Red Wings need more than just a new arena to win again
By LARRY LAGE, AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings will move into a new arena next season.
They’ll need more than that to be winners again.
Detroit didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1990, in its last season at Joe Louis Arena, because they didn’t have enough talent around captain Henrik Zetterberg.
Injuries to goaltender Jimmy Howard and many other players also hurt the team’s chances of extending their postseason streak, which was the third longest in league history, and led it finishing seventh in the eight-team Atlantic Division.
Zetterberg, a 36-year-old center, had a relatively remarkable season. He led the team with 68 points — his highest total in five years — without a stellar, surrounding cast and everyone in the organization raved about his off-the-ice leadership.
The Red Wings planned to move him to the wing this season and to play him less, hoping other teammates took advantage of the opportunity to play larger roles.
It didn’t happen.
No one else on the team had more than 48 points. That was a problem last season and it won’t go away easily as the franchise prepares to play at Little Caesars Arena.
The Red Wings closed the regular season with a spectacular show Sunday night that couldn’t have been scripted better, starting with a warm and sunny day for a red carpet entrance for current and former players.
Steve Yzerman surprised the crowd when he showed up on the ice just before the game to drop the ceremonial puck.
Then, the Red Wings went on to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 to give their fired-up fans plenty of reasons to cheer. Zetterberg scored in his 1,000th game and Riley Sheahan had two goals to snap his season-long, 79-game goal scoring drought.
And, few in the sold-out crowd chose to leave after the game, staying for a ceremony that was filled with pageantry.
“So thankful we were able to win this game; win it for the fans, win it for Detroit, everyone that’s made this building so special,” forward Justin Abdelkader said.
“It was fitting for Z to play his 1,000th game, the last night at the Joe. With the ceremonies and Stevie Y coming out, walking in at the beginning with the red carpet, there are so many memories that I think guys will take and hold onto forever. This building’s very deserving.”
Detroit needs a lot of good fortune this offseason, too, and here are some things to watch:
The Red Wings will have some choices to make before the expansion draft with the Vegas Golden Knights. Detroit can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. If it leaves goalie Petr Mrazek unprotected, the franchise might be happy if Vegas takes him and his $4 million contract for next season.
NEW ARENA BOOST
Little Caesars Arena is going to give the Red Wings one of the finest facilities in the NHL after having among the worst at Joe Louis Arena. That might be enough to make a difference for a free agent, who is choosing between Detroit and another city in the league.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to use it as a stepping stone,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “The new rink is going to be awesome. The amenities are amazing.”
Detroit will want to keep at least some of its restricted free agents, especially speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou and forward Tomas Tatar, who had a third straight solid season.