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Wings aim for 25th straight playoffs

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Forwards Tomas Jurco; Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar weren't born the last time the Red Wings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- The current Red Wings roster has more than a handful of players that weren't even born the last time the team missed the playoffs.

If the Wings make the playoffs this season, it will mark 25 consecutive postseason appearances, the longest active streak for any team in the four major professional sports (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA).

Making the playoffs that many seasons in a row is an impressive accomplishment, but it might overshadow another equally impressive one.

"The other thing that I’m just as proud of is we’re the only team in the league to qualify for the playoffs all 10 years of a salary-cap world," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "When the salary cap was introduced in 2005, obviously designed for cost certainty, but also at the same time it was designed for competitive balance and parity. Twenty-nine teams have missed the playoffs at least once and we have found a way to play our way in into the playoffs all 10 years in a row."

Winning in the salary-cap era is different from the way the Wings won in the past.

"I think in the late 90s and the early 2000s there was a period of time where we had a tremendous hockey team in the prime of its career with the (Nick) Lidstroms and the (Steve) Yzermans and the (Brendan) Shanahans and the (Sergei) Fedorovs, so you sort of took for granted making the playoffs," Holland said. "I don’t think we were thinking, 'making the playoffs,' we were thinking, 'we want to win another Stanley Cup and go on another Stanley Cup run.'"

Another thing that has changed is that in the not too distant past, the Wings were on the leading edge of scouting in Europe.

Now every team is scouting the same players so it's harder to find gems like Pavel Datsyuk, chosen in the sixth round (171st overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and Henrik Zetterberg, selected in the seventh round (210th overall) in the 1999 draft.

"Certainly, the chances to get a Zetterberg and a Datsyuk, it’s hard to find one," Holland said. "We were able to find two. One in the sixth round, one in the seventh round. That’s not going to happen again."

The reality now is in order to draft superstars, you almost always have to be drafting in the first five picks of the first round.

"In order to get those franchise players that you're talking about, you can't miss the playoffs once," Holland said. "You need to miss the playoffs four or five years in a row. And you really need more than one. You need two or three stars."

Because the Wings have not missed the playoffs, they have had no chance to draft that high, which means they had to come up with a different path to sustained success.

"One of the things that we decided was that we were going to be way more conservative with draft picks," Holland said. "Prior to ’05, I think we traded seven or eight first-round draft picks over the previous 10 years to get to acquire guys like (Dominik) Hasek and Shanahan and (Chris) Chelios and (Mathieu) Schneider. But we’ve been more conservative with draft picks. We’ve traded back the odd time to get an extra second-round pick. We’re trying to have more spins at the wheel."

The Wings have spent those draft picks on several of the young players that are with the team now, including Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen and Petr Mrazek.

They have also gotten lucky with some undrafted free agents like Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening.

What makes it work for the Wings is once the players are in the organization, there's a system in place to support them, starting with Jiri Fischer, the Wings' director of player development, and going up through when those players reach the highest level.

"I think that’s where the organization has an impact," Holland said. "The role models, the importance of your minor-league coach and the importance of Fischer and the importance of having good minor-league veterans in Grand Rapids. I know (former assistant general manager) Jimmy Nill and now (assistant general manager) Ryan Martin have worked hard to have a leadership core in Grand Rapids that are good role models, then having the same type of leadership and role models in Detroit in Zetterberg and Datsyuk to try to maximize the potential."

While the Wings expect Zetterberg and Datsyuk to maintain their high level of play, now they need the youngsters to elevate theirs in order to reach the team's goals.

"So our goal is to try to quality for the playoffs, to go on a Stanley Cup playoff run," Holland said. "Ultimately, we want to win another Stanley Cup. At the same time, we're trying to build and develop these players."

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