The Detroit Red Wings are playing second fiddle to the Detroit Pistons this season which is a big change from years past. Granted, the Wings didn’t have the same draught that the Pistons went through in the mid to late 90’s which probably makes Pistons fans happier than Red Wings fans. However, this season has been much different. The Pistons have taken all the attention. Sadly, the NHL has only itself to blame. The lockout that cost the entire 2005 season is having detrimental effects that will linger well beyond this season. It’s not so much that people are angry with the players or owners. Some people might be but my guess is that they are in the minority. The real problem is that when a professional sports league misses out on a whole season, people learn to live without it. Each season piques our interest and leaves us wanting more for the next season. There was no 2005 season so nobody was left wanting more. The NHL was already the league that could afford a lockout the least. Yet, they want on with it and now face a situation where even the marquee team in the league struggles to make the headlines.
The situation is unfortunate for the Detroit Red Wings because this has been a remarkable season. The diehard fans know all about it. But, how many hockey diehards do you know? Just to get you caught up, the Wings have set two notable records this season. They set the NHL record for road wins in a season. They also tied the record for best start in league history. Since January 10, the Red Wings are 30-3-5. The Wings are 20-0-3 since March 4. They have eight players with at least 20 goals. They lead the league in points. They’re second in goals for. They’re second in goals against. They lead the league in Power Play percentage. They’re second in Penalty Kill percentage. The Red Wings have dominated the NHL in every conceivable way this season. Yet, few people expect the Wings to win the Stanley Cup. Sure, few would be surprised if they did win the Cup but nobody really expects it to happen.
The Wings have been in this position too many times entering the playoffs without anything to show for it. The 1995 season is the precedent that Red Wings fans might want to remember going into the playoffs this season. That team dominated the regular season like no other in NHL history. Although that team made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, the run came to an abrupt end at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Regular season domination is a great story but it hardly means anything come playoff time. The 1995 season wasn’t the only year the Wings fizzled come playoff time. More recently, the Wings took gaudy records into early round playoff match-ups against the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames only to be bounced from contention.
I can’t tell if there were obvious differences between the Red Wings teams that bowed out of the playoffs with gaudy regular season records and the Red Wings teams that won Stanley Cups without the gaudy records. It almost seems like the teams that finished first in the regular season never won in the playoffs. It’s also possible that the Wings just ran into hot goalies at the wrong time. I have to say that I don’t feel particularly good about the Wings chances this year compared to the field. Don’t get me wrong, the Wings are an excellent team but I think Ottawa, Dallas, and Carolina have just as good of a chance as do a few other teams.
I question the Wings actual dominance compared to what their record would seemingly indicate. The Red Wings play in a division that features three of the five worst teams in the NHL. The Wings are 21-1-2 against Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus this season. Not surprisingly, the Wings have the easiest schedule in the NHL this season and it’s not even close. Also, the Dallas Stars are 20-10 against top ten teams in the NHL according to the Sagarin Ratings. The Wings are 14-10. The Carolina Hurricanes are 9-5. The Stars are 29-14 against top 16 teams while the wings are 24-14. Carolina is 19-9. No other team in the NHL is anywhere near Dallas, Detroit and Carolina in these categories. In fact, there are only three teams in the entire league with winning records against the top ten. Even more unbelievable is that there are only seven teams in the NHL with winning records against the top 16. This speaks for a league rampant with mediocre teams beating up on each other. That is precisely how teams like Detroit manage to put up gaudy numbers which in turn makes them appear invincible. The league leader in points in the 2003-04 season (the season before this one in the NHL) had 109 points. Second was 106 and third was 104. This season already has point totals of 124, 112, 111, 111, and 108. There are four teams this season with more points than the best team of 2003-04. That speaks for the overall mediocrity of the league. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to say that Dallas, Ottawa, and Carolina would’ve had something close to 124 points had they been in the same division as three of the worst teams in the NHL.
All this does nothing to say that the Wings aren’t good or that they aren’t capable of winning the Stanley Cup. The fact is that the season has gone by unusually quiet for the Wings this year especially for a team that has dominated the NHL. The lockout is largely to blame but so is the sense that although the Wings have accomplished a lot this season, they really haven’t accomplished anything.