Detroit Red Wings’ management didn’t see a playoff team. That needs to change soon.

Detroit Free Press

I have a message for Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman. Actually, it’s more of a request.

Maybe even a borderline desperate plea.

Here it is: Please take my money!

You see, my wife and I had plans to treat our couple friends to see a Red Wings game this season at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings were fun and promising under new coach Derek Lalonde. They were playing better defense, reducing risk and leaning on strong performances from new goaltender Ville Husso.

The Wings were trending up and held a wild-card spot as late as Feb. 23. I was ready to plunk down my hard-earned — OK, not that hard — cash and fork over a few hundred bucks for lower-bowl seats, parking and food.

All I needed was for Yzerman to keep the team on its promising trajectory toward the playoffs.

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But apparently my money’s no good with Yzerman, who did what he has done each trade deadline since he became the Wings’ general manager four years ago: The cautious, prudent thing in trading away key players on expiring contracts such as forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Oskar Sundqvist and scoring defenseman Filip Hronek, all in exchange for draft capital.

After shipping Hronek and a fourth-rounder to Vancouver for first- and second-round picks, the Wings won just seven of their next 22 games. The playoff buzz disappeared and took any desire to watch this team with it. Our friends passed, citing the depressing state of the team. I put my money back in my pocket. Maybe next season.

Because that’s the way it has been around here since even before Yzerman took over for Ken Holland. Maybe next season.

This spring marks the seventh straight without a Wings playoff appearance, tying the franchise record they set from 1971 to 1977. The only NHL team with a longer active playoff drought is the Buffalo Sabres, at 12 seasons.

The Wings — Original Six hockey royalty, winners of 11 Stanley Cups and celebrated inhabitants of Hockeytown —are inching closer to joining a team from a city that’s famous for never having won anything?

If nothing else, I have to give Lalonde and Yzerman credit for their candor. They both admitted they privately didn’t see the Wings as a playoff team before the season began.

“You never want to go into a season saying, ‘Absolutely not, we’re not a playoff team,’ ” Yzerman said. “You want your coaches, you want your players to have some hope. You never know what happens. You know, we weren’t that far out really prior to the deadline. So it was a possibility.

“But going into the season, did I expect us, was the goal to make the playoffs? Did I expect us to make the playoffs? No, I didn’t.”

This wasn’t an entirely dreadful season. The Wings did make strides. They were vastly improved in their goal differential, jumping from minus-82 last season to minus-39.

They also won more games than last year, going from 32 to 35, and finished with more points, going from 74 to 80.

Yet, there was a strong sense of disappointment within the team after its 5-0 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

“It’s been very difficult since the trade deadline,” captain Dylan Larkin told reporters, “emotionally, physically. … I say it every year, but hopefully we’re not in this position much longer.”

Frankly, a lot of that depends on Yzerman. At some point, he’s almost certainly going to have to take a risk and go against his careful, cautious nature. He’s going to have to hold onto a pending free agent or possibly become a buyer at the trade deadline to acquire a difference-maker like Bo Horvat, who pushed the New York Islanders back into the playoffs after the Isles grabbed him from Vancouver in January.

The problem is, Yzerman knows he could easily end up trading away key draft capital for a player that doesn’t help the Wings make the playoffs anyway, like the Ottawa Senators did when they sent the Arizona Coyotes a first-rounder and two second-rounders for defenseman Jakob Chychrun.

The best move Yzerman made last year was sending the Blues a third-round pick over the summer for Husso. Without him, this Wings season would have made the Titanic look like a Disney cruise in the Bahamas.

Yzerman hinted more moves like that could be on the way. The Wings have two first-round picks and five of the first 43 picks in this summer’s draft. Other than the top few draft picks — we’ll find out the Wings’ pick on May 8 —Yzerman can consider draft capital that can lead to acquiring more key players via trade.

“And I think we would all agree with our picks we’d rather have a player than a draft pick,” he said. “Maybe not necessarily the first or second or third (pick) or whatever this year, but players are known known quantities and our draft picks, they’re unknown.”

Since he returned to Detroit, Yzerman has constantly preached patience. He said he wasn’t displeased with the team’s progress in his four years.

“I believe as we sit here today, I guess from four years ago, I’m not disappointed at where we’re at,” he said. “I guess I’m OK with it. But I intend to stick with the process, the plan. Nothing’s going to dramatically change. We’ll continue to look for opportunities, as I say repeatedly, to expedite the process.”

I asked Yzerman about next season and how much he would be willing to park his patience and take a little more risk to avoid an eighth straight season of missing the playoffs, which would be a franchise record for a team that’s closing in on its 100th season.

“I’m not going to do anything that just gives us an opportunity while it gets us in the playoffs so I can say I didn’t hold the record or break the record in a negative way,” he said. “I’m just going to keep trying to building a really good team that’s going to be a good team for years to come. And I would love it to be next year, but as you know, I can’t guarantee that.”

The only problem with Yzerman’s plan is that he can only imagine the risk of making a bad personnel move. After all, the Wings have a loyal and hearty fan base that fills Little Caesars Arena almost every game. But if the Wings don’t end their playoff drought soon, Yzerman might find himself risking his fans’ loyalty and all that money they’re dying to spend to see his team.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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