May 18, 2013
DETROIT, Michigan ---
Gone are the days of dynasties. Gone are the days of luring high profile free agents to join your club or team. This, is the new NHL.
The Detroit Red Wings have gone through more change this season than this generation of Wings fans has ever seen. With the retirement of defenseman Nick Lidstrom last summer, the final piece from the dynasty known as the late 90's-00's Red Wings was calling it quits.
Ever since the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL has put a salary cap on teams, effectively ending the crazy spending some teams were (and weren't) doing up until then. What this did was create more parity throughout the league since teams had a certain range that they were allowed to spend on their rosters.
Teams such as the 2001-02 Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings which had players like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Sergei Federov, Lidstrom, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov and Chris Chelios, would never have been able to stay under the cap. In my opinion, this team, one of the best rosters ever assembled, aided the NHL in realizing it needed to change. Teams like this will never be seen again, as long as Gary and the owners have their way. GM Ken Holland referred to the drastic changes in Detroit the past few seasons as "rebuilding on the fly".
For many teams in the NHL today, rebuilding essentially means that you trade away your players that have the biggest trade stock for top prospects in the minor leagues, and future draft picks. It's a minimum 3-5 year process, as those prospects and picks need time to develop to the NHL game. They also must be surrounded with the right core of veterans to show them the way, all the while their teams must adhere to the salary cap restrictions. Most rebuilding teams spend years at the bottom of the standings. Just look at the Edmonton Oilers the past 5 years or so.
In the NHL today, you absolutely must build off the draft. All of a sudden the Red Wings, who have a history of trading away draft picks in return for top players, find themselves needing to change. We saw this in particularly during the trade deadline this year, when Ken Holland elected to save Detroit's draft picks, even when fans wanted the Wings to add a top scorer or veteran defenseman. It was a move for the future. Holland realized the teams that have drafted well over the past 4 or 5 years are seeing tremendous results today.
Take for example, the Red Wings 1st round opponent, the Anaheim Ducks. The trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan were all Anaheim picks and have now blossomed into huge stars. Now, Kyle Palmeri, Emerson Etem, and Cam Fowler are the next wave of Duck picks that will emerge into NHL stars. Also look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. By drafting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and further surrounding them with star players, they're now an annual Cup favorite.
Now, let's look at the Red Wings current opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks. If there's a team that has used the draft more effectively than any other, it's Chicago. In a recent Fox Sports Detroit article, Red Wing senior VP Jim Devellano stated that "Chicago is good enough to win the Cup this year". [http://www.foxsportsdetroit.com/nhl/detroit-red-wings/story/Devellano-tells-it-like-he-sees-it?blockID=903213&feedID=3706]
Chicago was awful for quite a long time, but were collecting draft picks at the same time. Their terrible play finally paid off when they were able to draft Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the 2006 and 2007 drafts. Once they had the core of Kane and Toews, they surrounded them with other top draft picks, such as Bryan Bickell, Corey Crawford, Brandon Saad, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick leddy and Andrew Shaw. Add good trades, like the Patrick Sharp deal, and the signing of Marian Hossa, and you have a team that was built from the ground up that is the favorite to bring home a Stanley Cup. In the FSD article, Devellano points out that had there not been a salary cap, Hossa would probably still be a Detroit Red Wing.
“We have spoiled people rotten here. We really have. But if you (fans) really follow the league, really know what’s going on and know the rules, then you’ll understand what the Red Wings are doing. You will not have unrealistic expectations.” - Jim Devellano
For the Detroit Red Wings, "rebuilding on the fly" will mean collecting draft picks, while keeping their record breaking playoff streak alive. It's hard to find star players like Kane and Toews or Perry and Getzlaf without top 10 picks. Those are only reserved for teams who don't make the playoffs, something unheard of in Detroit. With a core of aging veterans like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, young players will be looked at to have a bigger role.
The Red Wings will certainly be competitive for years to come, especially with the emergence of Nyquist, Brunner, Andersson and DeKeyser. But the dominance this generation of Wings fans has been accustomed to seeing will probably never be seen again.