Detroit: Setting the Parameters of a Modern Day Dynasty

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Updated: June 2, 2013
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This is the second article in a series of articles looking at and analyzing the success of the last five teams to raise the Stanley Cup.  Be sure to read the first in the series, “Where Have all the Dynasties Gone?”.  The objective of this series is to search for the new magic formula to create a champion and whether that champion would be built to stand the test of time.

Today, we try to uncover what makes a modern day dynasty by analyzing the team that has come the closest to establishing a dynasty in the last 20 years of the National Hockey League – the Detroit Red Wings. 

History

Since 1930, the Detroit Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup 11 times. During the 20-year period of 1935 to 1955 the Wings made the Cup final 12 times and raised the Cup in 7 of those visits. There was little doubt that during that period of time Detroit would have been considered a dynasty.

However after 1955, dark years fell upon the Wings. During the 40-year period of 1955 to 1994 the Wings would only manage to make the Cup final 5 times and would not raise the Cup during that period.

This brings us to the current club, the era I refer to as the post-Steve Yzerman draft years. During the 18-year period between 1995 and 2013 the Wings have made the Cup finals 6 times and have won the Cup on 4 occasions. Even though Chicago eliminated the Wings in game 7 of the conference semi-finals last week, this season represents the 22nd  straight season the Wings have made the play-offs, which is the longest current streak of any NHL team.

So how does a team manage to continue at such a high level of play when it has not had a top 10 pick in the NHL draft since they selected Martin Lapointe 10th in the 1991 entry draft? The answer to that question is drafting smartly, create an organization where players want to play, provide a good mix of veterans and youth, and strong leadership.

Drafting

Earlier on I mentioned that this was the post-Steve Yzerman draft team, and there is a reason for that. Steve Yzerman was selected with the 4th overall pick in the 1983 draft. Over the following 10 seasons Detroit would exercise a pick in the top 10 five different times. However, what is more telling for this franchise is what they have done with its picks post first round. Using 3 seasons, or 250 NHL games played as a successful draft bar, the Detroit Red Wings have been very successful. In 1983 Detroit drafted 5 other players (other than Yzerman) that met that mark, 2 more in 1984, 4 players in 1985 and 4 players in 1986. Over the following 6 seasons the Wings would draft 13 players to meet that threshold. So over a period of 10 years of drafting the Red Wings drafted 22 players who had an NHL career of more than 250 games. That is almost a complete roster of NHL players.

In addition to the 5 players to reach that bar in 1983 with Steve Yzerman, the 1989 draft stands out as one of the best drafts by any club in NHL history. In 1989 the Wings would end up drafting 4 players who enjoyed NHL careers of over 1000 games and two of which will be strongly considered for the Hall of Fame, and two other players who enjoyed careers of over 400 games (one of which may have made the 1000 game mark if it was not for a tragic car accident).

The interesting part of this draft is that Mike Sillinger, taken by Detroit that year in the first round, and a good player, would likely be rated as the 4th best player drafted by Detroit that year. Detroit followed Sillinger with Bob Boughner, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Federov, Dallas Drake and Vladamir Konstantinov in the draft.

Home Sweet Home

Very few teams in the NHL have created an environment such as the Wings have in Detroit. However, it is out of necessity.  No offense is meant to the residents of Detroit, but it is a city that has greater difficulty in attracting people from around the world such as a New York. Yet the Wings have been able to not only attract and retain players, but to do so at hometown discounts even when the player is not considered hometown.  In creating a family based environment around the team, the Wings have not been as ravaged by free agency as other top teams have been shortly after achieving team success.

The Drafting comes in here too.  Even when hit by free agency defections such as when Sergei Fedorov left for the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks, or when the team allowed Brendan Shanahan to leave, or when Yzerman retired, the Wings were able to find replacements.  The Fedorov-Yzerman one two punch slowly morphed into the Datsyuk-Zetterberg combination.  And bargain free agents like Danny Cleary have played key roles.

Part of the draw is success. Players are attracted to the prospect of being able to play in the play-offs, and over the past 21 seasons there has only been one team to make the post season in each of them. Part of it is giving players the ability to play with the best. Beyond Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, it would be hard to argue that there has been another player as great as Steve Yzerman during his playing career, and even harder to name a defenseman as dominant in the game as Nicklas Lidstrom was during his career.

Finally, part of it is going out and getting specific players and letting them play their game. An example of this was its acquisition of Kris Draper. Draper who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets 62nd overall in 1989 saw action in only 20 games over the first 4 years of his career, and was sold by the Jets to the Wings for $1. Once thought to be a high scoring prospect who was clearly not living up to that billing, the Wings acquired Draper and allowed him to grow and become one of the best two-way forwards in the game.

Leadership

There is little doubt that the Wings have had an abundance of leadership that starts on the ice and goes all the way up into the ownership box.

In addition to being considered some of the best players of their time, Yzerman and Lidstrom were great leaders on the ice. These two gentlemen only had to step onto the ice to lead the team, they did not lead by leading cheers, but by example. From 1986 through 2012 either Yzerman or Lidstrom wore the “C” for the Wings adding a depth of consistency.

Over the same period of time the Wings were led from the bench by the likes of hall of famer Scotty Bowman and current bench boss Mike Babcock, who joined Scotty Bowman as one of the fastest 3 coaches to reach 400 career coaching victories.

For the past 30 years Ken Holland has been a part of the Red Wings organization, and the team’s general manager since 1997. Over his general manager tenure the Wings have never missed the post-season, won the Presidents trophy 4 times, made the Stanley Cup finals 4 times and won 3 Stanley Cups. All of this was accomplished while never being able to pick higher than 19th in the NHL entry draft over his tenure.  SportsIllustrated.com named Holland the General Manager of the decade (2000-2009).

Hall of fame builder Mike Illitch owns the club. Illitch bought the struggling franchise in 1982 that had only made the play-offs in 2 of the previous 15 seasons. In his first 20 years as owner, the Wings won 9 divisional titles and 3 Stanley Cups.

Right Mix at Right time

As outlined earlier in this article, the Wings have been very good at adding youth to the line-up through smart drafting. The one thing that separates Detroit from other franchises is its uncanny ability to surround that youth with key veterans when needed.

Leading up to its first Cup win of this era the Wings added players like Igor Larianov, Slava Fetisov, Mike Vernon, Brendan Shanahan and Larry Murphy to complement its home grown talent and youth. Leading up to the 2001-2002 Cup win the Wings added Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull to complement young call ups like Datsyuk. Part of this can be attributed to smart drafting as it allows the club to stock pile prospects that can be used to trade for the right players. Another part can be attributed to creating a place where players want to play.

Success

Whether you consider the Detroit Red Wings era that stems from 1983 to present a dynasty or not, one cannot question the success of the franchise over that period. The numbers speak for themselves; 21 straight trips to the play-offs and 4 Stanley Cups to name only a few of the franchise’s accomplishments. The Wings have drafted smartly, created an organization where players want to play, provided a good mix of veterans and youth and have had consistently strong leadership from top, down. They have the numbers and attributes any team would strive towards, and are a modern day benchmark.

Thanks for reading.  Be sure to check back tomorrow for the third installment in this series, “Detroit: End of an Era?”.   As always, feel free to leave comments below and follow me our hockey department on twitter @IswearGaa@lastwordBKerr@BigMick99, and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.

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