"Let's face it. you can go from the highest high after you fight for a couple of months to become champion to a letdown. I've seen it time and again. I know (coach) Mike Babcock doesn't believe me, but I've seen teams come back with a lack of emotion. You might not be able to detect it with the naked eye, but it's there."
-- Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings GM
Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland has been around long enough to know that nothing should really surprise him. That thought arose in a conversation with Holland before the Wings beat Columbus, 4-1, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
Detroit finished third overall in the NHL after winning the Stanley Cup in six games from Pittsburgh last June. But the team fell from best overall in defense to a tie for 19th this season.
Stanley Cup hangover?
"Let's face it," said Holland, "you can go from the highest high after you fight for a couple of months to become champion to a letdown. I've seen it time and again. I know (coach) Mike Babcock doesn't believe me, but I've seen teams come back with a lack of emotion. You might not be able to detect it with the naked eye, but it's there. And ..."
Holland got a little twinkle in his eyes, thinking a bout how hard it is to win in the NHL and how satisfying it is in the end, before he continued.
"It may only be a little lack of emotion," he added. "But it means a lot in our game, because we put together teams built on skill, speed, creativity, emotion and passion."
The Red Wings won back-to-back Cups in 1997 and '98 to become the first and only team since Pittsburgh won consecutive titles in 1991 and '92.
It's Holland's theory that even if there's only a couple months from the Cup celebration to the start of the next training camp, the fever pitch and emotion of the moment can be lost by the best of teams.
He recalls the 1997 and '98 Wings for that achievement.
"But that was such an emotional time here in Detroit, because we hadn't even had time to celebrate in 1997 before the accident," Holland said, referring to the limousine crash that seriously injured star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov
and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov. "We came back the next season with a lot on our minds and a lot to play for.
"And then Sergei Fedorov
, who was sitting out because of a contract dispute, finally rejoined the team after the Olympics and we just got on a roll after that and couldn't be stopped.
"It was partly because of the return of Fedorov, but it was also a feeling around that team that we were rallying around Vlad and Sergei."
"I can't make the same kind of comparisons, not even close," Holland said. "But we added a star player in Marian Hossa
who has been as strong, talented and productive as we could have hoped for. He told everyone that he came here to win a Stanley Cup. If that isn't motivation around this time, I don't know what is."
Turn it on and turn it off? Most experts don't think that's possible. The experts point to an up-and-down level of goaltending along with the stumbling defensive numbers. But you won't sway Holland from his beliefs that this team could repeat.
Holland points to Detroit losing to Anaheim in the Western Conference Finals as the impetus for four straight playoff series wins ... and maybe more.
Turn it on and turn it off? Holland's not biting on that philosophy, but ...
"I saw the way this team pulled together after that loss to Anaheim in 2007," Holland said, eyes twinkling again. "That's emotion. No one will know until we see the final product on the ice in the playoffs. But right now, I have no reason to think that that emotion is not still there."