After watching most of Detroit's first game of the season against St. Louis on Saturday night, it occurred to myself (and 99.9% of the fans) that the Red Wings were outmatched by St. Louis' physical style of hockey. David Backes was a force on the ice and that young Russian Vladimir Tarasenko made Jimmy Howard look like a beer league acquisition. It was a brutal game to watch if you're a Red Wings fan, and Blues fans across the world rejoiced with glee over their big home opener win.
I don't blame them. It's a big win, especially against a division rival who has taken them to school almost routinely since the 1990s. That isn't talk of the "glory days", it's just a fact that the Red Wings were kings of their domain in the Central Division for a long time.
And now they are not.
It's time for the storied franchise to knuckle up and accept that they are no longer going to cruise to division titles. If anything, it's been apparent since 2010 that Detroit's time in the sun is in jeopardy of ending. Chicago has been a fine team for a few seasons now, with envious defense corps and hard working forwards like Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. There will be no haughty retorts about not having the chance to draft high in the first round here. The fact is that Detroit hasn't had a lot of luck in the first round in recent years, when they have drafted.
It's alright, though. We have one of the best general managers in the NHL. And a coach who goes perpetually unnoticed by Jack Adams voters. If anyone near the Red Wings franchise has any right to a chip on their shoulders these days, it's Mike Babcock.
After watching last night's shellacking, it's going to be up to these two men to right the ship. If you ask me, the pieces are there to field a competitive team. For the most part. I won't lie to anyone, this Detroit team is hurting after losing its number one and number three defensemen. No team can delude their fans or the rest of the hockey world into thinking everything is okay with a legend-of-legends type player riding off into the sunset. Especially not Nick Lidstrom, who, were he not robbed of a locked out season, could have easily snagged an eighth Norris Trophy. Brad Stuart is no slouch himself, and his prowess is clearly missed on defense. And believe me, no one forgets that Brian Rafalski retired the year before.
So rather than dwell on the past, what is there for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock to do?
The short answer is virtually nothing. Every single player who touched the ice Saturday is embarrassed at how poorly the team performed. They will not allow something like that to become a regular occurrence on the ice. I can imagine right now just how thirsty Jimmy Howard is to get back on the ice and compete. And win. He's learned a lot from guys like Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin, and of course, Chris Osgood. if there's anyone from the team in the last fifteen years who knows what it takes to find ways to win, it's Ozzie.
The long answer, which is a whole other blog post, is Detroit needs to pick up a bona fide number one or two defenseman to pair with Nick Kronwall. For the most part, I believe hockey pundits will agree Kronwall is a great (if not elite?) defenseman who has the ability to make game changing hits. That's phenomenal. Given that Lidstrom was the kind of player who didn't hit and had incredible hockey sense that ignited scoring opportunities, I think Kronwall is miscast as the next "Lidstrom", if such a thing exists. Detroit needs an intelligent, scoring, dynamic defenseman who can spark plays, agitate the opposition, and turn a game on its ass when the team needs a goal or needs to keep the puck out of the net.
And that man is sitting in Montreal waiting for a contract.