By: Will Burchfield
Check out a Red Wings game at Little Caesars Arena, and one of the first things that stands out is empty red seats. Lots of them.
It’s not that the team has had trouble drawing fans to its new arena; the Wings rank third in the NHL in attendance. It’s that they’ve had trouble drawing fans to the action.
With so much to do in the building besides watch a hockey game, and with the home team struggling to win, many fans have given in to the lure of the concourse. Jimmy Howard, who has lots of time to scan the crowd from his vantage point in the crease, understands all the abandoned seats.
“There’s so much happening down there that you do notice it at the beginning of periods, but people are out enjoying the new experience,” Howard told 97.1 The Ticket. “Everyone that comes down to that arena for the first time, they probably want to take it all in and it’s probably a little overwhelming.”
“I really haven’t been up on the concourse,” he admitted with a laugh, “but there’s a lot to see.”
The Red Wings have averaged 100 percent capacity for home games. Of course, 12 other NHL teams can claim the same thing. Tickets sold and seats filled are two vastly different things, and it’d be stretch to say the Wings have been at 100 percent capacity for any game this season besides opening night.
Fact is, they’re 13th in the East — though just three points out of a playoff spot — and have won just five of their 14 home games. (That includes four overtime losses.) Provide a better product, and the fans will come back to their seats.
As head coach Jeff Blashill said earlier this month, “The more you win, the more fans are apt to treat it as a sporting event rather than a social night. You have to win, and I understand that.”
Like Howard, Blashill understands the dynamic of playing in a modern arena.
“You see this in lots of venues throughout the league, especially at the beginning of periods. People go into the clubs, they get their food, they get their drinks and it takes them a little longer to get out, and it doesn’t look good. The optics aren’t good on TV, but that’s just reality sometimes,” Blashill said.
It’s Blashill’s belief that if the Red Wings play .500 on the road and .700 at home, they’ll be a playoff team. Thus far, they’re 6-7-1 on the road, 5-5-4 at home. Not good enough.
The Wings opened a critical five-game homestand on Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over the Jets, one of the best teams in the league. It continues Saturday afternoon versus the Blues, another juggernaut in the West, and concludes next week with tilts against the Panthers, the Bruins and the Maple Leafs.
With GM Ken Holland saying on Tuesday that the next 10 to 15 games will likely determine his stance at the trade deadline, it’s vital that the Wings start banking points. At Little Caesars Arena would be a good place to start.
“We have to have urgency every night we show up here,” Blashill said. “We have to makes sure that this is a place we win lots of games at. … We have to give the fan lots to cheer for and take care of our business here at home.”