By: Will Burchfield

The NHL trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 26, but the Red Wings’ direction this season could be determined well before that.

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GM Ken Holland told Fox Sports Detroit on Tuesday that the team’s early deficit in the playoff race has placed a premium on the next 10-15 games. The 10-12-5 Wings entered play Tuesday night four points out of a playoff spot.

“I look at the next 10 or 15 games for this team as being critical in determining what direction we’re going to go. We’re two games under .500. You still have to think we’re going to need 90 to 95 points to make the playoffs, so if we’re going to get back in this race, in the next 10 to 15 games we have to play over .500 — and then you have to keep it up,” Holland said.

The Wings were firmly in the playoff picture as recently as mid-November, but a seven-game losing streak, which crested with a 10-1 loss to the Canadiens on Saturday night, has dampened their outlook. If things don’t turn around soon, Holland knows it will be too late.

“You play one, two, three, four games under .500 in the next 10 or 15 games and you add it to the two games that you’re under .500 now, you’ll wake up in early January, much like we were last year, and you’ve built such a big hole that the reality is you’re not going to play your way back in,” he said.

The next 10 games will bring the Wings to Dec. 29; the next 15 will bring them to Jan. 13. They’ll play 20 games between Jan. 13 and Feb. 26.

“As we head toward the trade deadline, the next 10-15 games are really going to determine the thought process as to how I’m working the phones and what direction we go,” said Holland.

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The Wings are unlikely to be a buyer either way, with the organization trying to get younger and rebuild through the draft. But they could certainly sell off some veteran players if a playoff berth doesn’t seem likely. Holland acquired several draft picks at last year’s deadline in exchange for the likes of Brendan Smith, Thomas Vanek and Tomas Jurco.

“Last year was disappointing. We missed the playoffs, but I looked at is an opportunity to get some pieces,” said Holland.

The GM has been clear about his intention to ice a competitive team this season. He believes it’s important in maintaining the Red Wings’ winning culture and convincing their young players to stick around. But he won’t hold onto false hope.

“That’s my plan: To try to be competitive, and if were not competitive, then trade off some pieces, acquire some draft picks, draft some players. We’ll see what goes on here in the next four to eight weeks,” he said.

Holland said he’s adopted a more “conservative” approach since the Wings were ousted in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, namely in placing more value on his draft picks.

“Up until two years ago, I was pursuing trying to go on a playoff run. In the last two years I really started the rebuild, whatever you want to call it,” he said

Asked about his legacy as a GM, Holland said he’s not yet thinking about it.

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“Right now, I’m focused on trying to make the moves that I think are going to impact in this team in the short term and most importantly in the long term. But I’m a competitor,” he said. “I want to come to the rink and know that we a have a chance to win a hockey game.”