The 2013-14 season brought a lot of promise for the Detroit Red Wings faithful. Their beloved team dispatched the No. 2-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs last year and was one goal away from a Western Conference Finals berth.
With the addition of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss and a move to the Eastern Conference, I predicted the Red Wings would finish either second or third in the newly formed Atlantic Division behind the Boston Bruins.
The Red Wings started the season firing on all cylinders winning six of their first eight games, but then the streaks started to set in. They lost four straight to end October, then won three straight, then lost seven straight, including three in a shootout.
The shootouts were unbearable to watch. I joked with friends and coworkers that you didn’t even need to watch the shootout because you knew the Red Wings were going to lose.
On Dec. 21, Detroit finally won in a shootout against Toronto, and they even won four more shootouts after that.
Then the injuries started to pile up. In all, the Red Wings lost 417 man games, according to ManGamesLost.com, second place behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, it just wasn’t the fact the Red Wings lost players, it was who they lost.
Weiss (56 games missed due to injury), Darren Helm (40), Zetterberg (37), Datsyuk (37), Jonathan Ericsson (34) and Johan Franzen (27) all spent significant time watching the games from the press box instead of playing in them.
This plethora of injuries forced general manager Ken Holland to call up young guys earlier than he would have liked. In all, nine Grand Rapids Griffins made their debut with the Red Wings this season and two of them have earned a spot full-time.
Things didn’t get any easier after the Olympic break. Zetterberg pulled out of the Olympics because of a herniated disc in his back, and Datsyuk injured his knee shortly after returning from Sochi.
Detroit played 16 games without both Datsyuk and Zetterberg before the Magic Man returned for the final six games of the regular season.
When the trade deadline crept up in early March, the Red Wings really needed another top-four defenseman. However, getting one of those without giving up too much (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, etc.) was going to be hard to pull off. Top-four defensemen don’t grow on trees, and teams that have them aren’t willing to give them up for low-end prospects.
Instead, with the number of injuries the Red Wings had at center, Holland opted to get David Legwand from the Nashville Predators. In exchange, the Red Wings gave up Patrick Eaves, Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional 2014 third-round pick.
I was furious with Holland’s decision to give up one of his top prospects for Legwand, who may end up only being a rental if he doesn’t re-sign next offseason.
However, in the end, I think Legwand proved to be a valuable asset as he totaled 11 points in 21 games for the Red Wings and provided the team with some depth at the center position.
The injuries hurt the team a lot, but they never quit fighting. They kept playing the kids, and the kids kept getting better.
Coach Mike Babcock summed it up perfectly when he told the Detroit News: “We play hard. We don’t always play right, but we play hard.”
Nyquist made his 2013-14 debut on Nov. 21 and promptly scored two goals to end a seven-game losing streak. He finished the month of November with five points in five games.
He slumped in December only registering four points in 11 games, but the new year brought new life for the Goose.
He ended the regular season leading the team in goals with 28 and second on the team in points with 48 behind Niklas Kronwall and Alfredsson despite only playing in 57 games.
Tatar was a healthy scratch for eight of the first nine games of the season. Now, he’s a staple on the Kid Line that helped the Red Wings clinch a 23rd consecutive playoff berth.
Can you imagine if Nyquist or Tatar were healthy scratches at this point in the season? Red Wings fans would lose their collective minds.
Tatar (39 points), Sheahan (24) and Jurco (15) all got better and better as the season went on, and it was really fun to watch these kids grow up as they were fighting for a playoff spot.
This season didn’t go the way I expected it to go, but based on the circumstances, the Red Wings exceeded expectations by a wide margin.
There aren’t many teams that could have their two best players out for a significant number of games, call up a bunch of kids from the AHL who have little to no NHL experience and still hold on for a playoff spot.
The Red Wings did, and they continue to prove — just like they did last year in the playoffs — you can never count them out, even when the odds are stacked against them.