A few weeks ago the last team you’d worry about as the NHL approached its annual trade frenzy was the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings, like the late James Brown, have the well-earned reputation of being the hardest working team in showbiz and their efforts had them perched very comfortably on top of the overall standings.
My, my how a few weeks can change things.
First, Dan Cleary went down with a broken jaw and now superstar defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is sidelined. They are saying it’s a knee problem, but anybody who watched him wobble off the ice after being nailed by Colorado’s Ian Laperriere the other night has to wonder if a concussion is not also part of the scenario. Chalk this one up, in NHL lingo, as an ‘entire body injury.’
While the Red Wings still hold the lead in the standings, they have looked somewhat fallible in recent games. A six-game losing streak…an injury to Dominik Hasek…a four-game losing streak for Chris Osgood…the Cleary and Lidstrom injuries. All of a sudden a team that looked like it would use the trade deadline to add a little veteran depth is in survival mode.
The good news is all of this could blow over in a week or two. OK, with the exception of the Cleary injury. He’s out for a long time and will be sorely missed. In his three years in Detroit, Cleary has emerged as one of the game’s best two-way performers; a testament to both his own efforts and the faith coach Mike Babcock has shown in him.
Here’s the thing about the Red Wings: Although they have won three Stanley Cups in the past 11 seasons, they have not played in the final the past four seasons despite winning the Central Division title in each. In fact, the Wings have won six division titles in a row.
Last year, Detroit made it to the conference final, but lost to Anaheim in six games. With all the Red Wings are going through at the moment, you almost wonder if they aren’t poised for another playoff disappointment after yet another great regular season. Or will the past couple of weeks just amount to a blip on the screen when all is said and done?
The Red Wings have a tough road ahead of them. If they were playing in the East they could forfeit their next 10 games and still win the conference title. But the West is a whole different kettle of fish. This post-season, once again, promises to be a knock ’em down, drag ’em out affair with any of the eight playoff teams having a legitimate shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup final.
So even when the Red Wings get back on track, they still have a huge mountain to climb.
These are definitely the dog days of the season for the Detroit Red Wings. Then again, it must be nice to hit turbulence and be able to look at the standings and still see a 10-point gap between you and No. 2.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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