The first team to be eliminated in this year’s playoffs as I predicted was the Detroit Redwings. Their quick elimination should make plain to its management that the glory years are finally over. Of the once dynastic Redwings, only Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg remain and that is not enough. That the Redwings are still respectable enough to make the playoffs is a tribute to the team character and the foresight of its management, but the loss to Tampa Bay should prove to almost everyone that while this is a respectable team, it is no longer a contender for the Stanley Cup. Detroit was also one of two teams to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential.
However this article is not one to condemn or point out obvious shortcomings but as a salute, a look-back to what Detroit has accomplished during its second golden era. Four Stanley Cups have been added to Detroit’s total, now tying them for second with Toronto on the all-time Stanley Cup list behind only Montreal. For a long time Detroit was stuck on seven victories until Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom came along. Yzerman, Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, and Sergie Fedorov are already in the Hall Of Fame. There may be more coming.
To really understand what Detroit has accomplished, one has to go back to 1970 when Gordie Howe retired from the team. That finally ended the first golden era that started back in the early 1950s when Detroit was the powerhouse of the NHL with Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Abel leading the way. After 1970, Detroit plunged into what probably was the darkest period of its history beginning with “Darkness With Harkness”. It was not until 1983 when Detroit, with new owner Mike Ilitch, drafted Steve Yzerman that any hope for the franchise loomed, after a decade of being one of the principal laughingstocks of the NHL.
Slowly the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together… Yzerman, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Fedorov, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and many others. What distinguished this group from its glorious predecessor of the 1950s was the contribution by non-Canadians. After 1989 when the Iron Curtain finally fell and Russians and other East Europeans were at last allowed to play in the NHL without any political impediments, Detroit took full advantage of the situation to recruit many of its future stars to put its talent over the top. Much of the credit has to go to two General Managers, Jim Devellano, and Ken Holland, who have kept this team respectable if not a contender after a decade and a half of misery. Detroit has made the playoffs for 24 straight years, and the streak still continues, despite this year’s early exit.
However one cannot overlook the meaning of this year’s early elimination. The Detroit glory years are over and it is now time to rebuild. Detroit now needs younger players to create a third golden era. Zetterberg and Datsyuk still have a role to play. They can teach the next group of Redwing superstars the meaning of what it is to be a Redwing, a champion, and instill in the younger players the spirit of victory. They can “pass the torch” as the Montreal Canadiens like to phrase it. But that is the future. For now, writers and hockey fans can give the remaining members of the second Redwing golden era a well-earned salute.