How Complacency Led To The Downfall of the Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings are one of the more storied franchises in not only the National Hockey League, but in all of North American sports. A team that has produced legends such as Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman, and Niklas Lidstrom, among countless others. They recently had a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. Now, they are one of the worst teams in the NHL. The big question is: what happened?

To answer this, we must first travel back to 2009. The Red Wings are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and are back in the finals once again. Their opponents are the Pittsburgh Penguins, a young and hungry team who are seeking revenge for the 2008 final, when they lost to the Wings in six games.

The Penguins also had extra motivation due to the fact that star winger Marian Hossa jumped from the Penguins to the Wings in the 2008 offseason. Hossa had been on the Pens in the 2008 final. To put it simply, the Penguins really, really wanted this cup.

The series went to seven games. Game 7 was 2-0 Pittsburgh heading into the third. When the puck dropped for that period, something changed in Detroit. They played as if they had the cup in the bag. They thought that the two goals were a given, and they’d win it late in regulation or in overtime. They did get on the board midway through the third, when Jonathan Ericsson netted one, but it was too little too late. They didn’t seem urgent until the last five minutes, and they ended up losing Game 7, 2-1.

We now have to move ahead to the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wings were moving to the Eastern Conference the following year, and were likely in their last year as serious contenders. The Wings took a 3-1 series lead on the top seeded Blackhawks, and looked poised to upset Chicago. However, they seemed to already think the series was a wrap.

They forgot just how resilient this team was, as the Blackhawks stormed back to force a Game 7. It went to overtime, and it wasn’t even five minutes before Brent Seabrook scored the series clinching goal. The Blackhawks would eventually go on to defeat the Boston Bruins in six games for the Stanley Cup.

After the move to the Eastern Conference, the Wings no longer seemed motivated to make any additions to help them make a deep run. Detroit general manager Ken Holland seemed absolutely content with just qualifying for the playoffs. It was seemingly his mission to extend the playoff streak, in spite of clear signs pointing towards a rebuild or a retool, in the very least, being needed. However, the streak took precedent, and Holland made moves to acquire the likes of David Legwand, Daniel Alfredsson, Brad Richards, Erik Cole, Marek Zidlicky, etc.

Even now, the moves Holland has made seem to have the end-goal of being a playoff qualifier in mind. Yes, moves like the Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith trades have happened with the future in mind, but then we get a Tomas Vanek signing, a Jonathan Bernier signing, etc. The picture becomes that much clearer.

I don’t mind those signings, but they don’t help the Wings win the cup now, or in the future. Even his previous draft choices don’t seem to help Detroit win a cup in the future. The most recent draft does look incredibly promising, and the team does have 10 picks in next year’s draft, but that does not erase the past.

If this team were not complacent in 2009, they likely repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. They likely re-sign Marian Hossa, and possibly win another Cup before launching into a rebuild when it came time to blow up the core. Even if 2009 stays the same, the Wings could have reversed this trend in 2013. If they beat the Blackhawks, they easily could have beaten the Kings, and possibly the Bruins for the cup.

Even if those scenarios stayed the same, if Holland had decided that enough was enough and began the rebuild, this article would have ended up entirely different. The moral of all of this is that complacency is a death blow to any person, team, or dynasty. If you are satisfied with your current situation, you will not push yourself farther. Detroit has failed to do this countless times, and now they are encountering some very dark days. While the future looks bright, possibly brighter than a lot of people think, the stench of complacency still permeates from this franchise, and it likely will for the next few years.

Photo Credit: Ansar Khan/MLive.com

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