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Detroit Red Wings: A Summer of Questions

The Detroit Red Wings appear to be nearing the end of a historic era. An era that saw twenty-one straight playoff appearances, four Stanley Cup Championships and the rise of superstars Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom. But with their 2-1 loss last night to the Nashville Predators, a loss that eliminated Detroit from the playoffs after only five games, questions are rising about the future of the current Wings team. Are they to old? Are they deep enough in all positions? And at forty-two years of age, how much more can Nick Lidstrom take? These questions and more are answered after the jump.

People have questioned the Red Wings older players for years, with many saying every year that they won't be able to make it through the whole season. The oldest team in the NHL, with thirteen players over the age of thirty, the Wings are certainly not the speedy puck possession team they were ten years ago. Instead Detroit has had to move the puck quick and make the best of the time they have with it, in the process giving up many odd man rushes when they turn it over. Detroit still goes to the net hard, a technique mastered by Tomas Holmstrom, but how much more of a beating can he take? His aging body is holding up well, but a fifteen year career of getting pushed, slashed and punched really wears out the body. And when Holmstrom retires, Detroit will lose a big part of their offense that will be hard to replace.

Age has been a common criticsim of the Red Wings the past few seasons and that proved costly against Nashville. Lidstrom leads the team at age forty-two, but Holmstrom is thirty-nine, Todd Bertuzzi is thirty-seven and Dan Cleary is thirty-three, all way older than the young superstars of teams like Philadelphia and St. Louis. They do have some youth in their roster with Darren Helm, Kyle Quincey, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson. The Wings also have many prospects ready to make the jump next year, specifically Gustav Nyqvist and Brendan Smith who both played this year to fill in for injuries. But without a first round pick this year, a pick that would be Detroit's highest since 2003, the team won't be able to rebuild just yet. And with Grand Rapids, where most of the Wings prospects play not even making the playoffs with a 33-32-7-4 record, the prospect talent comes into question too. There are rumors the Red Wings will try to court top free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, players that would make an immediate impact playing in Detroit. But they would only prolong the inevitable. While teams at this time of year have to worry about which players will leave as free agents, the Red Wings instead are worrying about who will retire.

But all the decisions made by the Red Wings moving forward ride on one simple question, will Nick be back? Within seconds of Detroit being eliminated last night, the wonder of if that was Lidstrom's last game was everywhere online. Debates were raged on Twitter and amongst my friends and I. Of course this has been happening for a few years now, ever since the Wings won the Cup back in 2008, but this time is different. Forty-two years of age and a late season injury exposed Lidstrom in the playoffs this year as a player who has seen better days. The deep ankle bruise he suffered on February twenty-fifth and missed eleven games with, still caused him enough pain where he couldn't play the penalty kill in risk of blocking a Shea Weber bomb. Thankfully, Nick Kronwall saw major improvements to his game this season and now appears ready to fill Lidstrom's spot in all positions. As a writer and a fan, I would respect Lidstrom with whatever he decides, but I predict he will retire. It is time for him to be a family man and provoking his leg injury could result in bigger problems moving forward. Lidstrom has had a great career and passing the torch now seems like the right thing to do.

The Detroit Red Wings have been the team others measure up against for the last two decades and this year was no different. Unfortunately, reality caught up to them and it is becoming clear that the team is ageing and that Nick Lidstrom is nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career. But with the addition of a couple key free agents and the emergence of some young prospects, the Red Wings should be roaring to go next season. Wings fans aren't used to such a long summer, but they have a lot to look forward to next year.

Josh Beneteau is a young writer who will be attending the Ryerson School of Journalism in the fall. You can follow him on twitter at @jbenny15 and read more from him on his website at www.jbenny.com. 

1 comment:

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