Detroit Red Wings continue youth movement during rebuilding year
By LARRY LAGE
AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings ended a third straight season without a postseason bid, counting on a core of players 24 years old and younger to end the postseason drought next year.
Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi each set career highs for scoring and Anthony Mantha matched his highest point total.
Even though Detroit had more points in the standings than just three teams in the NHL, the quartet is generating hope for the future.
“It’s extremely satisfying to see what these young guys can do,” 38-year-old defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think if people can stay patient with this process, Larkin is going to lead the way to bring the franchise back to where we all want it to be.”
Thomas Vanek, a 35-year-old wing, saw the young group grow collectively and individually late in the season.
“Confidence is never given,” Vanek said. “Confidence has to be earned. They earned it in a game or two, then all the sudden Mantha goes from 6-5 to 6-8 and he’s a different player.”
The 22-year-old Larkin took a step toward living up to the $30.5 million, five-year deal last summer, scoring a career-high 32 goals and having 73 points to lead the team. He also played with some toughness, becoming the first player in franchise history to lead the team in goals, points and penalty minutes in same season since 1927.
Larkin, though, was not happy with the team’s performance in a 7-1 loss to Buffalo at home on Saturday to close with two straight losses after winning a season-high six games.
“It’s tough, especially with the way we’ve been playing in the past couple of weeks, to finish like this,” he said.
Mantha, likewise, was not ready his development and production because of the year the Red Wings had as a team.
“Our team’s almost dead last in the league and we’re not even close to playoffs so that’s the big picture,” he said. “Personally, I think I took strides. I think a lot of guys in here took strides and hopefully we can bring it on a different level next year.”
The Red Wings ended talk about who would be their coach next season, giving coach Jeff Blashill a two-year contract extension earlier this month. They also decided to stick with goaltender Jimmy Howard, signing him to a one-year deal last month to keep him under contract next year.
It may take longer to know if former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman is going to come back to lead the front office.