Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, returned to the ice after playing just six games in 18 this season.
The Detroit Red Wings are a part of a unique group in hockey, the ‘Original Six’.
A group comprising Boston, Chicago, Montreal, New York, Toronto and of course ‘Hockey Town’ themselves, Detroit, these teams formed the NHL as it is known today – a competition of now 31 teams, after Las Vegas recently joined the party with their side, the Golden Knights.
Detroit have a rich history of success, with 11 Stanley Cups, more than any other American team. They also had a 25-year-long playoff appearance streak between 1990-2016, a period which included four of the 11 Stanley Cup victories.
The Wings have produced legends of the sport, including ‘Mr Hockey’ himself, Gordie Howe, all the way through to the modern-day dynasty players such as current captain Henrik Zetterburg.
Zetterburg’s clear vision and awareness in front of the net is matched by few. However, he is 37 and will be lucky to see out his contract, which expires at the end of the 2020-21 season. He has stated however, assuming his health remains, he will see out the contract and retire as a one team player.
However, the side is missing youth.
Dylan Larkin, Riley Shahan and Anthony Mantha are all well under 25 and have been shining lights in the slowly declining quality of the Red Wings forward line. By the end of next season, these players will all be out of contract and seeking max deals as they reach the end of their rookie periods.
Andreas Athanasiou is a different story altogether. A god on the ice who scores goals like it is nothing, his puck control and speed is a force to be reckoned with, and guess what? He is out of contract and a restricted free agent as of now. He is currently heeding offers from the KHL (Russian league), and he’s all about the cash.
They are the future of the side and Jeff Blashill needs to ensure the Wings retain their services.
Currently, Detroit have more than half of their total spending on forwards tied up in Zetterburg (worth every penny), Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Johan Franzen. These five are in their 30s and I would be surprised if they all continued at Detroit after their contracts expire over the next three seasons.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys are amazing players, but are sending the Wings broke and not allowing them to offer Athanasiou – who is their best centreman, behind Zetterburg – the money he deserves. They are currently offering him $1.9 million per season, which is around $2.5 million less than veterans playing a lesser role.
This may be just a bargaining strategy, but preseason has started and Andreas is yet to hit the ice in a red jersey.
The consecutive playoff record was an amazing feat because of the title success that occurred during the period. However, it overshadowed the need to rebuild the team, probably around five years ago.
Qualifying for the playoffs is only the first step to winning the championship. Retain the youth and you keep ‘Hockeytown’ successes current, rather than a thing of the past.