The Constant Gardener

When I moved into my current residence last year, our landlord was busy showing us all of the great features of the house when I happened upon a large, raised planting bed on the front patio. Prior to that point, there’s nothing in my history to indicate that I would be a prime candidate for a “green thumb,” so when he asked if we would like it removed for more space, my answer of “No” surprised even me. I don’t know what came over me, but the bed remained and off I went to start growing all kinds of different plants – peas, corn, sunflowers, pumpkins. For a person with limited gardening experience, I learned one thing rather quickly: results take time. I’d come home from work every night and look to see if there was a sprout; for the first week I was very disappointed. But then, something happened. The plants started growing and they started growing quickly. It was amazing to watch and realize that all it took was some dirt and a seed to create life. Every day I’d check on the growth and every day I’d be amazed at the progress. Naturally, ego took over and I began to see myself as a regular gardener, capable of growing an amazing assortment of vegetables and plants despite my limited investment in the art prior to this endeavor. I was…cocky.

Of course, my gardening dreams came crashing down to Earth about four weeks into the project when I could no longer discern whether the plants were actually growing. Naturally, I began to panic. Was I doing something wrong? Was I over watering? Were the plants not getting enough sun? Were the soil levels off? I was flummoxed and I didn’t really know what to do. So I began overcompensating and trying everything in my power to get my plants back to their earlier state. Of course, this only made things worse, and as the thing was slowly slipping through my fingers, I realized I had no idea how to get back on course. So, reluctantly, I called up a friend who had experience in these matters and relayed my problems to him. After patiently listening to my conundrum and probably laughing at me a bit on the inside, he simply looked at me and gave me the best piece of advice anyone could give to a novice: “Sometimes, you just have to trust the system and stay the course. If you’ve prepared properly, the results will come.”

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Mike Babcock is the gardener of the Red Wings. He waters the plants. He prunes the leaves. He pulls the weeds. He’s the man charged with growing the seeds he’s been given, and right now, he looks about as confused as I did when my plants stopped growing. Over the last four games, we’ve seen his lines go into a blender and come out as a pureed mess of low scoring and losses on the scoreboard, and it’s frustrating to watch. And while the lack of the Wings success over the last five games can’t be blamed completely on Babcock, it’s tough to watch him grasp at straws at a time where consistency should be a priority. Yes, we all want the Wings to get wins, but I’d be OK trading losses for consistency and chemistry across the lineup. Of course, a hot start sets expectations at unmanageable levels, but when the losses start piling up and the coaching staff looks just as confused, it’s up to the head man to keep it under control. That’s not happening.

Let’s be honest: This turbulence early in the season should have been expected. Between roster turnover and bringing two new assistants on board, there was bound to be a learning curve for this group of Red Wings. Everyone needs a rhythm, and contrary to the start of this season, a team of new faces and new leaders doesn’t usually hit the ground running and keep on cruising without issue. But instead of sticking with the plan and tweaking the system around the players and lines in place, Babcock and his leadership group made the age-old blender blunder and tried to force the issue. When that didn’t work, they even went as far to bring a first year pro up to the big club to try and use that as a jump start for a sluggish offensive motor. And – with all due respect to Gustav Nyquist – bringing him up was not the answer to the Red Wings problems. Nyquist looked like the rookie he is, spending time on his back after a hit and generally following Todd Bertuzzi around the ice and making life easier on defenders. Yes, it was his first NHL game and I’m sure he was nervous as hell, but he was no better than Jiri Hudler would have been, and was most likely worse than Scuttles out there. Again, folks will put the blinders on and say it was just a rookie trying to fit in and that all the penalties did him no favors, and there’s definitely some truth to that. But don’t kid yourselves either: Nyquist looked undersized and needs more time to develop into a full time player. He has all the skill in the world and he’s got a bright future in Detroit. I just don’t think it’s right now. He’ll get better with more playing time, but only if the Wings keep him up with the club and regularly dress him. Do we REALLY think that is going to happen? I digress.

Quite simply, Mike Babcock needs to take a step back and get back to strategy. Stop worrying  about jump starting the offense by mixing up the lines and trust your assistants to find ways to get players in the right place to create opportunity. Gameplan for the opponent and give the players the opportunity to play in a regular system with regular linemates. As Malik said last night, this thing IS fixable based on what we saw early in the season, but implementing those fixes begins and ends with Mike Babcock. If there’s a hole on the ship, fix it. Don’t just shuffle the chairs around on the deck and call it good. The Wings have all the potential in the world, but let’s not forget that they too are human and value things like trust and camaraderie, from the locker room to their linemates.

Of course, Babcock and company could just chalk this up to “experimentation” and “trying things out” during the early part of the season, which does make sense. But ten games in, the Wings are still searching for answers on the scoreboard and maybe it’s time to go back to the script and start providing some stability. Sometimes, you just have to trust the system and stay the course. If you’ve prepared properly, the results will come.

The Wings have prepared properly. It’s time to put the ship back on the original heading and trust the course they’ve charted. The waters will get smoother, but only if the team continues to push through and only if the captain of the ship trusts his gut and the gut of his officers.

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