Although I never played hockey, I have a deep love for the Detroit Red Wings.
Growing up in Detroit in the 1990s, it was impossible not to be enamored with the Red Wings. Their dominance heading into the 21st century brought the entire city together. Detroit truly was Hockeytown. With that said…
I didn’t realized how much the Wings meant to me until I started collecting sports cards a few years ago.
Basketball was my first love, but I didn’t target players like Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. I played baseball at a high level, but Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera cards were not on my radar. The Lions? Yeah, I’ll pass on Charlie Batch. When my card collecting journey began, I was driven to build a collection meaningful to me, and not just ultra-modern players. I immediately targeted two Detroit Legends: Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe.
Watching Steve Yzerman as a kid taught me everything I needed to learn about what it meant to play team sports. The Red Wings were perennial contenders and Yzerman was their leader. He was their identity. He was Detroit’s identity. I can’t help but associate The Captain with everything good there is about sports.
I never had the chance to see Gordie Howe play, but as I grew older, studied highlights and understood the Red Wings history, I was enchanted with his legend.
By the time I hit puberty, Wayne Gretzky was cemented as The Great One. (Side-note, Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey on Nintendo 64 was also my favorite game.) There was no doubt in anyone’s mind he was the greatest hockey player of all time, and on the Mount Rushmore of legends across all sports. Then I learned the story of how Gretzky ended up on the Los Angeles Kings.
In 1988 the Red Wings almost acquired Gretzky in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. They had some competition, however, in the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers. In Gretzky’s own words, he said:
“I grew up a Gordie Howe fan and loved Gordie Howe and the Red Wings. I really felt 24 hours beforehand that I was going to end up a Detroit Red Wing. Both Janet (Jones, Gretzky’s wife) and I thought that was the perfect place to go because A, it was a great hockey city, and B, because of Gordie and everything that goes with that.”
Gretzky’s father convinced him to go to Los Angeles and make a new mark on the city.
Wayne Gretzky remember his father saying, “You know, there’s only one Gordie Howe. Detroit’s Detroit. They’ve done everything. You should go to L.A. and put a new mark on life down there, and do something so unique and so different.”
Despite the Red Wings being a strong contender in the race for Gretzky, he ultimately ended up with the Kings, where he became one of the greatest players in NHL history.
The fact that the greatest hockey player of all time grew up idolizing Howe blew me away. The concept that The Great One is the second most fitting nickname in sports history is difficult to wrap my head around. A helmetless Red Wing star had one of the most profound impacts on an entire sport, and he played in Detroit.
Gordie Howe is Mr. Hockey. There is no Mr. Basketball, Mr. Baseball or Mr. any other sport.
A look back into the history of the Red Wings makes it more compelling that Stevie Y is back and in charge of reshaping the storied franchise. A casual hockey fan can understand the magnitude of that. The man tasked with building the roster knows exactly what a winning hockey team can do for the entire city.
While the team is years away from reaching the point of competing consistently at the top of the league, Yzerman is in the lab cooking.
Steve Yzerman is focusing on drafting young talent, and evaluating the youth that he’s added in free-agency via short-term contracts. Despite offseason acquisitions of Ville Husso, David Perron, and Andrew Copp, the team’s play has been notably inconsistent. However, there is reason to be hopeful for the future because they have a wealth of young, talented players, both in the NHL and in the minors.
Dylan Larkin, the 26-year-old captain of the current team, has been a steady and reliable presence. I believe he has the potential to be the captain who leads the Wings to their next championship. Will this come as the team’s first- or second-line center? That is still to be determined.
On offense, Larkin joins talented teammates like Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond, Copp and Elmer Söderblom. This gives the Red Wings a strong scoring core for the future. The return of Jakub Vrana will also boost the team’s offense and power play. Vrana hasn’t played since October 15th, but he had a strong finish to last season with 13 goals and 6 assists in 26 games after missing five months due to shoulder surgery.
On defense, Moritz Seider is a promising young player who has the potential to anchor the defense for years to come. However, his minus-14 plus-minus rating this season is worst on the roster. This can be chalked up to consistently lining against top lines, but one should still expect him to be a bit closer to 0 at this point in the season. Filip Hronek has also been a dependable contributor, and Jake Walman and Simon Edvinsson are promising prospects.
In goal, Ville Husso has shown flashes of being a dependable option for the future. Head Coach Derek Lalonde is still trying to find a balance between his development and that of Alex Nedeljkovic. Lalonde has mentioned that he would like to find a bit more balance in terms of playing time in net.
Admittedly it seems they’ve used Husso more than they would have liked this early in the season (23 starts out of 32 games). It would be ideal if Lalonde could trust Nedeljkovic to split time with Husso. Unfortunately, Nedeljkovic (2-4-2, 4.09 goals-against average, .880 save percentage) hasn’t played since Dec. 8 and hasn’t won a game since Nov. 6.
The team has been inconsistent on the ice this season, but have a wealth of talent. Pair that with a strong front-office, and fans should remain optimistic. Just remember who the architect is behind the new look Red Wings. At the very least, you should notice your smile widen ever so slightly.
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