So the Red Wings made the playoffs this year. So what?
Isn’t that what they do every year?
It’s spring, and the Red Wings will be playing hockey while the Tigers play baseball. What’s the big deal?
The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I may as well have just told you that caffeine is in coffee and GM is in trouble.
The Red Wings are the longest-running post-season show going in professional sports. They are “The Mousetrap” of hockey.
The Red Wings have been doing this playoff thing for 23 seasons in a row. They are the team that has its table by the window, reserved, while other post-season patrons have come and gone.
For all we know, the NHL might not even hold the playoffs if the Red Wings aren’t there to participate in them.
Our daughter turns 21 on Monday and her parents hadn’t even met the last time Detroit didn’t have an entry in the Stanley Cup tournament. And now here is our daughter, who is going to be old enough to legally tip a drink to celebrate the first playoff puck drop next week.
The Red Wings’ 23-year run in the playoffs has outlasted marriages and even the second marriages of those divorced in between. It’s seen four presidents, gobs of Congressmen and dozens of political scandals. It started when Dennis Rodman was normal.
So this is what they do, these Red Wings. They play hockey when the lawn mowers are whirring, the grills are smoking and the trees are blossoming. We start watching them with sweats and fuzzy slippers on and by the time they’re through, we’ve switched to shorts and flip-flops.
The Red Wings are in the playoffs. So what else is new?
Well, there’s this. The Red Wings made their playoff push down the stretch without anyone named Zetterberg and, mostly, without anyone named Datsyuk.
The Red Wings are in the playoffs with a cache of rookies, a few reliable vets and an old man who spent 17 years somewhere else. It seems like everyone on the roster is either 22 or 40.
There’s Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist, which isn’t exactly a Who’s Who of Red Wings lore. Heck, they’re really not even a Who’s Who of last year’s Red Wings.
There’s the old man, Daniel Alfredsson, who is 41 years old and without a Stanley Cup—hockey’s Ernie Banks, though Alfredsson, at least, has seen his share of playoff hockey (16 of his 18 NHL years, to be precise).
But once the puck drops next week to kick off the team’s annual kick at the can, it will only matter that the boys in the blood red sweaters with the winged wheel on their chest are present and accounted for. It won’t matter what the names are on the back of the jerseys.
These are the Red Wings. They have a mystique, like the Raiders had in the NFL or the Yankees have in MLB or the Celtics have in the NBA—all teams whose uniforms never change, nor their marketability.
Don’t for a moment think that the NHL isn’t happy to have the Red Wings along for yet another post-season ride. Hockey fans may tire of seeing Detroit as a playoff team, but the league never will.
The Red Wings are money. Their North American-wide fan base travels well with them, and that will probably be even more so now that the Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference and won’t be starting any playoff series more than 700 miles away from Detroit.
This will be old school playoff hockey, even if the Red Wings may not even face an Original Six team in any round. It’s old school because this will be like hockey in the old days, when there wasn’t a team west of Chicago and all the traveling was done by train.
The Red Wings won’t be taking any trains to Pittsburgh or Boston—their two possible first round opponents—but neither will any playoff game start after 7:30 p.m. No more cross country treks to Los Angeles or San Jose or Anaheim.
Over the past 23 seasons, the Stanley Cup playoff formats have changed, the divisions have changed names and teams, the Red Wings have even switched conferences, have played for four different coaches and through it all, one thing has remained constant.
Springtime hockey in the Motor City.
The Red Wings have accomplished this 23-year post-season streak in a time unlike the Original Six days, when 67% of the teams made the playoffs just by showing up each night. In fact, unless you were the Rangers or the Bruins, you were in the playoffs in the 1950s and much of the ‘60s.
This current streak has been kept alive in a time where just 16 of 30 teams qualify, or barely 53% of the league.
Look at three of the four teams the Red Wings defeated in the Finals in their Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997.
The Philadelphia Flyers, the ’97 victims, barely made the playoffs in 1998 and were dismissed in five games in the first round.
The Washington Capitals, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’98 Finals, finished 14 games below .500 the next year and out of the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes, the 2002 Finals participants, nosedived to 21 games below .500 and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2002-03.
Only the 2009 Penguins, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’08 Finals, rebounded—and they won the Cup.
So it’s not like making it all the way to the Cup Finals guarantees success, even just one year hence.
But the Red Wings have suffered Finals losses, first-round knockouts, Conference Finals disappointments and have won four Cups during this 23-year streak—yet no playoff result of the previous spring has managed to have anything to do with keeping Detroit out of the post-season party the following season.
The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Again.
And where is Dennis Rodman these days?