Wings chase history
Wishing upon a star, perhaps, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim whipped out some of their Disney magic and performed the improbable by sweeping the defending Stanley Cup champions out of the Playoffs. While the imagination to write such a script certainly resides in Hollywood, few in the hockey world would've considered it believable enough to make a movie out of it.
But, for the first time in 51 years, the defending Stanley Cup champion was swept out of the playoffs in the first round. So the question must be asked: Are the Red Wings still a dynasty?
We're not just talking about winning the 2004 Stanley Cup here. No, we're talking about whether the Wings have what it takes to join the pantheon of NHL dynasties -- the teams that define an era and become standards by which the great teams of the future are judged.
The Red Wings have won three Stanley Cups in the past six years -- 1997, 98 and 2002 -- the most of any team in the current age of increased player movement. Had the Red Wings defended their 2002 championship, they would have won four Cups in seven years—the most by any team since the Edmonton Oilers completed their run of five titles in seven years in 1990.
To be a dynasty, a team must be a consistent champion over a period of time. No team has won more than the five Stanley Cups in a row captured by the Montreal Canadiens from 1956-60. The 1976-79 Canadiens and 1980-83 New York Islanders are the only clubs to put together four consecutive titles. Other dynasties include Toronto (five Cups in seven years from 1945-51, and three in a row from 1962-64) and the Red Wings (four in six years from 1950-55, after which they went Cup-less until the current run of success began with the 1997 championship), and the Oilers.
To some, the Wings' accomplishments in today's era are already worthy of recognition.
"The Red Wings are already a dynasty," says Brett Hull, who came into the NHL as the Oilers' time on top was winding down.
But to captain Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings aren't quite ready to join the Dynasty Club.
"We've got to win a few in a row to be a dynasty, so we're not quite there yet," he says. "We're one or two short, in my eyes."
"You don't necessarily need a core of superstars," to build a dynasty, said Craig Patrick, the architect of the Pittsburgh Penguins' championship teams in 1991 and 1992. "What you have to have is a core of people that are leaders in their own roles and can get everyone to follow their example."
These days, there are 30 teams divvying up the talent -- up from six in 1967 and 21 just 12 years ago -- making it harder to grow and keep your own talent. The Islanders, for example, had 16 players who were part of all four Cup winners. That's almost impossible now with increased player movement, but the idea of growing your own talent is still the starting point for any dynasty hopefuls.
"The ideal way is to do it the way the Islanders did it," Patrick said. "Use the Entry Draft and develop your own talent. There's plenty of talent out there. It's just a matter of getting it in the right place."
Though no team has yet been able to build the kind of dynasty that teams like the Islanders, Canadiens, and Oilers enjoyed in the last quarter-century, Bill Torrey, the architect of the Isles' rise to the top, doesn't blame the increase in player movement for the lack of a dynasty during the past decade. In fact, he says more movement actually can be beneficial in the right circumstances.
"Players still can't become free agents until after they turn 30," said Torrey, who made the Isles' early struggles pay off by smart drafting. "You still have the mechanism to keep the players you want, but the cost can be significant. Long-term, you still need self-development. What free agency does is to give you a way to fill holes that you used to have to fill with your own players or with trades. You still can't buy a championship, but you have ways to fill holes that you never had before."
The Wings are a perfect example. Hull, their leading goal-scorer, and goaltender Curtis Joseph both signed on as free agents. So did key contributors Luc Robitaille and Igor Larionov. Yes, the Red Wings have the money to spend -- more important, though, is the fact that they've spent it wisely.
"Dynasties can be bad if the big, rich teams win every year," Torrey said. "It's good for the League when everyone has a shot to win -- we sell competition, and the more competition, the more fans we'll draw. But it's nice to have a ‘team to beat' that other teams can measure themselves against."
Joseph came to the Wings specifically to win a Cup -- as Dominik Hasek did the previous year. But he concedes that helping the Wings join the elite teams of NHL history would be special.
"Those teams were unbelievable," he says. "It would be an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with them."