The Dark Days
In 2019, the old championship core of Yzerman, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg had all moved on. Ken Holland had attempted to retool on the fly, and several of the previously promising prospects (and a free agent or two) were signed to long-term deals.
This illustrious group included Jimmy Howard (6 years, $31.75M), Frans Nielsen (6 years, $31.5M), Jonathan Ericsson (6 years, $25M), and the coup de gras Justin Abdelkader (7 years, $29.75M). To make matters worse, all four of these contracts featured some sort of trade/movement protection for the player for most if not all the years.
In retrospect, it was the right idea to lock up another core. But these were clearly the wrong players to build around.
A large portion of the suffering over the last decade can be traced directly back to these failed bets. That’s because, not surprisingly, given these other contracts. The 2019 Red Wings did not have much cap space. In fact, they had $0 in cap space and were quite a bit over the cap and had to utilize the LTIR.
So once those preposterous contracts began to age it became clear that the players were not worth as much as we had paid. And we were left with no way out.
We couldn’t move the players, and we couldn’t reduce their roles by bringing in other good players. We couldn’t do anything except watch the free fall.
The last thing that could have saved the Red Wings was injection of life via young prospects.
Unfortunately, the draft picks that could have provided that life were squandered by bringing in more washed-up veterans to keep the playoff streak going. Between 2012 and 2016, the Red Wings lost a net of 6 draft picks or then-prospects via trades for the likes of Kyle Quincy, David Legwand, Erik Cole, Dylan Sadowy, and $6M cap space (trading away Datsyuk’s contract). To make matters worse, two of those draft picks we traded away became Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jakob Chychrun.
It would be a massive understatement to say that Steve Yzerman had a tough job ahead of him when took over after the 2018-2019 season. They were nearly at the deepest, darkest part of the Rebuild. He knew that as well, preaching patience right from the start. But what has happened in the last 3 years shows that there is hope when you fall down that dark hole.