It was a question many fans and teams alike asked themselves every time they saw the Detroit Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup from 1997 to 2008: When will it be our turn?
Indeed, the Los Angeles Kings were certainly one of those teams, as their franchise was staring down the barrel of middle age (the Kings were born in 1967) in 2012 without a single Stanley Cup banner hanging inside the Staples Center.
Now, the Kings will be making space for yet another championship banner and, given the youth and talent leading the team, may be well served by planning for one or two more over the next several years.
Just a few seasons ago, the very thought that a team like the Detroit Red Wings would be looking at a team like the Los Angeles Kings with envious eyes seemed comical, if not outlandish.
However, that’s exactly the position Detroit’s hockey team finds itself in at the moment—on the outside looking in and searching for a way through to a championship.
Still, few teams are better positioned to find that way quickly than the Red Wings.
Indeed, Bleacher Report’s own Jonathan Willis ranks the Red Wings in seventh place among all 30 NHL teams when looking at odds for winning the Cup in 2015. This positioning seems rather optimistic but not entirely inaccurate.
With leadership in captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, young, explosive talent in Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, rock-solid ownership in Mike and Marian Ilitch and, for now, a general manager/coaching tandem of Ken Holland and Mike Babcock, the Red Wings organization knows more about how to win than any other hockey club in the NHL.
Granted, there are large question marks as well.
A career-worst performance by starting goalie Jimmy Howard this season has not helped him make a case that he’s got what it takes to lead the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup. To be fair, one bad season does not define a career. However, until he backstops the Red Wings to an Eastern Conference Final—at minimum—his ability to be the definitive answer in net in Detroit will remain in question.
Additionally, Detroit’s young blue line will need to mature quickly and add a piece or two over the summer to compete against the league’s most dangerous offensive players.
Finally, the nearly fatal injury epidemic that swept through Detroit last season will need to be completely avoided if the Red Wings are to build in the kind of consistency and chemistry needed to embark on a long playoff run.
So, let’s assume those questions get answered.
Let’s assume Howard returns to form and turns in another 35-plus win performance next season. Let’s assume that young defenders like Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser take a big step forward in their development. Let’s take for granted that the Red Wings land a free agent of the likes of Matt Niskanen or Anton Stralman to bolster the blue line. To top it off, let’s assume the Red Wings stay completely healthy and ice a reliably effective lineup throughout the season.
Taking all these assumptions into account, what chance would this team have at winning the Cup next season?
As long as we’re assuming, the reasonably safe bet that these three teams will be heavily favored to win it all in 2015—referencing Willis’ article, these teams round out his top three picks as 2015 champions—should be made in assessing the Red Wings' chances of doing the same.
All things being equal, even a healthy and productive Red Wings roster may not be enough to topple a punishingly physical Boston Bruins squad in an Eastern Conference Final. Nor does the best-possible version of the Red Wings seem fully capable of outscoring a younger and faster team in the Chicago Blackhawks. Finally, if not the Blackhawks, the Red Wings would need to find a way to take four games from a Los Angeles Kings squad that features a terrifying combination of size, speed, patience and skill.
If and until the Red Wings can honestly say they’ve got what it takes to beat teams like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, any talk of Stanley Cup contention will be exactly that—talk.
For those who have followed the Red Wings for the past two decades, the irony of this situation is impossible to miss.
For years, other NHL teams measured their championship chances by how well-positioned they were to beat the Red Wings. Now, those tables have been turned, and Detroit must ask itself the same question—albeit three times over.