Turning Edmonton Into Detroit


Detroit is the gold standard of how to develop prospects
into NHL players. When someone gets drafted into the Red Wing organization, they
are likely going to spend time in the AHL. It’s about patience. It’s
about having a plan. It’s about being responsible. And it’s about time we burst
that bubble.

I’ve been hearing for as long as I can remember that the Detroit model is the best in the NHL. It’s what the other organizations strive to be
when they grow up. In some ways there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from
Detroit that every NHL franchise should be following themselves.

I’ve compiled the top three lessons that the Detroit Red Wings
can teach to Edmonton and the 28 other teams who want to find ways to make sure that their
prospects go through the paces in the AHL and really learn their craft before entering the NHL, just like Detroit.

Lesson 1: Stop Drafting Top Prospects

Lesson one is critical to the Oilers and everyone else achieving the goal of making sure all their prospects spend time in the AHL. There’s absolutely no way around it. If the Oilers want to be like Detroit and stop rushing their prospects, they have to stop selecting players in the top half of the first round.

It’s simply too difficult to keep really talented players out of NHL lineups. It’s much easier when they don’t have undeniable skill and size. Sure, Edmonton is rushing players to the NHL, but at the same time those players were generally better than the competition. That happens when you collect first overall picks like you collected Pogs in the third grade.

The Oilers took the top ranked forward in 2010, 2011, 2012, the second ranked forward in 2014, and the top ranked again in 2015. Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings haven’t selected a player higher than 15th in the NHL entry draft since Martin Lapointe 10th overall in 1991. Yes, 1991! This Paula Abdul song and music video featuring John Wick star and noted time traveler Keannu Reeves was at the top of the charts the last time the Wings were picking that high.

Does that matter? Well, their highest pick since then was Dylan Larkin in 2014 and he managed to bypass that famous Detroit Red Wing “patience” and step onto their NHL roster this year. And what about top college player Danny DeKeyser. who in 2012-2013 joined the Red Wings and completely avoided the AHL until Detroit’s season was over? He played all of six games “developing” in their minor league system.

No, the lesson is clear: Stop finding the best young players available. The most effective way to do that is to just be very competitive for almost 25 years in a row. We will touch on how to do that in the other two lessons the Red Wings offer us on how to keep kids from playing in the NHL too early.

Lesson 2: Buy Excellence

Sometimes your team isn’t going to be good enough. During those times your franchise, like Edmonton, is going to be pressured into playing young players before their mandatory two AHL seasons. We saw it when Sam Gagner came into the NHL as an 18 year old. He outplayed the competition and won a job. We saw it again with Leon Draisaitl, who didn’t even have anyone to compete with for a job.

When your team isn’t quite there, the Red Wings have taught us to just buy your way out of it.*

Detroit was the laughing stock of the NHL during the early to mid-80’s but by the mid-90’s had morphed into a good team with wealthy ownership. By the late 90’s they were ready to win Cups and did so back to back in 1997 and 1998. Those teams were damn good and well compensated. The salary listed below doesn’t even consider the money paid to Scotty Bowman, the greatest coach in the history of the NHL.

In 1998-99 the average NHL payroll was just shy of 30 million dollars. Detroit was spending 48 million dollars.

In 1999-2000 the average NHL payroll was a little more than 31 million dollars. Detroit was spending 43 million dollars.

Rather than see their team fall back to Earth in the early 2000’s the Red Wings crushed the rest of the NHL by flexing that sweet, sweet pizza money in free agency. They traded for the 8 million dollar contract of Dominik Hasek, added Luc Robitaille, and signed Brett Hull.

The average NHL payroll in 2001-2002 was just shy of 42 million dollars. Detroit was paying a gaudy 66 million dollars.

There’s a surefire way to make sure you don’t have to play any kids in important roles — it’s to pay 50% more than the rest of the league to fill your team with All-Stars.

*What’s a Salary Cap?

