said on www.mlive.com after Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Little Caesars Arena. “But I think we’re doing a lot of the right things. We have a lot of picks this summer” at the NHL draft – 11, including seven in the first three rounds and four in the first 40 picks.
“We got to be lucky and get some good players that could be here for a long time,” said Zetterberg. “If you look in the past, we’ve been lucky late in rounds, so luck has a lot to do with it. But then also you got to be able to develop the players that you get and get the most out of them.”
The draft is June 22-23 in Dallas, and GM Ken Holland will remain responsible for whomever the Red Wings draft and, at the least, the early development of those players. That’s because, before Saturday night’s game, it was announced that he signed a two-year contract extension to remain as the team’s executive vice-president and general manager.
“He’s got the experience, he’s got a great strategy,” said Chris IIitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings. “He’s executing it aggressively, and I feel at the team level and throughout the course of the season, we’re seeing steps forward that are part of that strategy and part of that plan.
“So, from an ownership perspective, and I speak for Marian Ilitch as well, we’re very pleased with the progress.”
Holland, who has been the Wings’ general manager for 19 seasons, has directed the franchise to three Stanley Cups and to playoff appearances in his first 17 seasons.
However, he has come under criticism in recent years for the team’s draft picks, lack of trades and signing players to contracts that have been seen as too expensive and too long.
But it is also Holland whose more recent moves have provided the Wings with so many draft picks this year and 10 more in 2019.
“I understand there’s a big challenge ahead here going forward,” Holland said. “I look forward to the challenge of rebuilding the Detroit Red Wings. Ultimately, the goal (is to) legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup.
“We got a lot of work to do, and I look forward to the challenge. And I’m very fortunate and very happy to be back.”
Detroit does have a youthful core to build on in forwards Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi. They are all products of the draft and possible proof that the team’s drafting process has improved.
Larkin, a first-round pick (15th overall) in 2014, has taken a huge step this season, establishing himself as a No. 1 two-year way center as he led the team in points. And he is driven to continue to improve.
Whenever Zetterberg retires, Larkin will be the team's next captain.
Mantha, the 20th overall pick in 2013, led the team with 24 goals in his first full season. He has been inconsistent at times, as young players tend to be. But he has continued to improve at keeping his feet moving, driving to the hard areas and being strong on the puck.
Athanasiou, the Wings’ fourth-round pick in 2012 – 110th overall – needs to be disciplined, to pay attention to detail and to simply skate hard all the time. When he does, his natural speed and talent are obvious.
Bertuzzi, a second-round pick in 2013 – 58th overall – has displayed the toughness to be strong in the corners and go to the net, and the talent and hockey sense to apply those skills on the top two lines. He is the nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi.
But it is on defense where the Wings are the weakest.
Detroit’s top young defense prospect is Dennis Cholowski, 20, who was its first-round pick in 2016 (20th overall). He will turn pro when his current team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, are done with the playoffs.
If the Grand Rapids Griffins are still alive in the American Hockey League playoffs at that point, Cholowski will join them.
He is expected to compete for a spot in Detroit next season. He will play in either Detroit or Grand Rapids in 2018-19.
Another blue line prospect is Filip Hronek, also 20 and the second-round pick in 2016. Hronek is having an outstanding season with the Griffins and could push for a roster spot with the Red Wings next season.
There is also undersized Joe Hicketts, currently with Grand Rapids. Hicketts, 21, is only 5-8 and 180 pounds but has continually exceeded expectations to become a top player at every level. He had three assists and was plus-5 in five games with Detroit this season.
If the Wings get lucky in the draft lottery on April 28, they could immediately improve themselves on defense. The consensus No. 1 pick is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 17, who is considered to be the best defense prospect available in the draft in several years. He is already playing in Sweden’s top professional league and will skate right into the NHL in 2018-19, no matter who drafts him.
Detroit’s 73 points that came from its 30-39-13 record placed it 27th among the 31 NHL teams, which gives it an 8.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick and a 26.1 percent chance of landing in the top three.
At the worst, the Wings will choose eighth overall.
The next best available defenseman is Michigan freshman Quinn Hughes, 18, who helped lead the Wolverines to the Frozen Four this season.
Other top prospects are wingers Andrei Svechnikov, brother of Red Wing Evgeny Svechnikov, who is playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, and Brady Tkachuk, son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk and brother of the Calgary Flames Matthew Tkachuk). He plays at Boston College.