The Detroit Red Wings are an elite team.
What? Don’t agree? Goaltending not elite? Defense is not good enough? Injury prone superstars? Don Cherry thinks they are soft?
You need to look at this objectively. Over the last few years, there have been bad seasons for the Wings – and none worse than last season. Was it telling of the times? If you look at most pundits, the Wings are has-beens with youth that is not ready to take over, and just overachieved last year. The negativity train runs for miles(NHL.com Power Rankings) and you may assume it is deserved, except it is not.
Look at how the league and the success around the league has been delegated out in recent years. You want the advance stats, coupled with clutch players, and elite goaltending, right? The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings all have very similar formulas with interchangeable parts. What is consistent for all of these teams has been health and puck possession. I know what you are about to point out, and that is the lack of Red Wings playoff success over the last few recent years, compared to the aforementioned teams, and even may argue “elite status”, that is such a delicate term, and controversial statement in the hockey world, that some even dare to argue Jonathon Quick’s elite status.
Playoffs in NHL are a very different beast…let us leave this beast alone for a little while.
Regular season is the meat and potatoes of a team’s success. If you are good in the regular season, you will have success in the playoffs. While you may raise your hand with a counter argument, winning in playoffs, and success in regular season, go hand in hand, because you need regular season success in order to make the playoffs. Dominating teams do not always win, but they do better than Cinderella stories on average (rules do not apply to you Shark fans). The numbers back this up, and if you are a Red Wings fan, you should know that.
So, let us look at the current Red Wings.
For the last ten games, their record is 7-3, and with 35 points on the season, that is good for 4th in the conference, and a fairly decent compound lead on Toronto and Boston in the division. The Red Wings are 10th in the league in goals against, with 4th best offense in the league. You need to go back to the 2011-12 season for these kinds of numbers, and boy, were we disappointed with those playoffs, huh?
|2009–10||82||44||24||14||102||—||229||216||2nd, Central||Lost in Conference Semifinals to San Jose Sharks, 1–4|
|2010–11||82||47||25||10||104||43||261||241||1st, Central||Lost in Conference Semifinals to San Jose Sharks, 3–4|
|2011–12||82||48||28||6||102||39||248||203||3rd, Central||Lost in Conference Quarterfinals to Nashville Predators, 1–4|
|2012–13||48||24||16||8||56||22||124||115||3rd, Central||Lost in Conference Semifinals to Chicago Blackhawks, 3–4|
|2013–14||82||39||28||15||93||34||222||230||4th, Atlantic||Lost in Conference Quarterfinals to Boston Bruins, 1–4|
The above says it all, but besides the utterly disappointing loss to the Predators, I think we have to give the Wings respect with respect to how they performed.
What other interesting numbers can we dig up?
The Detroit Red Wings power play is clicking at 23.1%, and penalty kill is at 85.6%. The Wings have three players with ten plus goals in Gustav Nyquist(12), Pavel Datsyuk(11), and Tomas Tatar(10). This is very good news, because you do not see Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen on that list, and this means that the Detroit Red Wings system is working. Fans of advanced stats will probably yield something to find in the flaws of the Red Wings game, but what is very important to note is that the Wings give up 26.9 shots against, compared to 29.6 shots for. That is how you usually win games.
**CF% = Corsi For percentage = 100* CF / (CF + CA)
Is this enough?
My favorite stat is that the Wings are very dominant in the faceoff circle. With a 54.1% faceoff winning percentage, which is good for 2nd in the league, you can bet your behind that the Wings will be controlling the puck 54% of the time. This is a strategy that has been absolutely exploited this season by the Wings.
Let me explain.
The Detroit Red Wings will, more often than not, dump the puck on net, and force a face-off in the offensive zone. You can see this strategy used almost every time before line changes, or during games where they have trouble entering the zone. It is used very often, and it is effective, simply because the Red Wings win more face-offs than they lose. Pay attention to this next time you watch a game, it is a flat-out strategy. They do not want to bang bodies of their top two lines, instead, they will dump it on net, force the faceoff, and win it back in order to control the puck.
Controlling the puck is something that is so fantastic about the Wings, and what leads to their success, even if the superstars take an IR seat. This obviously will not guarantee you a Stanley Cup, but a playoff spot and regular season success can be counted on. Systems work in hockey because this sport has a long season that favors averages rather than anomalies.
So, does this make the Red Wings “elite”?
Stephen Weiss has 9 points in 7 games, and Justin Abdelkader is having the best season of his career, with 15 points. This is what you call depth, which is finally paying off for the Wings, and will continue to do so. Baring injuries, a huge IF, by the way, the Wings are sitting pretty as a dominant team in the clearly weaker Eastern Conference.
There is a huge difference between the 2011-12 Red Wings, and 2014-15 Wings, and that is the depth at forward that the Red Wings have not had in a very long time. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are no longer the only threats, and the three lines that Mike Babcock can roll are all dangerous and creative in keeping the puck on their stick. This is the best that the Red Wings have had to offer in a long time, and Teemu Pulkkinen/Anthony Mantha have not even entered the big club picture.
No matter how you slice it, the Detroit Red Wings are an elite team this year.
Thank you for reading. Support LWOS by following us on Twitter – @LastWordOnSportand @LWOSworld – and “liking” our Facebook page.
For the latest in sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?
Interested in writing for us? Find out more by visiting our “Write for Us” page.