Lesson 3: Draft European Superstars Late

Here’s the tricky part. Not drafting the best available prospects in the NHL Entry Draft is easy if you’re already a good team that isn’t an embarrassment to the city you reside in and the NHL in general. All it takes is not being terrible. Paying for talent is incredibly easy if you’re already a winner and have unlimited Hot ‘n Ready money to spend on free agents.

The hard part of the Detroit Model to replicate is the part where they draft superstars but aren’t forced to play them before they’ve gained professional experience. There’s really only one way to do it, and that’s by taking these European megastars as kids late in the draft when only you know they will turn into 15-20 year NHL players, allowing them to get ready overseas, then AND ONLY THEN placing them on your roster.

This is vital to the Detroit model. The whole system falls apart if the team didn’t draft Federov and Lidstrom in the third and fourth round of the 1989 Entry Draft and then roughly a decade later take Datsyuk 171st Overall in 1998 and Zetterberg 210th in 1999.

If the Red Wings didn’t do those things then the whole backbone of their organization would have fell to pieces. They’d would have had nothing, started to lose, then had to do horrible things like draft high and play kids like some sort of horrible NHL franchise like Edmonton.

The really important part is making sure that these relative nobodies, who could have been selected at any time by the other clubs many times over, are European. This allowed the club to keep them in the system without bringing them over to North America and being tempted to play them quickly. It’s important to note that none of those players ever played a minute in the AHL. The second they came to North America they were NHL players.

It’s even preferable to make sure that you draft these players from countries behind the Iron Curtain where they were treated like prisoners in a work camp from the time they were children. The Red Wings didn’t have to worry about playing Federov until he defected from the Soviet Union after four seasons there. Lidstrom played three seasons in the SEL. Datsyuk played four years in Russia, Zetterberg a couple seasons in the SEL too.

Detroit without these players isn’t much of a development model, unless you’re a huge Justin Abdelkader fan.


That’s it. Three simple rules to be just like the Red WIngs, the standard for NHL development. All you have to do is draft second tier NHL prospects outside of the top half of the first round or outside of the first round altogether. Then you have to spend untold millions on the best coaches and players in the league so you never have to stop being good or find yourself in a position where you have a hole in your lineup that has to be filled with an inexperienced kid. Finally, you have to make sure those second tier kids you do draft turn out to be NHL All-Stars who develop in the best non-NHL leagues in the world.

It really couldn’t be any easier to do and makes perfect sense to replicate in the current environment of the NHL. All Edmonton needs to do is be good for more than two decades, not have to comply with the salary cap, and make sure to draft three or four of the best players in their eras in the third round or later.

  • Aitch

    Every year, in almost every sport, the winning team will inspire several of the remaining teams to try and do it the same way. The problem is, the circumstances change, the strengths change and luck changes.

    The “Detroit model” only works for role players. And in that respect the Oilers could use some of their magic. The Oilers have never had a period where they were good at developing players. A couple of years ago, I did some research into how much time players spent on the farm, concentrating on those who were drafted by the team and played more than 200 games in the NHL. The number of players who played more than a full season in the AHL before establishing themselves as regular NHLers, was very small. As Lowetide is oft to say, we have the facecards, now we just have to develop the 7’s, 8’s & 9’s. (Or something like that.)


    Great article. Success in the new Cap era needs to follow the chicago model. They draft and develop well, then have a huge turn over every few years when they need to sell off their players for assets they in turn develop well. Somehow, they are on a two year cup cycle where every two years they look ready to challenge again.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I somewhat agree but I do not think any team does it perfect and locking in to another teams model is not the way to do it. I see it all as asset management. You can not let a superstar go in to the final year of a contract. If they are not willing to sign a new contract 13 months before the contract ends you need to trade them ASAP. They are going to walk down free agency lane. You also need to look at injury history etc. Back in the 80’s Peter Puck was trying to do that but he sold for cash when he needed more players. He also traded the wrong guy. He should of kept #99 at all expense and #11 as well The rest of the players were expendable. If you look at the present roster there are three players that would be high on my list of last to trade McDavid, Nurse and Eberle. Why no Hall? He is smaller, Injury prone and a winger. I just see his boxcars dropping sooner than Eberle (Though I could be wrong and he should take Eberle’s place) and I am sure you would get a boatload of high end players back if traded at the right time. I know many will Negatively hit me here but you have to remember that the days of players being loyal to the team forever went out the window with million dollar salaries. As Fans we need our team to not just risk at the draft but trades must be made from a position of strength.

