Time to Face Facts: Red Wings No Longer a Stanley Cup-Caliber Team

There was a reason, beyond the team’s unusual excess of salary-cap space, that Detroit fans clamored so heartily for general manager to make a move or two at the NHL trade deadline.

It’s because anyone who was paying attention could see the writing on the wall: The Red Wings just were not good enough to win the Stanley Cup with the roster they had.

Yes, I know that this year’s team set an NHL record for consecutive home wins and that injuries derailed a run to the President’s Trophy. I also know that this likely will be the third consecutive year that the Red Wings fall short — well short — of their championship goal.

Everyone chalked up the 2009-10 failure to fatigue from back-to-back runs to the finals, a reasonable explanation. Last year, the Wings were battered and bruised and still gave us all a thrill in taking San Jose to seven games.

What’s the excuse going to be this time?

The injuries remain a factor, be it by forcing Nicklas Lidstrom, or Danny Cleary to play at less than 100 percent, or Darren Helm being lost for the postseason just minutes after returning to the lineup. There have been an inexplicable number of bad breaks through four games against Nashville, too — a pair of fluky Predators goals in Game 1 and what felt like an infinite number of near-misses in Games 3 and 4.

The reality is that the Red Wings just are not getting the job done, and that’s the same truth that came to light in the 2010 and ’11 postseason.

From a puck-possession standpoint, Detroit hardly could have been better in the latter stages of Game 3 or at any point in Game 4. The Wings controlled the puck, dictated the tempo and kept the pressure deep in Nashville’s territory. They also flung shot after shot at Pekka Rinne, 41 in all on Tuesday night, with just one finding the twine.

It’s still not good enough. The loose pucks are hopping just out of reach, too many of the shots coming from long distance with no chance for a screen or rebound.

And then, to top it all off, the Wings continue to suffer absolutely egregious defensive breakdowns. The latest happened Tuesday, after Detroit had tied the game at one and brought the Joe Louis crowd back to life. Following another extended sequence of pressure in Nashville’s zone, the Predators counter-attacked, and Martin Erat drove wide to Jimmy Howard’s right.

Not one, not two, but three Red Wings — Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom and Ian White — followed him to an almost impossible shooting angle, vacating the middle of the ice for two Nashville players. One of them, Kevin Klein, took a feed from Erat and deposited it into a wide open net, as Valterri Filppula glided back into the defensive zone.

Perhaps that play more than any other summed this series up. Just seconds before Erat’s easy marker, Hudler ringed one off the post, setting up Nashville’s rush back up ice.

From there, it was a complete meltdown by Detroit, resulting in a well-deserved goal against.

It was the type of play that has become all too familiar in recent years — remember Jason Williams’ ill-advised shot in overtime of Game 3 in 2010, which led to a San Jose odd-man rush the other direction and a game-winning goal?

There is no real explanation for these mental breakdowns, but they continue to happen with more and more frequency.

As a result, the Red Wings’ playoff days are numbered again — no shock to the tons and tons of national media who picked Nashville to take down Detroit in this round, even if most thought it would take the full seven games.

It’s sad to say, but the Detroit postseason magic has vanished, lost amidst uneven regular seasons and unfriendly matchups. And barring a miracle comeback starting Friday (and even if said comeback occurs), Detroit will have a lot of questions to answer this offseason.

Does Nicklas Lidstrom return for one more year? Is Tomas Holmstrom valuable enough to give another contract? Will Brad Stuart depart via free agency? What should the Wings do with Kyle Quincey, a restricted free agent, or Jiri Hudler, an unrestricted one? Does anyone on the team have enough value to bring something back in a trade?

Holland might be able to get to work on those predicaments as early as Saturday, because it’s hard to envision this hard-luck, low-energy Wings team going into Nashville and winning Game 5.

The shot totals are impressive and there have been times, lots of them, that Detroit has Nashville back on its heels. No one has stepped up and taken charge of this series, however, from Pavel Datsyuk and on down to the Johan Franzens and Todd Bertuzzis of the world.

The Wings are supposed to have enough talent to cash in on all these opportunities they’ve been getting, and they are certainly not built to bow out quietly before the playoffs’ second weekend.

A second straight home loss means that’s exactly where they are headed. Given the history of this team and what we’ve come to expect in Detroit, that’s both frustrating and shocking.

Maybe it shouldn’t be, though. After all, if we were honest with ourselves, we’ve known for weeks that this exact outcome was very, very possible.

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