Was The Detroit Red Wings’ Last Season A Fluke?


On the eve of the start of the 2014-2015 season, I find myself thinking back to the way last season ended. All the anxiety of the last month or so, trying to find out if the Detroit Red Wings would keep the streak going. All my non-Wings-fan friends giving me a ton of crap. Pouring over the standings every morning, trying to figure out what needed to happen to improve the Wings’ chances. I got really good and doing math in my head last March. The Red Wings made it by the skin of their teeth, and looking back, I honestly wonder if they should have. Did the Wings do anything in particular to earn that playoff spot or were they merely the beneficiaries of a few things around them going to hell in a hand basket?

Once you get past the all-star break, gaining ground in the standings doesn’t necessarily depend on your team winning so much as the teams ahead of you losing (although winning is still an essential ingredient). There was plenty of times late last season we sat on the edge of our seats and jumping for joy to see the Red Wings pick up two points, only to find out that the Maple Leafs would win that night as well. Rather than catching up, all the evening accomplished was brining the Wings one game closer to being mathematically eliminated from the big dance. Likewise, there were losses that were mitigated by the Maple Leafs being gracious enough to also lose in the same evening. Courteous folks, those Ontarians.

I bring this up to point out a few things. Mostly because it felt like the Leafs were the team the Wings were chasing for most of the last season. At one point the Leafs were nine points up in the Atlantic, what most people would consider a fairly safe margin. That playoff spot eventually ended up in the Wings’ hands of course, but only because the Leafs managed to lose 12 of their last 14 games, a feat so impressive I don’t think anyone quite figured out how they pulled it off. At the end of the season, the standings looked like this:

The Wings ended the season tied with the Blue Jackets (I still throw up in my mouth a little every time I say that). I wanted to include these four teams under the Wings to point out a few things:

  • We already touched on the Maple Leafs and their collapse of epic proportions, I just like to have a visual representation of it. Nine points up, to nine points down. This happening surely benefitted the Wings, but it seems miraculous. As I mentioned, the Wings  had to win, but someone had to lose too. But MAN did they lose a lot!
  • I don’t have anything in particular to mention about Ottawa, except how Eugene Melnyk said at the start of the season how the Senators would finish ahead of the Wings. And we all collectively said “in the draft rankings maybe”. Then they traded their first rounder to the Ducks, so they couldn’t even pull that off. The more I look back on it, last season had some good times…
  • The Devils represent another team that was REALLY close to taking that wildcard playoff spot. They had the same points as the Senators obviously, but that’s because the Devils did not win a shootout all year. Not one. 0-13. If the Devils had won just half of those, they’re tied with the Wings. It wasn’t nearly as big a lead as it looks for the Wings. In a sport where the regular season is sometimes pointed to as being meaningless, every game counted. Which brings us to…
  • The Caps really could have had that spot. Three points back. Speaking of every game counting, a few bad penalties could have made the difference between these two teams. This makes it a lot more clear when teams lose their minds about say, a clock malfunctioning or a puck hitting the netting and not being called dead leading to a game winning goal. Those mistakes can shape an entire season.

So theDetroit  Red Wings may have been the beneficiaries of some extraordinarily good luck. Given all the injuries, maybe it was a way to balance out the good luck with the bad. Either way, the rest of the Atlantic got a lot better. This season is going to be a tough one and if the injuries stick around we’re going to be in for a rough season. But there doesn’t seem to be that much that separates the Wings from the rest of the conference, save the really good teams (Boston, Tampa, Montreal… Pittsburgh kinda) and the really bad (Buffalo, Carolina). This season is up for grabs, if last year was a freebie, they’ll really have to earn it this year.