VANCOUVER - General manager Ken Holland doesn't like the situation the Red Wings are in but is preparing for the future.
Despite Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks, the Wings remain in last place in the Atlantic Division and second to last place in the Eastern Conference.
"Obviously, you look at the standings, we're 9-10 points out of a playoff spot, with 20-21 games to go in the season," Holland said during a post-trade deadline conference call. "The trade deadline we had some decisions to make, we had some unrestricted free agents."
Holland traded unrestricted free agents Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers Tuesday morning, Steve Ott to the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night and Thomas Vanek to the Florida Panthers Wednesday morning.
"I look upon this year as an opportunity to acquire some draft picks, which is not only players at the draft but maybe some of these picks somewhere down the road could factor into a future trade," Holland said.
Holland also traded restricted free agent Tomas Jurco to the Chicago Blackhawks last week.
"We've got 11 picks in 2017," Holland said. "We've got an extra second-round pick in 2018, which is looking like it should be a deeper draft than this year. I also think every draft, players come out of the second, third and fourth rounds. We've got more spins of the wheel."
The Wings have barely made the playoffs the last few seasons and despite the departure of veteran center Pavel Datsyuk for Russia, they hoped to still be in the mix.
"To this point in time it's been a very disappointing season," Holland said. "I expected more, I expected we'd be in the thick of things. I didn't know if we'd be in the playoffs or not. When you look at the standings in our division and in the Eastern Conference, there's lots of teams, some of them are going to miss the playoffs by a point or two and some of them are going to get in by a point or two. I thought that we'd be in the thick of things and we're probably three or four wins away from being in the thick of things. That's the fine line of the league."
Although Holland and coach Jeff Blashill do not blame the disappointing season on injuries, the Wings have had more than their share.
According to mangameslost.com, the Wings had lost 354 man games to injury through Feb. 25, more than any other team in the league.
It's not inconceivable to think that goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had league-leading numbers in goals-against average and save percentage when he went down with a knee injury, could have helped them win three or four more games.
Also a factor is the fact that because the Wings were buyers at the trade deadline for so many years, they gave up some young players and draft picks that could have bolstered them now.
"Those first-round picks you're talking about was (Anders) Eriksson and two first-round picks for Chris Chelios," Holland said. "I'd do that again. It was 10 years. He helped us win a Cup in '02, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. He helped us win the Cup in '08 and not only did he help us win but he helped the culture continue on. We traded a first-round pick as part of a package for Dom Hasek. I'd do that again. He helped us win the Cup in '02 and because we built that relationship, he came back and helped us go on runs in '07 and '08 and go to the finals and win a Cup. We traded a first round pick as part of a package for Mathieu Schneider and he helped us keep the program going. He was a good fit for Nick Lidstrom. We traded a second round pick for Brad Stuart, who helped us win the Cup in 2008 and helped us go on that run.
"Fast forward to where we are this year, all those decisions that we made, I'd do them all over again to get four Stanley Cups, six Presidents' Trophies and to get into the playoffs 25 straight years and everything that's gone on."
Making the playoffs for 25 straight seasons also means the Wings have not drafted in the top 10 since selecting Martin Lapointe with the 10th overall pick in 1991.
The last time they had a top-five pick was in 1990 when they chose Keith Primeau with the third overall pick.
The Wings were ahead of the game when it came to drafting European players but these days there's no way a Lidstrom lasts until the third round as he did in 1989.
But Holland believes that there are players in the system now who could play in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.
"We've got some players in Grand Rapids that we think are not very far away," Holland said. "We've got some players that are doing wonderful things in junior, Filip Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi, among others. You're dealing with 18-year-old kids. It's on odds. We've got to continue to draft, develop and push these players through the system and hope that some of them become way better than where we pick them in the draft."
Even with a plethora of picks, that doesn't mean that all of them will make the NHL.
The 1989 draft stands out as six players had successful NHL careers.
Mike Sillinger (first round), Bob Boughner (second round), Lidstrom (third round), Sergei Fedorov (fourth round), Dallas Drake (sixth round) and Vladimir Konstantinov (11th round) all had an impact.
In 1991, each of the Wings' first four picks - Lapointe, Jamie Pushor, Chris Osgood and Mike Knuble - played more than 500 games.
"I think if you get three regular NHL players you'd be tickled pink," Holland said. "Next year we've got two seconds and a first so hopefully over the next couple of drafts here that there's going to be four or five of these picks are going to be players for the Red Wings down the road."
Despite the trades of Jurco, Smith, Ott and Vanek, the Wings aren't calling it a season yet.
"Our players' goal, our coaches' goal, my goal is let's win the game in Calgary on Friday night and jump on a plane and go to Edmonton," Holland said. "We've won three of the last four. Our guys want to go down swinging. They want to win some games. I think everybody understands the enormity of the situation, where we're in. We've got a mountain to climb. It's not only that we're (nine) points back, we've got to climb over seven teams. But I think when you're a professional athlete and in professional sports, you want to try to win. That's the mentality of athletics.
"I want our players to push to win."