Detroit Red Wings: 7 Reasons They're NHL's Most Dominant over Last 15 Years
Since 1997, they have won four Stanley Cups, eight Central Divisions and four President Trophies. They have won the most regular- and postseason games since then as well.
How does a team stay at the top for so long?
The team has seen great players like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan move on or retire, yet they have been able to replace them with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
In fact, only Tomas Holmstrom and Nick Lidstrom are still with the team from that 1997 championship. Those two players, as well as Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, were the only players to play on all four of the most recent Red Wing championship teams.
It takes a very good organization to be able to retool so much of a roster and still maintain their place among the elite of the NHL.
How do they do it?
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It all starts with the man paying the bills. He bought the team in 1982 and quickly dragged them out of the dead-wings era.
He has wisely surrounded himself with some of the best minds in hockey. From front-office types such as Jimmy Devallano and Ken Holland to coaches Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock to scouts like Hakan Andersson, some of the best minds in hockey have resided in Detroit.
During the high-spending pre-cap days, he was never afraid to open his wallet to bring in free agents or to sign his own players. Many around the league thought it was money only that made the team run, but once the salary-cap era began, the team did not miss a step.
They have maintained their perch among the elite of the NHL.
Since Illitch bought the team, they have been to six finals—winning four—and are currently on a 20-year streak of making the playoffs.
He did not disappoint, as the team won the Central division in his first season and then reached the finals in his second season.
He brought an entirely different mentality to the team. Once a high-scoring team, Bowman brought a new defensive mentality with him. It started with him transforming Steve Yzerman, who had surpassed the 50-goal mark in five of the previous six seasons, into a two-way player.
It is not easy to convince a superstar to alter their game like that, and most coaches would never even think of doing it.
The team saw quick success, which helped everyone to buy into Bowman’s ideology. He would go on to win three Stanley Cups with the team before retiring from coaching. His defensive-minded approach can still be seen on the team today and on players whom had learned from him.
Thomas Holmstrom is just one player who made a mark in the league because of Bowman. It was Bowman who had him play in front of the net and pester goalies. It’s not often that a player can go from a fourth-line grinder to playing on the top line when they are not the greatest skater or scorer. It was Bowman who tapped into the talent he had.
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Ken Holland has been the general manager since 1997, but he has served the team in various roles, including goaltending coach and scouting director, for 10 years before that.
He learned from Jimmy Devallano and has excelled in his position. He made the transition from the free-spending days to the new salary-cap era look effortless.
Many people had predicted Detroit’s demise when the cap came in, but Holland was able to keep Detroit at the top of the NHL as a consistent Stanley Cup contender.
He has an incredible eye for talent and has drafted many players that other teams would not. He also has done a great job of bringing in players via free agency and trades.
He has been wisely able to build a talented team while still having wiggle-room under the cap in case a midseason trade is needed. The team currently sits over $5-million below the cap right now. This has the team ready to make midseason moves or wait until the offseason.
The flexibility of the team is a tremendous asset.
Steve Yzerman to Nick Lidstrom
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Beyond who owns, coaches or runs the front office, the players in the locker room are the ones who make things work. The Detroit Red Wings have been blessed to have two of the most stand-up captains in sports history over this time frame.
Steve Yzerman may well go down as the best captain in hockey history. He not only led by the stats he put up on the ice but also how he conducted himself off of it. Few players at any level—let alone the team captain—would have altered their game for the team the way Yzerman did.
He had been on a six-year streak with at least 45 goals each season—including two with over 60—when new-coach Scotty Bowman asked him to change his game. He did so and never topped 35 goals again in his career. But he became one of the best two-way forwards in the game and even won a Selke Award for his efforts.
Nick Lidstrom is widely considered one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. He took over as the team captain when Yzerman retired and continued with the same type of leadership that Yzerman had.
Both of these players displayed impeccable character and leadership qualities that have helped this team maintain its success.
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Steve Yzerman's contribution and change in style has already been covered, but it applies here as well.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are current examples of this. They could each have many more goals to their credit, but they instead play with such an unselfishness style; they are just as quick to setup a teammate as they are themselves.
By having star players willing to be true team players, it makes the rest of the team better. No one player holds themselves above the team. When the star players are willing to go the extra mile, when they are willing to play the entire ice, when they will do whatever it takes to win, it creates a tremendous team spirit among the entire locker room.
That spirit and energy is what has the team near the top of offensive and defensive stats in most seasons. It starts with leadership and spreads throughout the entire team.
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Chris Osgood, you say.
Ozzie may go down as one of the most under-appreciated players in all of sports. The team and fans always kept looking around the league and drooling over some other goalie. It was rough in that he played during the same time as Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek—three of the greatest goalies ever.
While he wasn’t as flashy or brash as any of them, he could hold his own.
He has a better win percentage then both Hasek and Roy, more wins than Hasek and a better career goals-against average than Roy.
The difference is that Osgood never made near the amount of money as these goalies did. Since 1997, he averaged $1.6 million while with the Red Wings. Among the other three goalies, Brodeur’s $4.9-million average is the next closest. This means that the team didn’t have to invest so much cash into one position.
Hasek won a cup with Detroit. The other two goalies were able to win cups as well, but their teams were not able to sustain anywhere near as long of a success streak as Detroit. The Red Wings were able to get solid goaltending for a much lower cost than other top teams. This meant that they could spend their money elsewhere and keep top-level talent.
Beyond his contract, he also was able to put the team first in several instances where other goalies would have made waves and possible hurt the team.
Despite success in his first two seasons, once the playoffs rolled around, coach Scotty Bowman decided to go with a more veteran player in net and Mike Vernon. Osgood could have complained, but he didn’t.
Again, when the team decided to bring in other goalies and even eventually let Osgood go, he did not attack the team. When he returned to Detroit and had to endure the Hasek saga, he again maintained his composure. He ended up rescuing the team in the 2008 playoffs when Hasek was not playing well. He helped the team win another Stanley Cup.
He ended his career as a mentor for current goalie Jimmy Howard. He not only helped with the physical elements of the game, but also with the mindset and other challenges that goalies face. Howard has learned the lesson well; he's off to one of the fastest starts that a Detroit goalie has ever had to begin their career.
His willingness to not only put the team first but to still maintain such a high level of play helped the team in the locker room by keeping a positive attitude.
It also helped on the ice, as they were able to focus on other areas of need, and his play allowed them to be one of the top defensive teams for many years.
Andersson is in charge of the Wings' European scouting. He has been credited with discovering so many of Detroit’s talented players. He has a keen eye for hockey talent, as well as a willingness to travel to remote locations to find players.
As he moved up the Wings ranks, he showed an amazing ability to find talent.
The team offered him the opportunity to have complete control of their tenth pick in the 1994 draft. He selected Tomas Holmstrom with his pick.
Other teams did not even have him on their draft board, and yet he has been a key player on the Wings' four Stanley Cup wins since he was drafted.
Beyond Holmstrom, he also is responsible for discovering Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Filppula, Kronwall and Ericsson, just to name a few.
With the success that the Wings have had, they are not drafting at the top of the draft. The players have been selected deep into the draft.