By: Eric Thomas
Whoo! You can uncover your eyes. The hockey playoff plans that became part of your thawing out process over the years can continue without interruption. The Red Wings, with a string of recent wins, have put themselves in excellent position to make the playoffs a 23rd straight time. It was a coin flip for much of the season. At times the injuries looked like they could consume them. For now, crisis appears to be averted.*
Casual Detroit sports fans have an odd relationship with the Wings. Many in Detroit don’t even bother watching hockey until the playoffs. It’s understandable. When you have a streak as long as the Wings, it’s easy to take it for granted. Casual Wings fans shake awake when there are events. Is there a home winning streak? Nick Lidstrom is retiring? Turn on the TV. It’s all gravy until the post-season.
All the news out of the Joe was bad this year. No Datsyuk, no Zetterberg—we were mildly mad at him for something, weren’t we? Something about the Olympics?—no Alfredsson, Franzen being Franzen, there are some fans have simply stayed away, this year rather than watch the Wings struggle. They don’t even know who Tomas Tartar or Gustav Nyquist are yet.
Hey, it’s understandable for Wings fans. You’ve been spoiled. The team has been one of the premiere franchises in the NHL for so long, why would you watch a sub-par product? This town can only have one Lions. While it’s easy to understand your stance, this laissez-faire attitude sends hard core Wings fans into a rage. They watch every game of the regular season, and here you are, just waiting for the playoffs and criticizing Jimmy Howard if it doesn’t work out.
Here’s the good news: the Wings are poised to be a force in the coming years. It’s been difficult at times this year, with an aging team and a triage unit full of injuries. Somehow, against long odds, the Red Wings have managed to keep the team in contention. It doesn’t hurt that they have again wound up with some of the best young talent in the NHL. If you haven’t been watching yet, get ready to be impressed. Gustav Nyquist appears to be the real deal. He’s taken the entire team on his back, scoring 28 goals so far, and he hadn’t even played the whole season. The sheer amount of goals he’s scored recently has had some asking if he’s just getting lucky. Nyquist is a burgeoning superstar.
It’s been a bumpy ride at the Joe this year. Many people—myself included—were gloomy about their chances at the playoffs. Those fears might have been a little premature, and the Wings have gelled together at the right time. Credit Mike Babcock, whose seat seemed a little hot a few years ago, for coaching the young Wings through the wilderness. This formerly rapidly aging team looks poised to take a major step forward in years ahead.
So if you’ve been waiting on the sidelines, assuming that the Wings were on the outside looking in, it’s okay to stick in a toe. The water is fine.
And quit whining, hardcore fans. You get to feel superior when you know all the players’ names.
*I said “for now,” calm down. Hardcore Red Wings fans seem to be the most superstitious of all the teams. A man can get gutted for not following procedure on this.