In today’s NHL, it is harder for teams to repeat success than in previous decades. Before the salary cap era, teams were able to spend as much as they wanted, and the best players often went to the team that tossed them oodles and oodles of cash. Those were the good days for robber barons like Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather, but times changed after the lockout of 2004-05.
Free agency today involves the equalizer of the salary cap, and in order to generate playoff success year after year, the key is to build smart. Every team gets the same amount to spend, and like a game of Monopoly, investing strategically will often lead to success. Well, unless you are playing Monopoly with Bernie Madoff, but that’s a story for a different day.
When you look at the Detroit Red Wings’ Ken Holland and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stan Bowman, there is a lot of common ground, and that includes championship success, consistency and roster construction.
Both are executives at the top of a pyramid of teams that have found ways to be successful in a league full of parity, and neither has had to ponder their job security in recent years. Both have also been very lucky to have two coaches over the last few years who will likely end up in the Hall of Fame at some point.
In one corner is Joel Quenneville, a coach who needs no introduction, but you will get one anyway. Quenneville is a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He won as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, and he was behind the bench for Chicago in 2009-10 and 2012-13. He has a Jack Adams Award and over 700 career victories as a head coach.
Then there is Mike Babcock, a surly veteran bench boss who has one title to his name. But he was behind the bench for Anaheim in 2002-03, when the Mighty Ducks were dispatched by the New Jersey Devils in the Cup Final.
He’s done just about everything but win the Jack Adams, and it is a crime he was snubbed last season after leading the Grand Rapids Griffins to the playoffs.
Both coaches have been great for their respective teams, but it goes back to the direction that is sent on down from ownership and each general manager.
Both GMs realize that to be successful today, teams need to build through the draft, spend smart in free agency and make smart trades that involve depleting a surplus to fill a hole. It is a basic strategy that the Wings and Hawks have followed religiously.
The Blackhawks are going to endure a cap crunch after this season, but they had a similar issue after winning their first Cup, and look how they bounced back. In addition, no fan should be mad if fan favorites are sent out of town, because the Hawks are a perennial contender that won two Stanley Cups in four seasons.
The Blackhawks are who they are because of draft studs like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and budding star Brandon Saad, among others.
Key additions such as Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have played sizable roles, and both were underrated acquisitions. The team has also been successful in spite of Corey Crawford from time to time, and that just speaks to the overall build of the roster.
The Red Wings have Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist and a myriad of other younger players acquired through the draft. In years past, Holland made some trades and signings that bolstered the roster, but these days, the Wings are all-natural and homegrown.
Their farming of prospects is second to none in the NHL, and it has allowed the team to continually rebuild on the fly and make the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons.
It is a staggering statistic, because every year there are a few outliers that buck the trend and knock a playoff regular out of the picture. While that has gone on and will go on for the rest of time, it hasn’t affected the Wings or Blackhawks for quite some time.
There are currently six teams that have made the playoffs for five or more consecutive seasons. In order, they are the Wings, the San Jose Sharks at 10, the Pittsburgh Penguins at eight, the Boston Bruins at seven, the Blackhawks at six and finally the Los Angeles Kings at five.
That group also happens to contain the last seven winners of the Stanley Cup. You may say that this statistic pokes a hole in the notion that there is parity in the NHL, and you would be right.
However, no one team wins the Stanley Cup year after year, even though some have hit the jackpot more than once.
No team has won back-to-back titles since the Red Wings did in 1997 and 1998, and since the lockout, only the Blackhawks and Kings have won multiple titles. While both stand a chance to win again in the coming seasons, the current system certainly is designed to help different teams win.
In essence, the Red Wings and Blackhawks are the same team, but each one is at different points on an arc of development and dominance.
The Hawks' rise to prominence started six seasons ago, and during that time period, the Wings were still riding high. It also came during a time in which a new owner breathed life into the team—similar to what Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch did back in 1982.
Over the last six years, the Blackhawks have been slowly building into a similar class that the Wings maintained for the majority of the late 1990s and 2000s.
If there was a team that would become the new Red Wings when it comes to continual playoff success, the Blackhawks would certainly be a top contender. All good things come to an end, and that may be happening for Detroit soon, but as long as Ken Holland is at the helm, the team will be in good hands. It may take some time, but Detroit isn’t going to slowly wallow in mediocrity.
It may not appear to be the case by just taking a quick glance, but after reviewing all the facts, it is more apparent that both teams share more common ground than differences.
This is the year that many experts have predicted the Wings to finally miss the playoffs, but a strong showing against Chicago may change the conversation a bit.
Only time will tell, but Friday's matchup will certainly pit two good teams heading in different directions against each other, and it will provide Detroit a good chance to test its mettle early in 2014-15.