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Tencer's Blog: The Red Wings Model

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Nick Lidstrom celebrates a goal vs. the Nashville Predators.

As the Oilers continue the process of tearing down and building back up, hopefully to an elite status that will replace past mediocrity, the Detroit Red Wings offer the benchmark by which success can be measured. You see the Red Wings, who happen to be in town tonight, have won four Stanley Cups since 1997, a feat that arguably fits the description of a modern dynasty.

Perhaps even more impressive is the consistency with which they have competed, marked most obviously by the fact that the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in the last season that didn't feature the Red Wings in the playoffs; that's 20 years ago if you've lost track.

The Red Wings just simply win, win more and then pile on some more wins. So, for Oilers management as they try to emulate such a model, the question


The first part they have figured out: the draft. 1983 is really where it all started for the modern Red Wings (this was back when they were actually bad enough to have high picks) when they selected Steve Yzerman fourth overall.

After that, the draft didn't yield tremendous results for Detroit, save for Joe Murphy & Adam Graves in 1986, until 1989 when they executed perhaps the most awesome single entry draft in professional sports history. They drafted, all in that one year, a staggering 5,323 NHL man games played: Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Dallas Drake, Mike Sillinger, Vladimir Konstantinov & Bob Boughner. Had Konstantinov not been tragically injured, you can put that number up over 6,000 without breaking a sweat.

Throughout the Cup years, as Detroit ran up a high payroll, the team never deserved its reputation for buying their way to the top. Sure, they had high priced players, but many of them were homegrown.

Keep in mind that the team drafted the following players that won at least one Cup with the team: Chris Osgood, Martin Lapointe, Jamie Pushor, Mike Knuble, Darren McCarty, Anders Eriksson, Mathieu Dandenault, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Fischer, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Kopecky, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Derek Meech, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm. When you add Yzerman and the guys from the '89 draft, that's 25 drafted and developed Stanley Cup Champions from within their own franchise.

I was lucky enough to have Red Wings GM Ken Holland with me for a segment on 630 CHED's Inside Sports last night, and he reiterated the importance of the draft to any organization.

"Look at the New York Yankees with Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter," Holland started. "Even if you're a high revenue team and a high spending team, you still need to have a nucleus of your team that's homegrown that sets the tone and the culture. Drafting and developing is the most ingredient to success."


Ales Hemsky's goal in game six vs. Detroit (2006) was the game and series winning goal in this quarterfinal matchup.
Did you know that after Detroit lost to Edmonton in 2006 in the first round of the playoffs, they darn near blew up the operation and started over?

"We sat and did an internal evaluation," says Ken Holland. "Jim Nill and I sat and spent a lot of time wondering if we maybe should look in a different direction. Ultimately, we decided to believe in our system and believe in our philosophy."

That turned out to be a pretty good decision as the Red Wings picked up another Cup two playoff seasons later.

In terms of philosophy, each team and each manager will have things that put higher on the priority list than other managers. Take a contrast between Brian Burke and Ken Holland, as an example.

Burke likes toughness and truculence and a typical North American game. Holland, on the other hand, places far less emphasis in that area.  "We like puck possession, we like skill, we're not overly big, we like hockey sense, we have lots of Europeans," Holland lists. "We've never had very many one-dimensional tough guys on our roster." The Wings' tough guy has always been named Power Play. You take liberties? They score goals.

"You gotta believe in a philosophy and you gotta roll with the punches. You're going to have ups and downs, and hopefully you have more ups than downs," Holland says.

It's a formula that the Red Wings haven't deviated from in over a decade, and it's yielded phenomenal success. With 2006 as an example, 2001 and 2003 as other examples, the Red Wings haven't always made it all the way to the promised land. But, they haven't let the setbacks along the way change who they are or what they believe in, and Ken Holland says the stability is a big reason why they've continued to prosper.


Another ingredient in the Detroit Red Wings recipe is patience. Countless players have entered the Red Wings system and been held out of NHL action, even when management knows they're ready.

"You look at Darren Helm," says Ken Holland. "In 2008 we won the Stanley Cup and he played for us in the playoffs. The following year, we sent him back to the American Hockey League. I just felt that to play on the 4th line and getting 6 or 7 minutes a night of ice time wasn't as beneficial to his career as getting 20 minutes a night and powerplay time in the American League."

Other examples? Pavel Datsyuk, drafted in 1998, didn't play until 2001. Henrik Zetterberg, drafted in 1999, didn't play until 2002. Jonathan Ericsson played 176 AHL games. Niklas Kronwall played 102. The point is, they don't rush their players. Of course, a lot of that is a luxury. Darren Helm didn't get a spot because he would have had to unseat Zetterberg or Datsyuk or Franzen etc.

When you're a team coming off of a 30th place season, and need the talent in your lineup to be competitive again, there's not generally a lot of patience for patience if you know what I mean.

That said, the Oilers are in a different situation given that the draft picks available in their system are of a higher pedigree, at least on paper. The lower finishes in the standings yield higher choices which yield players ready to play at a younger age, in theory. Given that, I suppose the important message is to be patient with the players who aren't automatic home-run NHL stars, especially when it comes to defensemen.

Taylor Hall is just one of the many additions to a young and promising Oilers roster.
It's an elite model, this Red Wings franchise, no question. Tough to duplicate. But, in the mind of Detroit GM Ken Holland, the Oilers are already well on their way. You know the sentence that he uttered last night in our conversation that made me smile the most? When I asked him about the game tonight, he said: "We don't want to run and gun with them."

He talked about the skill, the talent that the Oilers possess up front. The need for the Red Wings to defend the offense that the Oilers will inevitably create. It was a show of respect from perhaps the most respected hockey manager in game today, yet another positive sign on the road to rebuilding.
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