Trade-deadline day frustrates Wings, fans

DETROIT — With their abundance of injuries, life for the Detroit Red Wings has been careening down a miserable path.

They now find themselves in a battle to finish in the top spot of the NHL’s Central Division.

Gone are the days when the Wings would cruise through their divisional rivals. Many of the Red Wings’ critics always pointed to the weak Central as their playground, where they would rack up points and hardly break a sweat.

In a hard-cap league that, for the most part, has competent management throughout, parity has become the norm in today’s NHL.

With so many teams competing for a playoff berth, the NHL’s trade-deadline day — moved up two weeks as part of the 2005 CBA agreement — has become an anti-climactic event that finds many more teams buying than selling their assets.

If deadline day remained the same under the current CBA, it would have been March 12.

As Red Wing fans can attest to, a lot has happened since Feb. 27, when Detroit moved Mike Commodore to Tampa Bay for a conditional seventh-round pick —  their only deadline-day transaction.  

It would have been extremely interesting to see what the Wings would have done, considering their rash of injuries, if March 12 was the actual deadline day this year.

We can speculate all we want, but one thing is clear: Red Wings GM Ken Holland has left many of the team’s faithful miffed, somewhat befuddled and downright angry that he didn’t do anything to bolster his roster on deadline day.

Especially since the Red Wings had $5 million under the salary cap to spend. With that kind of cash burning a hole through the fans’ pockets, the least Holland could have done was to spend it on something.

Instead, many believe he sat idly by as his competitors became stronger.

Holland has always said that if a deal is going down in the league and he isn’t aware of it, then he’s not doing his job.

According to a source close to the team, this is how it played out for the Wings on deadline day 2012.

There were two primary targets for the Red Wings on Feb. 27: Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad, now with Nashville; and Columbus’ Sami Pahlsson, now with Vancouver. 

The entire league was aware that the Wings wanted to add a gritty, big-bodied forward who was an above-average face-off man.

Gaustad fit that description, but the day before the deadline, the Sabres informed the Wings that they had already been offered a first-round draft pick for Gaustad. Detroit had traded their first-round pick a week earlier to the Lightning for defenseman Kyle Quincey.

The Wings asked the Sabres to contact them if things changed but knew the call would never come — Gaustad was gone.

Once deadline day hit, the phones were busy in Holland’s office, but the Detroit brass didn’t like what they were hearing. Every team was asking for the moon in return for a rent-a-player or a marginal talent who wasn’t worth the asking price.

Several of Detroit’s top prospects were off the table, and the Wings were more inclined to part with only draft picks in any deals.

They certainly weren’t willing to give up high-scoring prospect Teemu Pulkkinen, who every team apparently wanted to acquire.
As the day dragged on, some in the Detroit camp became frustrated, even disgusted, by what teams were demanding. The phone would ring, Holland would relay the offer to the assembled hierarchy and virtually every head in the room began shaking no.

Pahlsson was still a possibility, and the Wings thought they had a legitimate shot until the Blue Jackets informed them they had been offered two fourth-round picks and young defenseman for the veteran center.

Once Pahlsson came off their board — the Wings felt they didn’t have the picks to get him — a day filled with hope became uneventful and disappointing for Detroit.

Whether you agree with how the Wings approached the trade deadline or not, remember that they always said they would tweak their roster, not reshape it.

In truth, the Red Wings like their team. They believe they have as good a chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup as any other team.

If the Wings don’t win it, there’s always the free-agency route in the offseason.