With the NHL hitting the home stretch, the main focus is on playoff positioning and who is going to grab the final spots in each conference. One of the key subplots in the East is that how the tight race for seventh and eighth plays out could bring about the end of one of the most incredible streaks in the NHL.
As of this writing, the Detroit Red Wings sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and two points clear of both Philadelphia and Carolina. But not only is a place in the playoffs at stake, but so too is Detroit’s streak of reaching the postseason.
The Red Wings have been in the playoffs every year for the last 24 seasons. If they were to make it this year, that will mean the team from Hockeytown USA will have qualified for the playoffs every season for a quarter of a century. To put that into perspective, the streak is older than Dylan Larkin, the team’s 19-year-old second-leading scorer and started a handful of months after No. 1 goalie Petr Mrazek was born.
The schedule gives Detroit a chance to control its own fate, with two games against Toronto, Philadelphia and Montreal, plus dates with Buffalo and the Columbus Blue Jackets left. If they can win six of those eight and not drop more than four of the other seven, the streak should continue.
But even if they don’t make it, this season should still register as a net positive for the Red Wings. In Year One P.B. (Post Babcock), the Red Wings have remained in the playoff mix and the next generation nucleus has continued to take shape.
Larkin has gone from playing at Michigan to being a 20-goal scorer and Detroit’s All-Star representative in his rookie campaign, while Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist continued to be reliable offences threats with still untapped upside. In net, Mrazek has made Jimmy Howard expendable and posted one of the top goals against averages in the league.
All of this has transpired under the watch of first-year and first-time NHL coach Jeff Blashill, who led Detroit’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapid Griffins, for three seasons prior to being tabbed to replace Babcock on the bench.
These are positive signs for a team that has been Stanley Cup contenders for most of this 24-year run and never come close to having a rebuild during that stretch. They have been the model for retooling on the fly and remaining competitive and while Detroit has taken a slight step backwards in each of the last two seasons, they still made the playoffs last year and are position to potentially do so again this year, unlike a number of teams that are several years into rebuilds or that are trying to replicate Detroit’s process with far less success.
Even if this does prove to be the year Detroit’s impressive string of consecutive postseason appearances comes to an end, it shouldn’t be long before they’re back in the playoffs and starting a new streak as there are more solid future Red Wings on the way, including Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk and last year’s first-round selection, Evgeny Svechnikov.
Chicago may be the model for building a team through the draft and having tremendous success over a 10-year span, but in terms of being a model of consistency and never taking a complete step backwards, the Red Wings are the team others should look to pattern themselves after.