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Wings knocking on dynasty's door

by Mike G. Morreale

No one realized it back in 1998, but when the Red Wings hoisted the Cup for the second year in a row, we actually were witnessing what has become a rare event: the creation of a dynasty.

The Wings' short-lived reign arrived five seasons after Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins captured two in a row in 1991 and '92. Here we are, a little over 10 years later, and all the tea leaves, tarot cards and astral charts are again pointing to the possibility of another Wings repeat. Or are they?

"The reality is all you have to do is listen to everyone talk about their team and they all feel they have a chance to win the Cup this season," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told "The parity between all 30 teams is great and the separation from top to bottom is as small as it's ever been. When you win, everyone wants your players, so you have to make decisions.

"As a player, you have to decide how bad you want to win. And if you want to win, will you be willing to share the wealth a little bit with the guys? With the new CBA, there's not enough to go around and we're fortunate to have a captain in Nick Lidstrom who has basically put our cap at a place that allows us to have good players."

The stars seem to be aligned for a Wings repeat. The personnel on the ice and in the front office remain second to none in the business. Over 11 seasons, the club has won four Presidents' trophies, four Stanley Cups and has had eight consecutive 100-point campaigns.

There hasn't been a real dynasty since the Edmonton Oilers' run in the 1980s. The most recent collective bargaining agreement has made it difficult for teams to keep the same core players, creating a lot more parity. Not since the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2001 has a team even reached a Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons.

But it would shock many if the Wings didn't return to Final this year, considering they landed one of the best players on the free-agent market this summer in forward Marian Hossa, while returning other offensive gems in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Holmstrom.

The defense isn't too shabby, either, with Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart supporting goalie Chris Osgood.

Steve Yzerman, now a Wings vice president, won back-to-back Cups as a player in Detroit in 1997 and '98.

"The CBA is relatively new, so I feel you really can't say that it is the sole cause for a lack of dynasties," Yzerman said. "Teams are trying to tie up their core guys and sign them to long-term contracts so, potentially, if you could get the right core group of guys and have them tied up, maybe you can keep them together for six or seven years. Regardless of what CBA structure you're under, the teams that do well are the teams that draft well, are managed well and are coached well."

Still, Detroit General Manager Ken Holland understands how complacency could play a part in denying a team a second-straight title.

Following an emotional six-game series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final last June and a memorable summer tour with the Stanley Cup, could the Wings have gotten lethargic?

"I just find that history sort of shows a lot of teams who have won the Stanley Cup are slow out of gate the following season," Holland told "I attribute that to the fact it's hard to dig down for that emotion in October when you've experienced so many gigantic games not too long ago (during the Stanley Cup playoffs).

"I'd classify those Edmonton Oiler teams of the 1980s as the last classic NHL dynasty since they won championships year after year. I don't know if anyone again will be able to duplicate that. To me it's not possible within a cap world, in a parity League, to win three or four championships in a row."

Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy, who won consecutive Cups with the Penguins in 1991-92 and the Wings in 1997-98, feels Detroit should be considered a dynasty this decade.

"I think a dynasty is a team like Detroit because every year they have a legitimate shot at winning the Cup."

-- Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy

"I think a dynasty is a team like Detroit because every year they have a legitimate shot at winning the Cup," Murphy said. "That's how I define a dynasty today, looking to see if a team can string together a bunch of wins because I doubt that we're going to see a team duplicate what the Islanders or Oilers did. On that extremely short list of teams with the chance of winning the Cup every year, Detroit has been right there."

Brett Hull, co-GM of the Dallas Stars, agrees with Murphy that the Wings are the closest thing the NHL has to a dynasty.

"But I think there are too many teams and the player pool is diluted, which make it hard to build and keep a team together," Hull said. "Free agency is also a big part of it, but the Wings have a chance because they have a fantastic team. The thing I like is that they play the game the way it's supposed to be played. They work hard to get the puck and then keep it. Most teams in the League work hard to get the puck and then they just give it away again. To me that's how you play the game and that's why they're Stanley Cup champions."

"I'm one of those guys who doesn't like to throw the (dynasty) word around all the time," St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said. "It's like a Hall of Famer -- you have to do it over a number of years in order to enter the Hall. For a dynasty, you should be a team that holds up probably four or more years."

Carolina center Eric Staal has always admired Detroit's consistency.

"Detroit plays such a great puck-possession game," he said. "You can't just dump it in on their defense without a purpose otherwise they will get it out and move it the other way quicker than you can get in on the forecheck. Their defenders are extremely skilled and mobile. It doesn't hurt to have guys like Zetterberg and Datsyuk, who are great two-way players."

Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar, whose team went 1-3 against the Wings last season, marveled at how Detroit's veteran players picked it up a notch in the postseason.

"It'll be hard to knock off the Wings," Kopitar said. "It seems like they have a core of really old guys, yet they can still play. And guys like Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg really make that group tough to beat. It'll be a challenge for every team in the League, especially for those teams in the West, to knock off the Wings."

Babcock is proud of what his teams have accomplished in his three seasons behind the bench.

"You don't suddenly get lucky and turn it on," he said. "It took us three years to finally win it, but day in and day out we've been a really good team to watch and we're going to be a good team again this year, so our focus is on not trading away our draft picks and doing a good job developing those picks to the point where we're in no hurry to move the players here before they're actually ready.

"I'm cognizant of the fact that everyone talks at how difficult it is to repeat, but what we're going to try and do is focus as much as we can. Creating normalcy and just doing what we do at training camp by building a foundation based on work ethic and structure is what we will stress."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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