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Holland proud of playoff streak in cap era

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have not missed the playoffs since 1989-90. Seven players on their active roster were not even born at that time: Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Alexey Marchenko, Petr Mrazek, Teemu Pulkkinen, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar. (Photo by Getty Images)

BRANDON, Fla. – What the Red Wings have done over the past 24 seasons is anything short of remarkable. Making the Stanley Cup playoffs every season since 1990-91 – matching the fourth-longest streak in NHL history – is certainly a source of great pride for the Original Six organization.

However, it’s what the Red Wings have done since the 2004-05 NHL lockout that is even more impressive. With the San Jose Sharks missing the playoffs this spring, the Red Wings are the only club to reach the postseason in all 10 seasons of the parity-building salary cap era.

Only nine teams in this year’s playoffs qualified for the postseason last season: Detroit, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minnesota, Anaheim, Chicago and the New York Rangers.

In 18 years at the helm of the Wings’ front office, Ken Holland is arguably the most accomplished GM in all professional sports. With Holland as the primary roster architect, the Wings have won 904 regular-season and playoff games, more than any other NHL franchise since 1997-98. They have reached the 100-point plateau 17 times in the past 20 full seasons. No other team has come close.

As the Red Wings hit the ice on Wednesday for their final tune up before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Lightning, Holland spoke exclusively to DetroitRedWings.com at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

The Wings’ GM talked about the playoff streak, the importance of winning on the road in the playoffs, top prospect Dylan Larkin, and the Grand Rapids Griffins.

QUESTION: How proud are you of the team’s playoff streak?

HOLLAND: “We’re proud that we’ve made the playoffs 24 straight years in a row, it means you’ve had 24 straight years in a row where you’ve had an opportunity to go on a playoff run. I think that’s why we’re all in this game, we want an opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup. The other thing I’m proud of is that we’ve made the playoffs 10 straight years in the salary cap world.

“Going into the salary cap world where we had to shed payroll because we had a very high payroll the prior seasons, I think it’s a great job by our scouts in identifying players, great job by Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids and I think Mike Babcock’s done a great job in playing the young players. Only nine teams in the league have made the playoffs two years in a row. That’s less than a third of the league. There’s seven new teams in the playoffs this year that weren’t in last year so it’s a league where there’s a lot of parity. The last three years we’ve been on the bubble, I think we made it in the last game of the year in the (2013) strike-shortened season. We made it last year in I think the 80th game and this year, we made it in the 81st game.

“It’s a hard league to make the playoffs but you also wanna go on a run. We’ve only won one playoff round in the last three years. Disappointing Game 7 loss to Chicago two years ago, and last year we were really beat up and played a team that was really on a roll down the stretch in Boston. We’re a healthier team going into the playoffs. We’re a little more developed, more experienced for some of those young players that were in their first playoff last year against Boston. We’re excited about the opportunity here facing Tampa Bay.”

Q. In each of the past four playoff series, you’ve managed to steal one of the first two games on the road. How important is stealing a game on the road in this series?

HOLLAND: “Certainly I think when you go into a series and you’re not hosting home ice, I look upon it like if you’re going to win the series you’re gonna have to win two road games. For sure you’ve gotta win one road game, so you know you’ve gotta win one road game for sure and I think you’ve gotta win two road games because the teams that you’re facing ahead of you got their spot because they’re good on the road. You don’t put all those points together and not be good on the road. Certainly if you go into a series knowing you’ve gotta win one or two road games it’s nice to get a split instead of thinking you’re gonna win Game 5 or Game 7. We were a really good road team all year, if you look at our year for the first 62 games I think we were the last team to lose two games in a row in regulation. We were really good on the road and then just for about a month or five weeks, we played really inconsistent hockey and did a lot of things during that five weeks that we didn’t do the previous 60-some games. I thought the last week of the schedule, we started to button down and started to play more the type of hockey that we played the first 60 games. Hopefully the adversity we went through those five weeks is going to pay some dividends here going forward but again, we know we’re playing a tremendous hockey team in Tampa Bay and we’re gonna have to play our very best here for the next two weeks.”

Q. Do the playoffs offer a clean slate for everyone?

HOLLAND: “Oh yeah, I think so. I think you can throw out the regular season. Certainly the regular season means something, you know you do certain things but all eight series start from scratch now. I remember one year, I think we didn’t lose a home game from January 1 until the playoffs started and I think we lost a home game, I think Nashville beat us a couple years ago we had that unbelievable 23 straight, never lost at home and then I think we ended up losing a couple at home.

“Basically when the playoffs start, you can throw all those regular-season stats in the garbage. They do mean something, but not as much when you’re going head to head against one team every second day for two weeks, it really starts from scratch.”

Dylan Larkin, who led the Michigan Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game last month, will represent the U.S. in the World Championships beginning May 1 in the Czech Republic. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

Q. Prospect Dylan Larkin will play for USA in the World Championships. How important will that be for his development?

HOLLAND: “I think it’s really important. I think all these experiences, playing for the U.S. at the World Juniors at Christmastime, now playing for the U.S. at the World Championships, I mean certainly he’s been identified at USA Hockey that he can play at that level. They’re not going to put somebody into that tournament that they don’t think can play at that level. There’s a body of people out there that have identified him and that think he can take his game to the World Championship level. So now he gets the opportunity to play, that tournament has a lot of NHL players, it’s a great tournament and it’s another great experience for him to continue his development as a young player. When the year’s over, he’ll have played for the U.S. at the World Juniors, played for the U.S. at the World Championships, he was the rookie of the year in the Big Ten. It’s going to have been a very good, good year for him after we obviously selected him with the first pick in 2014.”

