It came down to the final game of this strange, abbreviated season, but the Detroit Red Wings are once again headed to the playoffs. Their string of consecutive postseason appearances – something I like to refer to simply as “The Streak” – is now at 22 years and counting.
I have to admit that I lost my faith several times over the past few months. Faith in the current roster, certainly, but also in Ken Holland and the front office.
See, while there’s more to life than The Streak (Lord Stanley’s cup, for one), it’s also not without meaning. It’s a mark of consistent excellence that is unique to the Red Wings organization. And it goes beyond the NHL, as no franchise in any of the major North American sports is currently even close to matching it.
The fact that there was uncertainty over whether or not The Streak was going to come to an end as recently as… oh yeah, last night, was kind of a microcosm of the season as a whole. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I panicked several times since the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
My initial dose of anxiety came last summer, when the Red Wings managed to replace the retiring Nicklas Lidstrom and departed Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler with no one. Okay, not no one, because Jordin Tootoo, Carlo Colaiacovo and (especially) Damien Brunner count as someone. But I was certain Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter were coming to Detroit, and when they didn’t, I was a little stunned.
(Aside: I’ve had a bit of a man crush on Parise since he scored the dramatic game-tying goal in the dying seconds of the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. Just being honest.)
It was only natural that when the Wings failed to make a free agent splash, maybe Holland overestimated the strength of the 2013 roster. Or maybe he just figured that throwing a bunch of money, which is what Parise and Suter signed for, wasn’t the way to go. We’d only know once the games played out.
There still wasn’t a verdict on this team when the trade deadline came around, and that’s when my second panic attack struck. Seeing already strong teams like Pittsburgh get even better while Detroit stuck with the players already on hand seemed like a strategy that could easily backfire. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to see the future mortgaged just to sneak into the playoffs, but I also agonized over the thought that the Red Wings might miss out without an addition that could have made the difference.
Now all the hand-wringing seems a bit silly, because the Wings are in, and I feel like I should have just remembered a simple fact: Holland knows what he’s doing. With rebuilding not really a valid option since world class players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still getting it done – not to mention that it wouldn’t go over well with Red Wings fandom – he had an even trickier task than most general managers, who are either tearing things down or going for broke.
He pulled it off by trusting that Mike Babcock and the players would overcome injuries and inconsistent play to win when it mattered. He signed college free agent Danny DeKeyser, who is already looking like he’ll be a top-four defenseman for years to come. Best of all, Holland decided not to part with any of the next wave of young talent, guys like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar who you just know would come back to haunt the Wings if they were traded away.
And who knows? While I probably speak for many Detroit fans by saying that I don’t have any illusions about this team winning it all, anything can happen once the postseason starts. The Red Wings played arguably their best hockey down the stretch, so if you’re a believer in momentum, they have that. For the first time in his career, Jimmy Howard has the look of a goalie who could steal a game, or maybe a whole series.
The point is just to have a chance to play for the Cup, and the Red Wings have that for the 22nd straight time. The present is just fine and the near future remains bright if the right moves are made this summer. I’ll just have to trust Holland will figure out what those moves are, because he certainly proved this year that he earned it.