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The Red Wings and the win-win-win scenario of going for it
Detroit is in the playoff hunt for the first time in seven seasons.
The Detroit Red Wings reversed course this month.
Detroit re-signed Olli Maata to a two-year extension, removing one potential rental from the trade market, and then reportedly pulled Tyler Bertuzzi off the trade block.
For a team that seemed prime to sell, they hit the breaks hard on selling with a five-game win streak, which included a sweep of Western Canada.
Detroit, with 27 games remaining, is in the middle of wild card race that will be, well, wild.
Detroit also has games in hand on every opponent aside from the Buffalo Sabres. Using points percentage, Detroit doesn’t have to leap four opponents, they only have to chase down one.
Before the season Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman and Derek Lalonde hoped to play “meaningful games,” in March and April, and they’ve set themselves up well to play those meaningful games.
Even when the prize for wild card race winner will be a buzzsaw.
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The Boston Bruins are on a historical pace. They already have 91 points and have yet to hit double-digit regulation losses. The Carolina Hurricanes season on top of the Metropolitan is being overshadowed by Boston, but with a .745 points percentage, they are on pace for 122 points, which would be seventh-best in NHL history.
Detroit, or any wild card team, could easily be dispatched in the first round, in fact you’d be stunned if that series made it past five games.
It brings us back to an old hockey adage, which you’ve heard coaches and GMs mention for years, “you’ve just got to get in, and see what happens.”
The Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 as the No. 8 seed out west will forever be the poster child for this. Battle into the playoffs, play playoff-style games down the stretch to simply get in, find a hot goalie, and hey you’ve got a punchers chance to maybe win the whole thing.
But even with a punchers chance, Cinderella normally gets stomped. And in this season, where the prize for missing the playoffs in the Eastern wild card race is a lottery ticket to potentially draft the next generational talent, wouldn’t it make sense to pull the chute and ramp up for next season?
From a video game GM perspective, sure. But from a franchise and business perspective, you have to understand how much the Red Wings are desperate to get stomped in the first-round by the Bruins.
Little Caesars Arena, a beautiful building and actually a selling point for free agents, has never hosted a playoff game.
Detroit last made the playoffs in 2016, missing the postseason in 2023 would be the seventh straight miss, and it would set a franchise record for longest playoff drought going back to the Dead Wings era of the 1970s.
Hosting playoff games, even if they were losses, represent progress. They show to fans and players, and maybe more importantly agents, that the Yzerplan is on track — making the playoffs was the first station.
There’s also a business element, and while Detroit has remained a top-10 revenue team during the slump, the Ilitch family has never been shy about making a bit more money — playoff gate will do that.
The Red Wings captain, Dylan Larkin, has only played five NHL playoff games in his career, all of them as a rookie, and the rest of the core is incredibly inexperienced.
(Want to avoid spending money on high-priced UFAs for playoff experience that block younger players and prospects? Go get the experience yourself…)
It’s also a cycle-stopping point for franchise development. Getting into the playoffs changes both expectations and provides a higher launching pad for the next season. It may sound like a cliched narrative, but there is some truth to players building on playoff experience and using it to drive future success.
And all of this rings true, even if the Red Wings get swept in the first round and blown out in all four games. We often say only one team can be happy at the end of the season, the Stanley Cup Champion, but that’s not really true when you apply sliders of expectations.
And, what if Detroit was able to pull off the upset?
The Columbus Blue Jackets entire existence was practically validated by upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. In 2006 Detroit itself, then historically good, was upset in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s still incredibly unlikely, but if you get in, you get a chance to play those game and something might happen — talk about a potential beacon for when the franchise and Yzerplan truly turned it around.
In the end, Detroit is in a win-win-win situation.
Miss the playoffs, but you still went for it, you’ve shown courage and hey you still have a shot at Connor Bedard.
Make the playoffs and get smoked, you made it and the plan is on track.
Make the playoffs and win some games… hey the Kings did it in 2012.
And that’s why the Red Wings and Yzerman aren’t pulling the chute. And it makes sense.