It’s been a very different kind of year for fans of the Detroit Red Wings. Right now, the team is among the worst in the NHL and the chances of them making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs are dwindling with each passing day and each loss. It’s a sinking feeling that people in Detroit aren’t used to and missing the playoffs is something that hasn’t happened in decades. To many of us, it’s a tragedy for a franchise that is so accustomed to excellence to be in such a poor state. But it also seems like a fitting cap to what has been a trying year for the Red Wings. A year when the Wings have lost some very important people and will be leaving their home of the last 38 years.
The hits started coming last summer, less than two months after the Red Wings first round playoff exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightening. On June 10th, one of the most legendary players in the history of the game of hockey, Gordie Howe, passed away at the age of 88 and the entire sports world mourned. He was an old man who had lived a full life and for that, all of us who loved him can be grateful. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of his passing.
Then a couple of weeks ago, on February 10th, 2017, longtime team owner, Mike Illitch, passed away. He too lived to a ripe, old age and at 87-years-old the man who made his fortune off the Little Caesars pizza chain and bought the Red Wings in 1982 for $8 million had lived to see his team win 4 Stanley Cups during his time as owner. He truly loved the Red Wings and his other team the Tigers, as well as the city of Detroit. As a fan, you couldn’t ask for a more passionate and caring owner. All he ever wanted was to win and though his Tigers were never able to bring him a championship he was overjoyed every time the Wings were able to hoist the Cup.
So with two of the biggest icons in the history of Detroit hockey gone, isn’t it fitting that the team would miss out on the postseason for the first time in 25 years? The passing of Howe and Illitch, along with this year’s abysmal performance by the team and their departure from Joe Louis Arena, point to a shift in the world of Detroit Hockey. That might not be a bad thing and it seems like it could be a jumping off point for the next generation of Detroit Red Wings.
New arena. New owner. New Red Wings. The team has been coasting on “just making the playoffs” for years now and the decade anniversary of the last Stanley Cup championship is rapidly approaching. Fans are getting tired of simply making it to the dance and getting tossed in the first or second round. It’s time for a rebuild and a year away from the playoffs might be what the franchise needs to turn the corner and get back to the mountain top. It’s been tough losing Gordie and Mr I, and it will be tough leaving Joe Louis Arena behind but the only constant in this world is change. These changes might be hard but they are necessary. Likely, it will be a bumpy road but with some luck there will be a new, improved Red Wings team rising from the ashes of the 2016-17 season.