Q. With Larkin at the University of Michigan, you’ve followed him closely. What do you like about his game from the first time you saw him until now?

HOLLAND: “I love his passion and his compete and his will and determination. He’s got the ability, he’s a really good skater and he can really transport the puck. He gets his hands on the puck in the defensive zone, he has the ability to transport the puck when his team is in the offensive zone. He makes lots of nice little plays. He’s what we call a 200-foot player, when the puck is turned over he buries his head and he works to get back because he understands that he’s got responsibilities on the defensive side of the puck. We think he’s a really good prospect, like all young players he’s got to get stronger. At the pro level, you start to get into battling for pucks along the corners and strength is important in winning those one-on-one battles or being able to protect the puck. Certainly a lot of the other aspects of his game are very good and obviously will continue to develop and improve as he just gets more experience and gets age. We think he’s a very good prospect.”

Q. There has been talk of Larkin perhaps forgoing his three years of eligibility at Michigan to turn pro and play in Grand Rapids. What do you think he should do?

HOLLAND: “I’ve told this to Dylan and his family, I think he’s gotta make his own decision. We’re not pressuring him to stay and we’re not pressuring him to leave. I do think if he decides to leave, there’s no doubt he can play pro hockey. Can he play in the National Hockey League? Does he need time in the American Hockey League? That, I don’t know until you get to a training camp and you start to go to work with men. Certainly, he can play in the American Hockey League. He has to make a decision where he thinks he feels best. I think that certainly playing in the World Championships is going to give him a bit of a taste to playing with men. If he goes back to Michigan, it’s right down the road. It’s a great program, he’s going to be an important guy on Michigan, and he’ll play again in World Junior for USA. If he decides to go back, it’s gonna be a great route to continue his development, but I think if he feels he wants to go onto the next level, certainly when you look at guys like Bo Horvat in Vancouver and (Jacob) De La Rose in Montreal and (David) Pastrnak in Boston and (Mirco) Mueller in San Jose, I think there’s one or two others, there are a number of 19-year-old players that are playing in the National Hockey League that have made an impact on their team. You never know which 19 year olds can do it, which 19 year olds can’t do it. We’re comfortable with whatever decision he makes so if he wants to go pro, based upon what I’ve seen, again, I can’t tell you he can play in the NHL, I don’t know those things until you get into a competition during training camp, a competition during preseason, a competition during the regular season. Certainly, I think he could play in the American Hockey League.”

Jeff Blashill

Q. Jeff Blashill is the first coach in Griffins’ history to lead them to the AHL playoffs in three consecutive years. How satisfied are you with the job he’s done in Grand Rapids?

HOLLAND: “When Jimmy Nill was here, we had missed the playoffs three of the previous four years or four of the previous five and Ryan Martin, Jimmy Nill and I sat down the one summer and we wanted to put an emphasis on Grand Rapids being in the playoffs every year. They hadn’t missed by much, when they did miss, they missed by two, three, four points but they missed. We felt that the playoff experience in the American Hockey League was going to be really, really valuable in the development of a lot of young players. So between the drafting and the developing and turning some people pro, when Curt Fraser made a decision to leave Grand Rapids as the head coach and he was going to take the assistant coaching job in Dallas, the first thing I thought was I knew Bill Peters had just come from the American Hockey League to come to the National Hockey League but I talked to Mike Babcock and asked him for his thoughts if I were to offer the job to Blash and he thought certainly Blash wanted an opportunity to be a head coach. So I went to Blash, I offered him the job and he called me back a day later and said he wanted the job. Certainly, if you look back, that’s been a great move for the Detroit Red Wings organization. Blash has done a fabulous job in developing our young players and at the same time, I think he’s an NHL coach in the making. I think somewhere down the road, he’s gonna get an opportunity to coach in the National Hockey League. Certainly his fingerprints are on a lot of the players that are in Detroit and I look at the run to the Calder Cup two years ago and now we’re playing Tampa Bay, and 7-8 players in Tampa Bay were on Syracuse and 7-8 of the players that were on Grand Rapids are in Detroit.

“I went to all those Calder Cup championship games against Syracuse in Grand Rapids, it had the feel of an NHL playoff game. The tickets sold out in a matter of an hour or so. The building was sold out when we showed up there an hour and a half before. There were people outside, lots of people, lots of energy, jerseys, it was a great experience for the Tatars and the Nyquists and the DeKeysers and the Mrazeks and the Glendenings and the Sheahans and the Jurcos. So again, Grand Rapids has made the playoffs for the third year in a row, they had 99 points last year. They lost out in the second round to Texas who went on to win the Calder Cup championship.

Certainly, I think the American Hockey League is the best development league in the world. It’s a hard league to make the playoffs in, and the other thing I would say is we have lots of kids there. There was a time when our farm team because we traded so many picks from ’95 to ’05, there was more older players. Now there’s lots of young players. The key players in Grand Rapids are all draft picks and some of them are young. Some of these young players in our organization that we think are eventually gonna be up here are having important roles at the American level and that’s an important development process.”

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