We all have different theories or beliefs regarding what is necessary in building a winning team. Even when you build a strong, successful organization that doesn’t mean you will win, or be close to winning every season.
When we evaluate success, I think we put way too much focus on winning a championship. Only one team wins, but that doesn’t mean all the other 29 franchises were failures. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 consecutive seasons, but they’ve “only” won the Stanley Cup four times in that period.
Are they a failure? Far from it. They are the model franchise in the NHL and throughout their 24-year run to the post-season they’ve done so by incorporating the single most important aspect needed for winning.
They’ve always had a few elite superstars on their team.
The talk about leadership, development, grit, character, etc surrounding great teams are all secondary.
You win consistently by having great players.
In 1990/1991, the beginning of their 24-year run, they were led by 25-year-old Steve Yzerman. They also added an outstanding 20-year-old rookie in Sergei Federov.
In 1991/1992 they welcomed Nick Lidstrom to the roster and those three played together for 12 seasons. The Red Wings success was built around those three. When they won the Cup in 1997 and 1998 they had added Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov and some other top players.
In 2002, they added veterans and future Hall of Famers in Brett Hull and Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek and a young Pavel Datsyuk was playing on their third line. By 2008, the Wings elite core consisted of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The Wings had accomplished an extremely rare “passing of the torch” from one elite group to the next.
In today’s salary cap era, it will be extremely hard to emulate what the wings did, but Mike Babcock explained to Darren Dreger in his TSN interview the benefits of having great players in your organization.
“When you are a kid and you arrive at the Red Wings you get to sit beside Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk. They do it right every day. They allow you (young player) to grow up.They teach you what a pro is. They are outstanding human beings, not just players, and that is a gift for a kid because you have someone showing you the way,” said Babcock
Babcock also added, “The young kids have to help the veterans. They have to contribute.”
WINNING IS DIFFERENT IN 2015
Detroit is an anomaly.
At his end of season press conference Babcock expressed concern Detroit’s great players, Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall were getting older, and the Wings likely don’t have anyone capable of replacing them. The Wings develop properly, but just because you allow a player more time in the AHL, they won’t magically become elite superstars.
I’m sure that was part of the reason he went to Toronto; although $50 million was a good incentive as well. The Maple Leafs will have the 4th pick in this year’s draft and will likely pick higher than Detroit again next year. He must see the Leafs chances of drafting and developing an elite player better than Detroit’s.
Pittsburgh has two of the best players in the world, and they’ve made the playoffs nine years in a row, but some people view them as a “failure” because they haven’t been the Cup finals since winning it in 2009. It is interesting to me how some people view success.
The Blackhawks are the current dominant team in the NHL. They’ve made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons. They’ve won two Stanley Cups and have been to the Conference final on three other occasions. Unlike Detroit in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Blackhawks will be forced to lose one, maybe two, of their better players due to the salary cap. Will their playoff streak reach 10, 12 or 15 years? The odds say no.
Currently, only nine NHL teams have made the playoffs in consecutive years. The Wings, Penguins, Blackhawks, Rangers (5), Blues (4), Ducks, Wild and Canadiens (3) and the Lightning (2).
The Kings had made it five years in a row, winning two Cups, but despite having Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathon Quick, they still missed the playoffs this year.
Winning consistently in the NHL is extremely difficult. There is no guarantee the Oilers will become a consistent Cup contender, but they have a better chance than most because they will have great players in Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall. And they have other potential greats in Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse.
It is important to have an experienced GM and head coach like Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan, but the foundation of a dominant team is built around having great players.
ONUS IS ON PLAYERS…
“As players it is our job to perform on the ice. We need to play better,” Matt Hendricks said on my radio show last week.
“Individually we need to be better, and as a group we need to be a better team in terms of playing as a group and not being individuals on the ice.”
So how will that improve?
“I think our locker room is in great shape in terms of the vibe and the things we talk about, but our on-ice performance is not where it needs to be. I think the big thing is we need to have a good start to the season and be a confident group moving forward. I think our players realized we need to play more consistent,” continued Hendricks.
I also asked Hendricks specifically about the forwards. As a group, what must they improve?
“I’m a strong believer in the defence-first mentality. If we defend first from our zone out we will be a much better team. We have a lot of skill in our lineup who can make a tremendous amount of plays, but we need to realize that when the opportunity is there to take it, but we don’t need to force things.
“We don’t need to score five goals a game to be successful, we need to score three goals. The goal is to not see as many great chances going back and forth, instead you see us limit chances and when we get our chances we strike gold,” said Hendricks.
He was also quick to mention he is has one thing in common with many of you.
“I get up in the morning and I’m excited to be an Oiler. I feel like a fan in Edmonton right now. There are many reasons to be optimistic that we will have a better team this year, but there is a lot of work to do to make that happen.
“We need to be a better team first. You see how hard it is to get in the playoffs as it is. From where we were last season we are a long ways away. We have to start making steps in the right direction. Become a tough team to play against that is never out of a hockey game. That is what I want for next season,” said Hendricks.
I’m sure fans and his teammates will want the exact same thing.
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