Nicklas Lidstromof the Detroit Red Wings skates the Stanley Cup over to teammates. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
You know, the NHL would like everyone to play nice and get along, just like they do in minor hockey. Give everybody a chance to win once in awhile and maybe, just maybe the folks in Nashville and Phoenix and Florida will start coming out to the games.
But the Detroit Red Wings don’t play nice. They win when they have all the marbles and they win when the guys who govern the game make them give some of their marbles away. And judging by the way they won their 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history, they’re not about to start playing for the participation badge anytime soon.
The Red Wings, as you probably already know, won their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the final. The Cup final was a vintage battle, one of those ones that can do nothing but good for the sport, but the fact the Red Wings won has really set back the NHL’s grand plan for parity. That’s because these Red Wings aren’t going anywhere soon. They really like winning and they’re intent on doing it again and again…and maybe again.
The Red Wings would not allow the powerful Penguins to unleash their offensive prowess even once, but what makes this so great for hockey was the Wings never collapsed into the trap, even when they led by a goal late in a game. The Penguins didn’t get any shots because they couldn’t touch the puck.
Clearly, these Red Wings are not the Stanley Cup posers the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes were. Their history suggests they’ll at least be a serious contender every year, but their future says it with a great, big exclamation mark.
No team in the NHL has learned to manage the salary cap the way the Red Wings have and it certainly helps that the cap, which was supposed to bring some sanity to all of this, continues to balloon to the point where the Red Wings will likely be able to keep all their core players happy.
The Red Wings had plenty of cap room this season and if they need to fill a hole they can either do it by going out and getting a free agent who wants a real chance at a Stanley Cup or from within.
For example, neither Andreas Lilja nor Brett Lebda has proved to be the second coming of Doug Harvey and who knows whether Chris Chelios will attempt to continue his quest to be the first player to play until his 100th birthday.
No problem, the Red Wings will just fill that hole with Jonathan Ericsson, a mammoth defender the Wings picked with the 291st – and last – overall pick at the 2002 draft in Toronto.
“Everybody’s closing up their books and packing up and (assistant GM Jim Nill) picks this kid Ericsson,” recalled Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “The kid is 6-foot-7 and he’s probably going to play for our team next year. We get him with the last pick of the draft.”
The Red Wings have their first-round pick for the second straight draft – something of a rare occurrence in these parts – and their Stanley Cup victory guarantees it will be 30th overall.
Holland admits he’s looking forward to the draft, but not for the reason you might think.
“I’m not worried about who we’ll pick in the first round,” Holland said. “I can’t wait to see who we pick in the sixth.”
Much bravado behind that, but it’s so justified. The Red Wings have a Murderer’s Row in their front office that is almost as scary as the team is on the ice.
And they might be together for just as long, too. Earlier this season, owner Mike Ilitch sat down Nill and vice-president Steve Yzerman and basically told them he would pay them GM-type wages, but that they were beholden to the organization and if any others came to poach them, the answer would almost certainly be no.
Both were told if they had designs on going somewhere else where they don’t have a pre-planned parade route that they shouldn’t sign their contracts. Both of them signed on the dotted line.
And if that weren’t impressive enough, the Red Wings have Pavel Datsyuk under contract for another six years at $6.7 million, Brian Rafalski for another four at $6 million, Niklas Kronwall for another four at $3 million, Dan Cleary for another five at $2.8 million and Chris Osgood for another three at $1.41 million.
Henrik Zetterberg is under contract for next season at $2.9 million and you just know Holland will have him sign a nice, long extension shortly after he can begin negotiating with him July 1. Tomas Holmstrom is around for another two years at $2.25 million and Johan Franzen has a year left at $942,000.
And don’t forget, the Red Wings and coach Mike Babcock are very close to signing a long-term extension that will keep him behind the bench for years to come.
Does all of this mean the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup win Wednesday night is the first of a dynasty run? Not necessarily, but we do know this much – the Red Wings will remain a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup every season for the foreseeable future.
And judging by the way they approach the game, that’s great news for the NHL, whether those who run the league like it or not.
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