  • DieHard

    Your article is so bang on. I’ve always thought Detroit never pushed there draft choices to the NHL simply because they had no choice. They were all late first round or even second rounders. They always need to go back to junior. Guaranteed that if Detroit had a first overall (or top 5ish) they would be in the NHL immediately just like any other NHL team would. When Detroit starts to regress and start getting high picks I suspect they will make the NHL early. The same with the Oilers as they become better and get late round picks their draft picks will have to develop further before making it to the NHL.

  • Matt: Over the last 10 years I’ve found the rhetoric about the “Detroit model” tiresome because you need only look at where the Red Wings have drafted, as you point out, to understand why they do what they do.

    That rhetoric has not been limited to the MSM, where you seem to think all the dumb guys reside. You can find it on blogs from coast to cost — if you actually choose to look.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I 100% agree that the Detroit model has a lot to do with luck but in hind sight you do have to give them credit for having a plan.

    The scouts need to be credited for finding diamonds in the rough in later rounds and I’m not entirely sure if any other organization were having their prospects develop until they over ripe. The Datsyuk and Zetterberg picks hands down was pure luck.

    Here’s hoping Greg Chase can turn out to carve out half the career those two had!


    Totally agree Arch, they feasted on ‘small market teams’ limitations & spread the cash freely! Didn’t matter if they had their 1st round picks, they could plug holes with money!

  • CMG30

    Good points on the Detriot model.

    However, the Oilers could have followed that model to an extent.

    Hall should have been returned to the OHL.

    Not because he wasn’t good enough but because the Oilers couldn’t support him and weren’t ready for him as a team.

    That was way to much pressure and losing for anyone to go through.

    Eberle should have been sent to the AHL as well that year.

    RNH should have been sent back to JR as well and Yakupov had no business being in the NHL, if he didn’t want to be in JR then it still would have been better to develop him in the KHL, he still can’t play defence most nights.

    Meanwhile the Oilers burned through those kids ELC and are now closing in on those nice contracts.

    So just about the time the Oilers get good they could start losing those kids.

    • Anton CP

      It’s easy to say today that Hall should have been returned to junior. At the time it would have been impossible. As his point total reflected he was the best player in an Oilers jersey from the minute that he was drafted. Remember what Lowe and macT had to put with while Schremp was in junior with ‘Why isn’t Schremp on the team?’ being the first and last question asked after every loss? it would have been ten times worse with Hall and moreso because it would have been warranted.
      Eberle had already been held back a season because they didn’t want what they described as a poisonous locker room rubbing off on him.
      Hall, Nuge, Ebs and to an extent Yak have been the only sources of any hope for this franchise for the last 5 years. For all we know the team could be in Seattle by now if they hadn’t been around to keep us believing.

    • pkam

      I agree with this mostly. Two reasons; a year focusing on development rarely hurts young players. I think we can all agree that rushing Draisatl to the NHL last year did not help him. Second; it’s usually better for the team to delay when a player hits free agency, so the Oilers stand to benefit from more of a player’s prime years prior to them becoming UFAs. Dellow used to make this point all the time.

      But re: #1s, there was a lengthy discussion re: Hall when he was drafted. Since his team had won two Memorial Cups, there really was no benefit to sending him back. RNH was good enough to play in the NHL, but I’d argue that he would not have been hurt by playing one more year of Juniors. Yak should have gone back to Juniors but was playing in the KHL. I would not have left him there. Nurse has been handled well. Draisatl in the AHL this season makes sense. McDavid struggled at the NHL level (for three whole games).

    • CMG30

      If a player is able to both get quality NHL minutes and handle those NHL minutes then there really isn’t much benefit to returning them to the AHL or junior, especially if the team is willing to accept ‘rookie’ or ‘learning’ mistakes as the Oilers clearly were. Granted, most players are not able to handle quality NHL minutes right away, but 1st overalls, like Hall, often can.

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘the Oilers couldn’t support him and were not ready for him as a team’. When Hall (and Eberle) broke into the league, they had a couple years of Hemsky, Horc and Smith to take on the heavy lifting and provide mentorship. If anyone should have been returned, it was Gagner.

      As the years went by, it wasn’t that the Oil couldn’t ice a competitive team around Hall, RNH and so on. Rather, the Old Boys Club continued to make decisions (not based on winning) which inevitably set the rebuild back or stalled it completely. It wasn’t until the Oil stumbled into McDavid that ownership couldn’t possibly justify ‘rebuilding’ any longer as they just landed the best possible piece since Gretzky. They took a hard look at who was running the show and realized that they were in over their heads.

    • Positive Ray of Sunshine

      Ya, maybe Bagged Milk can run an article called, worst calls by Oilers Nation. in it he goes back through some of the more heated comments section to find just the worst calls that have been made in the last little while and highlights them. Maybe he could call it, Bagged Milk serves humble pie. I would love a monthly article like that.

      Worst comments of the month. Make it happen guys!

    • Harry2

      Gord is clearly the most negative but the biggest idiot of them all is Brad.

      He seriously thinks Nikitin and Ference should be in the top 6. The guy belongs in a straight jacket.

      I havent seen one comment from bradleypi since after the last Stl game.

      Fair weather fans are the worst.

  • Jason Gregor


    The Cap has been in place for a decade. Wings can’t buy a playoff berth every year. No other team has made the playoffs every year since the Cap came in.

    17 of their 23 man roster last night spent at least two years in the AHL.

    They got lucky on Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but they also drafted them.

    What about all their other picks. Those are all luck and they get no credit for developing them. Other top teams don’t have the same track record.

    While other teams change coaches when they don’t win the Cup, the Wings always had continuity. They have a winning tradition, and while everyone has expected them to miss the playoffs they keep finding ways to make it.

    To give them no credit and say it was luck, and deep pockets and never having top picks… seems just a touch misleading.

    • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

      Enjoyed the article. Never looked at it from that angle before (but never really looked at it).

      Great article though I have to agree with Gregor.

      The Oiler model was the other side of the spectrum, particularly when they went through the period with no minor league team.

    • Just a Fan


      It is hard (impossible) to separate drafting well and developing well.

      If you say that Detroit has drafted well I will agree. If you tell me Detroit has done a fabulous job of development I will also agree.

      If you tell me this is the Detroit model I would say “Show me the team that is not trying to draft well or develop well”

      The one thing Detroit has done is spend money on Coaches (I assume at all levels). Maybe that is the Detroit Model. Spend money where other teams don’t / won’t

    • Feels like you’re missing the point.

      It isn’t about taking credit away from Detroit, it’s about the futility of trying to follow their “model”.

      17 of their 23 man roster last night spent at least two years in the AHL.

      How many of those 17 would have been sent immediately to the league playing elsewhere? The point is that they are drafting in a position where most guys play 2 years in the AHL.

      Plus there was really only about 8 guys you could sayspent 2 years in the AHL. Most of them spent 1 year and then came up part way into their 2nd year.

      Kindl is the only 1st round pick to spend at least 2 years in the AHL.

      They got lucky on Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but they also drafted them.

      They did, and they deserve credit for it, now if only there was some way to consistently draft franchise players after the 6th round.

      To give them no credit and say it was luck, and deep pockets and never having top picks… seems just a touch misleading.

      This comment is a pretty major misrepresentation of the piece. It isn’t so much that they were lucky, although that’s part of it, it’s that the things that created the idea of the “Detroit model” can’t really be replicated, even by the Wings themselves.

      They aren’t keeping guys down because that’s their policy, they are doing it because we are mostly talking about 2nd to 4th rounders who almost always spend a couple years in the minors.

      The thing with Datsyuk and Zetterberg would be like Chicago drafting franchise talents back to back in the late rounds just as Toews and Kane hit their late 20s. It’s incredible unlikely.

