“We like our team. There’s not a deal out there which can make us better. We’ll get a lot of guys back from injury, which should help us moving forward.” –Various quotes which can always be attributed to Ken Holland
Excuses like this are suddenly emanating far too routinely from the Detroit Red Wings’ front office, and are becoming more like clockwork by the year. Beat writers could simply cut and paste similar sound bites like this out of Ken Holland the last three seasons. Yet another trade deadline has come and gone without Detroit making so much as a move. This year, considering the circumstances and play of the team, that’s the biggest frustration and insult in quite some time.
The fact is, Holland is negligent as it relates to infusing any outside blood into a stagnant Red Wings’ roster. He’s also failing towards taking steps to properly rebuild for the future, and hasn’t done enough to shake things up and add any fresh, outside talent. Worse yet, he’s becoming as passive in the offseason as he is during trade deadlines, which doesn’t lend much hope for the future.
How has Holland’s deadline inactivity served the Red Wings lately? Recent playoff results speak for themselves. Quiet deadlines with the same excuses in 2010, 2011 and 2012 did nothing to help the franchise in the short or long term. The team suffered swift embarrassments in the playoffs, nearly losing in the first round to the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010 before losing to San Jose that year and in 2011, and then flaming out against the Nashville Predators in an embarrassing five game sweep last April.
When did the organizational mantra switch from “Stanley Cup or bust” to “mediocrity is acceptable?” After 2009′s end, everyone assumed the Red Wings would attempt one last run to send captain Nicklas Lidstrom off. Instead, Holland nearly let Lidstrom out of town without advancing. His final three playoff runs ended short of the conference finals. There were likely plenty of deals available which could have helped any one of those teams succeed. In every offseason, many moves could have been made to set the team up for greater degrees of seasonal success, as well. Skiddishly, Holland has refused to pay high prices for impact players such as Rick Nash and Keith Yandle, but is perfectly content to overpay for marginal talent like Kyle Quincey while signing retreaded, injury prone free agents in the offseason.
Where is the sensible team building direction within that? Last offseason, Holland put all his eggs into Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s basket, and was caught without a contingency plan when Suter and Parise decided to play in Minnesota. Signing defenseman Carlo Coliacovo was a panic move designed to feebly demonstrate to fans that the Red Wings were intent on adding someone after being left without a dance partner. Similarly, Detroit’s fortune in landing homegrown talent Dan DeKeyser will probably act as Holland’s substitute for adding Yandle or another marquee, big name defender.
Whether or not the Red Wings make the playoffs this spring or succeed if they get there, all the pressure’s on Holland to perform this offseason. The salary cap will dwindle and interesting deals will be available, meaning the time will come to make moves. The potential game plan is simple. Let Valtteri Filppula get paid elsewhere. Add a gritty forward to complement Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and a defender, and for pete’s sake, don’t continually sign washed-up veterans like Todd Bertuzzi or Mikael Samuelsson. Imagine if Datsyuk does leave town soon as has been rumored. Then, Detroit will have wasted his golden years nearly as much as they did with Lidstrom. It would be a travesty.
If Detroit’s hockey product continues its quiet inch backward, there will only be Holland, a usual fan favorite, to blame, especially during this critical four year period following defeat in the 2009 finals. Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference next season. Can anyone say they’ll be properly equipped to play that style of game night in and night out? Will this roster, minus more improvements, be able to compete? Will free agents even consider the Red Wings a top destination anymore?
Many questions lead to even more uncertain times in Hockeytown, indeed. For now, another trade deadline has passed with the same tired excuses. If now’s not the right time to start improving, when is?
Once again, it’s back to July or bust.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax