Bruins’ elimination reveals error in Steve Yzerman’s thinking about playoff contenders

Detroit Free Press

Thank you, Boston Bruins.

Thank you for showing Steve Yzerman the error in his thinking when it comes to playoff potential.

You see, the Detroit Red Wings general manager told us this year that he doesn’t believe in being a buyer at the trade deadline and holding on to his unrestricted free agents unless he has a serious playoff contender on his hands.

You know, like the Bruins, who set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points — and still were eliminated in the first round.

And who did the Bruins lose to? Glad you asked. They lost at home in overtime of Game 7 to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers, the last time I checked, are an NHL team and not a Jimmy Buffett tribute band. They play in Sunrise, Florida, which sounds a lot more like a retirement community than a hockey hotbed.

And yet these mighty Panthers, who won a measly seven more games that Yzerman’s lowly Wings, and were the “worst” team to make the playoffs, somehow upset the Presidents’ Trophy champions.

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Ah, yes, the Presidents’ Trophy. It goes to the NHL team that finishes the regular season with the most points. You know, the team that’s a sure-fire Stanley Cup contender primed to make a run. In other words, the kind of team Yzerman practically demands to have before he’ll ever consider going all in at the trade deadline.

“And if I thought we were a Stanley Cup contender, I would not have traded our unrestricted free agents,” Yzerman said in March after he dealt Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek, Jakub Vrana and Oskar Sundqvist. “I would have continued to play it out and either try to continue to try to re-sign them or let it play out and sign them at the end of the year or say, ‘You know what? We’re making a run and whatever happens, happens.’ We’re not at that point yet.”

The big question is: When will Yzerman ever think the Wings are at that point?

Yzerman has been so deliberate in rebuilding the Wings, he makes Thanos’ acquisition of the Infinity Stones look like a rush job.

The greatest lesson of the Stanley Cup playoffs is that nothing is certain. It’s what makes the NHL postseason the best in pro sports. Anyone can win. Hot goalies, cold streaks, puck luck, untimely injuries, bad matchups, negligible home advantages. There are so many factors that lead to unpredictable results that records, seedings and perceived advantages are rendered almost meaningless. In these playoffs alone, the top seeds in each conference were eliminated in the first round. Three of the eight series went seven games and all but one series went at least six games.

As for the poor Bruins, well, it’s hockey, so you know there’s got to be a weird superstitious curse attached to their failure. And there is. The Presidents’ Trophy curse has afflicted the past 10 winners, with only the New York Rangers making it past the second round.

I’m sure Yzerman needs little reminding about the false hope that resides in winning the Presidents’ Trophy. After all, the Wings won it in 2005-06 and were promptly eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, which was Yzerman’s final season.

Having a good “playoff team” isn’t about regular-season hardware. It’s more than that. It’s a feeling you have to have about the players, the coach and the system. Yzerman and coach Derek Lalonde admitted they didn’t have that feeling about the Wings this season.

Yet the Wings proved good enough to be close to a playoff team. They held a wild-card spot on Feb. 23, a little more than a week before the trade deadline. I’m fairly confident the Wings would have made the playoffs if Yzerman hadn’t dealt so many key players at the deadline.

Now, because Yzerman didn’t believe his team was ready to make a playoff run, the Wings are sitting out the playoffs for a seventh straight year. For 25 consecutive seasons, the playoffs were a foregone conclusion around here, a rite of spring and a raucous ritual that shook the roof at Joe Louis Arena.

Now, because Yzerman didn’t believe his team was ready to squeak into the playoffs and take on a daunting contender like the Bruins, a team from Sunrise, Florida, that squeaked into the playoffs gets to chase frozen glory as Hockeytown sits and waits for its general manager to take his boldest step and finally believe in his team’s potential.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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