In 2017, the Detroit Red Wings failed to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 1989-90. In their 25-season run, the Wings set a bar when it came to excellence. I mean, yes, the Boston Bruins had a 29-season run from 1968-1996 and the Chicago Blackhawks had their run of 28 from 1970-1997. But Detroit was the most recent, with a 25-season run of playoff hockey in Motown and a run that we may never see again in professional sports.
The 89-90 Red Wings team consisted of a roster made up of Jimmy Carson, Bernie Federko, Gerard Gallant, Adam Graves, Petr Klima, Jim Nill, Bob Probert, and Borje Salming. The captain of that team – a 24-year-old Steve Yzerman. Detroit would go 28-38-14 that season with 70 points. Keeping in mind, that 14 was ties (worth a single point), they finished last in the then Norris Division and second last in the then Campbell Conference. No currently active NHL players were in the NHL at the time, ten current NHL franchises did not exist (11 if you add Seattle).
A Quarter Century Run
In that incredible 25-season run, the Wings raised the Stanley Cup four times and a nail-biter final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, saw them come so close to a fifth cup. They appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals six times, won the Presidents’ Trophy six times, won 1133 regular-season games; earning a total of 2536 points. They set records for regular season wins with 62 in 1995-96, road wins with 31 in 2005-06, consecutive road wins with 12 in 2005-06, and consecutive home wins with 23 in 2011-12. For 21 seasons, they dominated and weren’t even close to missing the playoffs. In fact, they finished top 4 in their respective conference 18 times and had safely secured their playoff spots with over 12 points in the other three seasons.
One of the biggest things throughout this incredible run was the ‘passing of the torch’ that kept the streak going without a hiccup. The foundation of the first half of their run was made up of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, and Nicklas Lidstrom – surrounded by a strong supporting cast of players, and led by legendary coach, Scotty Bowman. However, between 2002 and 2006, many thought the re-build would begin and the Wings would slip. With Scotty Bowman retiring in 2002, Sergei Fedorov signing with Anaheim in 2003 as a free agent, and Steve Yzerman retiring in 2006 – Detroit fans felt hopes begin to dwindle. However, the scouting system in Detroit would not fail Hockeytown. With Pavel Datsyuk selected in the sixth round at 171 in 1998 and Henrik Zetterberg selected in the seventh round at 210 in 1999 – a new era would begin and again with a strong supporting cast.
Salary Cap Hell?
In 2005-06, the NHL introduced the salary cap. The Detroit Red Wings were forced to cut their payroll in half to meet the $39M limit and hired head coach, Mike Babcock to take the reigns.
You didn’t know if you could keep the thing going.Mike Babcock, Head Coach (2005-2015)
GM Ken Holland adapted to the new ‘cap-era’ and kept adjusting the roster. Only five players were part of the 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008 Stanley Cup championship teams; Chris Draper, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, and Darren McCarty. In 2012, Nicklas Lidstrom would go on to retire and in 2015, Mike Babcock would leave for Toronto – but still, the Red Wings kept on doing it. Finally, at the end of the 2015-16 season, Pavel Datsyuk left for the KHL and the glory years came to an end.
Enter 2021. A season turned upside down with an ongoing pandemic after a 2020 season that was paused and cut short for the same reason. The Detroit Red Wings are currently last in the covid-inspired ‘Central’ Division with a 6-13-3 record over 22 games and a lackluster -24 goal differential. In addition, they are actually 30th overall in the NHL ahead of the Ottawa Senators who are only worse due to their 7-14-1 current record (but they’re also riding a 3-game winning stream and appear to have found their footing). The Wings last playoff appearance came in 2015-16 where they finished with a 41-30-11 record and were ousted 4-1 in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It looks like it’s going to be another disappointing season for Red Wings fans but hopefully GM Steve Yzerman & Co. find away to bring playoff hockey back to Hockeytown in the near future in hopes of bringing a new era of success.