The past 10-15 years, the Detroit Red Wings have had absolutely no problems in the regular season. Time and time again, we've seen quite historic 82 game runs that have concluded with every honor a professional hockey team can get, everything but a Stanley Cup, that is. Do not get me wrong, I'm undoubtedly one of the Wing's biggest fans, and I am more than satisfied with three, that's right, three Stanley Cups in the last decade. It's just that as a fan of the Winged Wheel, it's just as easy to cringe this time of year as it is to get all fired up about some ridiculous sixteen game sweep of the NHL enroute to hockey's "Holy Grail." It's time for me to start digging through my artifactual mind of useless hockey knowledge to perfectly align the stars above the Joe Louis Arena this spring.
Ok fellow Wing nuts, here's your golden opportunity to pick my mind:
Last year, the Wings were definitely going to win the Cup. It didn't matter what Barry Melrose said about the Sharks and the Ducks. All that mattered was that goaltender Dominik Hasek had yet to lose a best-of-seven playoff series with a red and white sweater on.
The year before that I was really stretching! I told myself time and time again, "We will definitely send the 'Captain' out on the right note." That didn't seem to be enough, so I continually preached to my friends that it was a winter Olympic year, and the Red Wings had taken the prize in each of the last two seasons in which their was a winter olympiad. Those of course being the 1998 season grouped with the Tokyo games, and the 2002 season grouped with the Salt Lake City games. This still wasn't enough though. As I watched number 19 exit the rink in Edmonton through the zamboni doorway, I small tear fell from my eye. Okay it was a little worse than that. I almost submitted myself to the local hospital to be treated for severe dehydration. The bottom line was that it was the end of an era, the turning of a page. A door was closing, and the man/legend who was responsible for ending Hockeytown's forty-two year drought was on the wrong side of it. What was to come of the Detroit Red Wings?
I had utterly failed to notice that while one door was closing, multiple new ones would ajar. The likes of Mike Babcock, Nicklas Lidstrom wearing the 'C', Datsyuk and Zetterberg maturing, and my favorite of them all, Steve Yzerman, filling a front office position. So now, one year after a disappointing loss in the Western Conference Finals, in which I believe the Wings were 48 seconds from advancing, I look for the signals. I find the lucky shirt and jersey, and break in a new spot on the couch. So why will the Wings win it all this year?
For the first time this millenium, although they will indeed win the Presiden't Trophy, the Red Wings don't seem to be the favorite entering the playoffs. Seems ridiculous right? It's true, rather than banking on the boy's regular season success, the critics are placing their bets elsewhere this year. The Ducks are way too big and far too tough for the Wings. The Sharks are as fast as the Wings, and three times their size. The Stars made all the right moves at the deadline, while the Wings lay dormant like a sleeping volcano. An eight seed will have already been engaged in playoff hockey for month and will be much more prepared than the Detroit Red Wings. Maybe this is a good thing. Hank has a bad back as it is, he doesn't need the added pressure. So what's the key this year?
The Red Wings had a month of February that highly resembled the jurassic era, back before Illitch acquired that fine young player from the Peterborough Petes junior team. Hockey fans refer to this as the "Dead Wings" era. The team piled up losing streaks, posting negative highs that the Motor City faithful hadn't seen in almost 20 years. At one point during the February skid the Wings had lost as many as seven games, and a lot of hype and support.
Why was I so confident that this was the year? They hadn't yet lost the faith of their coach or their general manager, Ken Holland. Why would a team playing that bad not make a major move at the deadline? Simple answer, you don't fix something that isn't broke. The Wings were definitely bending, but remained far from the breaking point. Ken Holland saw much of the same things I did. He saw a team with four of six defenseman being AHL regulars, but they still competed. They suffered a lot of close losses.
Now, imagine removing Anaheim's top four experience defenseman. No Captain Scott, no Pronger, no Schneider. I'd guess that team would finish along the lines of 10-72 or something like that.
The Wings have seen the best case scenario and the worse case scenario, and they are still hammering out victories like one of the old Bowman teams would've done, so why will the Wings win it all this year? Not because of some fluke statistic, or freakish absurd astrological calling, but the fact that they have looked the greatest amount of adversity right in the eyes and overcame it. As a team, they walked into the fiery depths of the hockey world and emerged out the other side losing nothing at all. Except a jaw-bone and about 10,000 games worth of veteran experience somewhere in the middle.
And so, I conclude at an equation more fit than a jig-saw puzzle. Detroit Red Wings+President's Trophy=Stanley Cup.
P.S. Dating back to the Red Wings 2002 Cup victory, either the Red Wings, or the teams that defeated them have wound up representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Just thought you should know.