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Red Wings Tie Dead Wings Mark But That’s Where Comparison Ends

Detroit last missed playoffs seven years in a row from 1970-71 through 1976-77

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Detroit will be missing the playoffs for the seventh season in a row. (Photo by Michael Caples)

On the surface, this shouldn’t feel at all good for the Detroit Red Wings. Anytime your club is associated with the forgettably dreadful time that was the Dead Wings era for this franchise, it’s not a welcoming notion.

With Thursday’s 7-6 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit was assured to be missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the seventh season in a row. That equals the franchise mark previously set from 1970-71 through 1976-77. That was a time starting out from the Darkness with Harkness and concluding with arguably the worst edition of the Red Wings in the history of the franchise.

And yet, this Red Wings squad feels nothing at all like that grim shadow that was cast by that 1976-77 team. There’s hope in place in Hockeytown right now, even reasonable cause for optimism.

Red Wings Trending Upward

“I think there’s definitely some positives of where we’re at with four games left,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “No matter what happens there’s some positives.”

At the conclusion of the 1976-77 NHL season, the Red Wings were last in the NHL with a 16-55-9 record. They lost at least nine more games than every other team in the 21-team league. Detroit was last in goals scored (183) and third-last in goals against (309).

The current Red Wings team has improved on last season’s club in virtually every metric. At 80 points, that’s their highest total since garnering 93 points in 2015-16, the most recent season that was ending with a Detroit playoff appearance. The club’s goals for per game (3.00) is up from last season (2.77), while the goals against per game (3.27) is lower (3.78). Both the power play (21.8%) and penalty killing (78.7%) are showing improvement (16.3%, 73.8%) from last season.

“We’ve beaten Toronto twice, we’ve beaten Tampa twice, we beat the (Boston) Bruins within the last couple weeks,” Lalonde said. “We beat Carolina. I think we’re probably where we belong or where we deserve to be at.

A Feeling Of Progress

Across the current Detroit roster, there are signs of growth and improvement. The young talent available to this team is the best it’s been on a Red Wings squad in decades.

Defenseman Moritz Seider, already with a Calder Trophy, continues his steady growth into what will be an elite NHL shutdown defender. In his brief glimpse, Simon Edvinsson is offering hope that he can also be a top-four defender. Jake Walman’s development into a reliable top-pairing rearguard is annother welcoming situation. Factor in prospect defenders William Wallinder and Albert Johansson, even merely as reliable NHL defensemen, and this could be a unit that grows together over the next decade.

Second-year forward Lucas Raymond is already a 100-point scorer in the NHL. Rookie Jonatan Berggren is a 15-goal scorer. In his one-game cameo, 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper was displaying NHL grit. He was playing most of that game on a broken kneecap. Just entering his prime as a player, captain Dylan Larkin is enjoying a career year.

Mazur Off To Strong Start

Carter Mazur, a recent arrival to AHL Grand Rapids, if offering early indications that he’ll be a keeper. And we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Michael Rasmussen, Elmer Soderblom, Joe Veleno, or Amadeus Lombardi.

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No, the Red Wings aren’t a playoff team yet and in a league where 16 of 32 teams aren’t each season, it won’t be easy getting there. But to suggest that this team isn’t trending in that direction would be pure folly.

“You don’t improve 20 points and make the playoffs,” Lalonde said. “You do improve eight, you do improve 10, you do improve 12 points with the right offseason, the right growth from the group.

“As a team you want to be knocking on that door and I think this group is trying to set that up.”