The Detroit Red Wings are on the verge of doing something special. No, it’s not a fourth Cup in eleven years. It’s a triumph over those that doubted the Wings could succeed with a limited payroll.
Since the inception of the Salary Cap in 2005, many analysts and fellow NHL GM’s predicted the Red Wings would fall on harsh times.
One general manager in particular told Wings GM Ken Holland that it would be nice to finally compete on an even playing field with the Wings; insinuating that Detroit would struggle with a limit on spending.
How did that GM’s fortunes play out? His team missed the playoffs while Detroit won the President’s Trophy.
For years, fans and hockey executives alike believed that Detroit built their championship teams from the bank out; buying every free agent free-spending owner Mike Illitch could afford.
While the Red Wings certainly enjoyed a payroll that a great majority of teams could only dream about, it was their work on and off the ice that kept this team in the hunt for nearly two decades.
On their Stanley Cup winning 1997 roster, the Wings had 15 players whom they drafted and developed, many of which are or were all-stars. That also doesn’t include Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, who were throw away players from Winnipeg and Edmonton respectively. In Draper's case he was acquired from the Jets for one dollar.
The other two Cup winning squads, in 1998 and 2002, also included 12 drafted players; most of them core components.
Not only have the Wings been successful in the locker room, but the boardroom as well.
Illitch might be handcuffed with his payroll spending, but not a penny is spared outside the rink. He stole Jimmy Devellano, one of the men responsible for the dynasty that was the New York Islanders, and has kept him on board since 1983.
Illitch had retained the services of one of the brightest hockey minds in Scotty Bowman. Steve Yzerman has continued serving the team off the ice, and the dynamic duo of Ken Holland and assistant GM, Jim Nill has remained in tact for several years now.
And I haven’t even mentioned their scouting team, led by uber-European scout, Hakan Andersson—the man responsible for draft picks such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
But that’s neither here nor there. Those who want to believe that Detroit bought every Cup they won in the modern era will continue to do so without looking at facts.
It’s for this reason, if the Wings were to capture Lord Stanley’s prize this year, it would be a very satisfying victory for Wings fans and especially Detroit’s executives who are as a cohesive as the players they helped draft and sign.
No longer can anyone claim their championship was bought and paid for. All 30 teams are working with the same restrictions. While teams, who enjoyed success with similar, bloated payrolls pre-lockout, struggled to make playoffs under the current CBA, the Wings have continued their winnings ways in the same manor in which they operated prior to the work stoppage; with precision signings, superb drafting and having the right people running the ship.
There’s a reason why the Wings are hated just as much as they are loved. Jealousy will usually do that to people.
Regardless if the Wings win the Cup this spring, notice has been served to the rest of the NHL; you can place restrictions on monetary resources but there is no limit for excellence when paired with intelligent executives and an owner committed to winning.