By @StefanKubus –
DETROIT — For the first time since 1990, the Detroit Red Wings packed up early at Joe Louis Arena with no playoff hockey in sight.
A good portion of the team wasn’t even alive at that point.
And on Tuesday, for the last time ever at The Joe, the Red Wings cleared out their lockers as they head into summer and eventually in to Little Caesars Arena come fall.
Dylan Larkin said he’s taking it on himself to come back strong for the 2017-18 campaign. Larkin finished the season with 17 goals, 32 points and a minus-28 rating after an impressive 23-goal, 45-point, plus-11 rookie year.
“I need to be better in all areas and put it on my shoulders a little bit to be ready from day one,” Larkin said.
“I think all areas, defensively – I did think make some improvements there toward the end of the year, but I want to be better. Face offs, making my linemates better and being smarter around the puck down low. Those two I just said are the biggest ones to me.”
Another piece of Detroit’s young core is forward Anthony Mantha. Mantha, who was forced to miss the last handful of games due to a finger fracture, finished his first season with 17 goals and 36 points in 60 games. Besides Ben Street’s plus-1 rating in six games, Mantha was the only Wings forward to finish with a plus rating (plus-10) besides Zetterberg (plus-15).
The Quebec native called the season a “learning process” and hopes to use that experience to his benefit for next season.
“Ups and downs that we faced this season, obviously as a team it was a lot of down so we learn from those and we’ll be ready for next year to be better in those points,” Mantha said.
Mantha said he plans to see the hand specialist on Wednesday once more before he leaves next week and plans to begin rehab when he gets back home “in a week or two” as he begins to prepare for next season.
“Obviously I’ll go back in the gym and try to put a little bit more weight, probably take a few power skating lessons this summer, just try to be quicker out there, more mobile.”
There’s perhaps no Red Wings player looking to put the 2016-17 season behind him quicker than Riley Sheahan.
Sheahan potted his first and only two goals of the season in Sunday’s finale against New Jersey. While Sheahan and his teammates enjoyed the moment as it came in the final game inside Joe Louis Arena, he said he’s looking forward to bouncing back next year.
“There’s a lot of things that I’ve got to work on, so it’s gonna be a busy off-season, and I look forward to it,” Sheahan said.
When asked about a potential roster shake-up, Sheahan said he doesn’t think there’ll be any huge personnel changes.
“I know we’re comfortable with the guys we’ve got in here. We’ve got a skilled group, we’ve got a deep group. Things obviously didn’t go our way this season, and we’ve definitely gotta work hard in the off-season, and I think everybody knows that.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg said there’s certainly reason to be optimistic with the youth on the team, also knowing that the whole squad didn’t play to its potential. Zetterberg singled out the Wings’ 27th-ranked power play as an area that needs to turn around, starting with himself.
“We have good young players that play on this team, and I know that everyone is here is not happy about their seasons, so next year it’s a big year for everyone to come back and be better. And there’s some things this year that was bad – power play is probably the one thing that sticks out in my mind; we’ve got to have a better power play. If we produce more there, we’d be in a different situation. I’m probably played the most power-play minutes of anyone in here, so that’s one area that I’ve got to be better at and produce more.”
Wings at Worlds
A few of the Red Wings players who spoke during locker clean-out day touched on their status for the impending World Championship.
Larkin said he would be going to play for head coach Jeff Blashill and Team USA at the World Championship.
Howard, who battled injury late in the season, said he would be joining Larkin at the tournament and is looking forward to getting more game action between the pipes.
“I want to continue to keep playing, I think that’s important for me, especially because I missed a good chunk of the season being out with the injury, so I’m looking forward to it,” Howard said.
Blashill said he’s looking forward to the event as an opportunity to learn.
“I think obviously we’d all like to be playing tomorrow; we’re not,” Blashill said. “I think it’s an unbelievable honor to represent your country and so when I was asked to do it, my first instinct was to certainly say yes because of the fact that I’ve had a chance to represent my country in a couple other tournament and it’s a great thing. Beyond that, I also think it’s a heck of a coaching learning experience… I hope there’s not one day that I don’t try to get better, that I haven’t tried to learn and improve. One of the ways you do that is to be in different environments, learn from other staff members and this gives me a chance to be around people I’m not around every day and hopefully get that little better that we all want to be.”
Justin Abdelkader said he’s having an MRI done on his knee this week and, though he wants to play in the Worlds, said he’ll have to wait and see. Gustav Nyquist has also not yet decided.
Tomas Tatar said he’s having shoulder surgery – and injury that’s been lingering – this month and will not be participating. Tatar added that he would be good to go for the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
Zetterberg, who ended the season playing in his 1,000th career game, said he does not plan on playing in the World Championship.