DETROIT — Just how difficult is it to qualify for the NHL playoffs?
While the Red Wings have made a routine out of playoff appearances, this point of the season is not a given for any team and to still be playing hockey in mid-April may not be the end goal, it is an achievement in the NHL’s salary cap era.
“Yea I mean certainly we’re proud that we’ve made the playoffs 24 straight years in a row,” general manager Ken Holland said. “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 pay roll the prior season, 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.”
There are seven new teams in the playoffs in 2015, meaning that only nine NHL teams have qualified for the postseason in consecutive seasons.
An astonishing turnover rate, nearly half of the field is new to the playoffs. Yet the Wings have withstood the tests of time and the sweeping changes in league policies. Making the playoffs for a 24th straight season, Holland said the journey has been immensely different since the lockout in the 2004-05 season. Emphasis is put on developing prospects and the importance of strong American Hockey League affiliates as well as balance between young players and veterans on the NHL roster.
In a league packed with parody, Drew Miller said the margin between some of the tops teams and the bottom teams in the standings isn’t as large as the standings would suggest.
“Every night in this league, someone can beat someone,” Miller said. “You’ve got to come to play and can’t take nights off. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s different teams in the playoffs and I think that’s something that the Red Wings definitely pride ourselves on is working hard throughout the year to get ourselves to this point. It’s not easy, you see teams like L.A. missed out and Boston missed out. Those are two really good teams that didn’t make the playoffs. It shows everyone’s hungry to get in.”
In the 10 seasons since the lockout, every NHL team has qualified for the playoffs at least once including the Atlanta Thrashers who made it in 2006-07 before relocating to Winnipeg. In their third season, the Jets are one of the seven teams new to the playoffs, as they qualified for the first time since relocating in 2011. Additionally, there have been seven different Stanley Cup champions in the last nine seasons including the Wings in 2008.
With a turnover rate of 31.9 percent in terms of playoff teams from one season to the next, The NHL’s postseason has been very fluid. At least five new teams have qualified in each of the previous four seasons that didn’t qualify the season before.
Yet the Wings remained throughout all the ups and downs, close calls and almost left outs.
“It is nice to be in the postseason every year and for me, ever since I got here have been in,” center Henrik Zetterberg said. “Obviously, I’m blessed to have that chance every year and that’s the fun part of the season. For me, it’s a special time, that’s why you work hard all summer in the offseason to be in the postseason and have a good run. We haven’t made the deep runs that we’ve wanted to lately but we have a chance to this year again.”
In his 12th NHL season, Zetterberg has played in 125 playoff games and won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2008 as most valuable player of the playoffs.
His leadership coupled with veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall as well as young stars Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist provide a strong balance in the lineup that Holland said is necessary for teams to have success this time of year.
The regular season has whittled down the field of teams from 30 to 16, and while some have maxed out at 82 games, there’s still plenty of hockey left in the next two months. As the playoffs continue the process of eliminating teams from contention, coach Mike Babcock said he likes his team’s chances.
“If you’re flat out better than the other team, you probably have an advantage, people would feel that,” Babcock said. “I’ve been in a lot of these series, coached a lot of good teams, coached a lot of teams that just got it. I like our team.”