LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings have slipped from being regarded as an elite NHL team, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round after consecutive second-round exits.
Just three years ago, the team was a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions and seemed set up to sustain the success it and its fans have gotten used to for a couple decades.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock believes a splash-making summer could restore the franchise’s glory.
“We have tons of money and if we can use our cap space to get high-end free agents, we have a shot to get right back on top,” Babcock said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, two days after Nashville eliminated Detroit. “If we’re fortunate in free agency, we won’t have to look at going in another direction.
“The standard here has always been to chase the Stanley Cup, so as a coach, I’m hoping the free-agent market helps us continue to have those goals.”
The Red Wings led the NHL in points a couple months ago, but injuries to several players led to them slipping enough to be the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference playoffs with a tough matchup against the fourth-seeded Predators.
“We never recovered,” Babcock said. “We never really got Darren Helm back and that hurt the balance we had on our third and fourth lines. Teams could check Z (Henrik Zetterberg) and Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) like crazy and get away with it.”
Detroit didn’t have enough depth up front and had too many miscues on the back end against the Predators.
“When you make defensive mistakes and you don’t score your problems are magnified,” Babcock said.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)