    • BDH

      In the last ten years…

      Every Detroit pick in the first half of the first round went right to the NHL

      Every Edmonton pick NOT picked in the first half of the first round spent some time in the minors, with the exception of Andrew Cogliano who was 20 years old and scored 18 goals that year.

      There is no “Detroit Model”

      There is a team that was fortunate enough to have a great core of players make up their team, which led to the team picking lesser players who were not good enough to play in the NHL right away.

      Even Ken Holland himself has said that if they were picking earlier in the first round then they would have selected better players and would not have had a problem playing those guys at 19.

      The consistency of the Detroit Red Wings is 100% due to the exceptional core they had where they simply did not have any holes to file for a long time.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      The credit lies with Ken Holland who is an excellent GM. he has done well both during post salary cap era and during the high payroll years but they bought their way to championships and it allowed a nice foundation for later years. It is experienced management and great coaching where the credit lies. Our organization had none of that in recent years and it wasn’t that long ago there was no money to pay for players or scouts and development and now that the team is still playing catch up putting the right people in place and filling giant holes on the team and in the organization. Thanks Mr. Nichols for leading the way.

  • Positive Ray of Sunshine

    “Five things” seems to be all the rage at the moment. How about these:

    I’m glad we didn’t try and get Kari Ramo in the off season

    I’m glad we lost out on Dougie Hamilton

    I’m glad we didn’t stick with a 3 goalie log jam

    I’m glad the players are all ‘buying in’

    I’m glad, correction, EXTREMELY happy with the new coaching staff

    Right now it’s pretty darned good to be an Oilers’ fan.

  • 2Oilers4

    Stauffer has pointed out a few times that in the NFL The Greenbay Packers lineup is full of mostly their own draft picks, something like 80%, I can’t remeber exactly, someone correct me if I’m wrong. They rely very little of ‘outside’ help. Detroit is similar to that, they are made up of mostly their own draft choices. I think that is a major contributor to being a perennial playoff team.
    We all know that the Oilers amatuer scouting has been something to be desired this past decade. If they can ice a team of mostly their own drafted players wouldn’t that be not only a cheaper option, but also a better one as the player can develop in Bakersfield learing the system so they are ready when they are called up? I think this is a big reason why Detroit has had so much success the last two decades.

  • Spydyr

    Yeah,the salary cap has been gone longer then the last Oiler’s playoff game.

    Developing your players in the minors is a good thing.

    Other than that the sarcasm was alright.

  • pkam

    Hmmm let’s see if I got that right,…

    1. Spend 50 % MORE than everyone else to ice a cup winner.

    2. Get INSANELY LUCKY with the Euros on Draft day.

    3. Still get beat by the lowly Oilers. I LOVE a warm victory !!

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Hey Arch,

    I’m currently in talks with NewAgesys guy. We are putting together a proposal to run he soon to be Quebec franchise. He asked me to ask you if we can add this blog to our game plan. He thinks it might give us the edge.

    Thanks in advance.

  • pkam

    Kudos to you. Finally an author from ON writes an article base on fact and not the old mystery of the Detroit model.

    Another mystery about them is the excellent Detroit scouts who drafted Datsyuk 171th overall in 1998 and Zetterberg 210th overall in 1999. Did anyone check what happen to the other Detroit draft picks in those 2 years? How about the picks higher than these two great Europeans in those two years? If the best picks of the year is a 6th or 7th rounder, don’t you think it is just luck?

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Good article.

    I would like to add #4: Try to draft arguably the greatest defenseman of all time (someone like Nicklas Lidström for example) in the 3nd round. No need to pick him in the 1st round or 2nd round so feel free to use those picks on who-was-that-guy players like Bob Boughner instead. Just make sure you draft your Nicklas Lidström type player in the 3rd round. Got it? 3rd round.

    Once you have arguably the greatest defenseman of all time on your team, he will be on the ice for half the game, every game, for about 20 years. This will cover a lot of other mistakes you make with drafting, developing, trading, etc.