DETROIT – The NHL’s model organization is on the verge of adding a fourth Stanley Cup championship in 11 years.
But this one would be especially sweet for GM Ken Holland and his all-star cast of front-office personnel.
Three years ago, coming out of the lockout, the widely held belief was that the Wings would fall flat on their face under a salary cap, unable to outspend their competition like they had in the 1990s.
Well, there’s no cap on drafting and developing. There’s no limit on smart decisions.
They’ve got an US$800,000-goalie, Chris Osgood, stopping pucks. And a few scrap heap free-agent signings, such as Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary, playing key roles. Holland and the boys are once again showing why they are the cream of the crop in this league.
It’s one thing to have money. It’s another to know how to spend it. No wonder the Toronto Maple Leafs approached the Wings about talking to Holland or assistant GM Jim Nill for their vacant GM job. And were turned down.
Consider the depth the Wings have assembled despite playing on the same economic playing field this time around. Forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen are vastly important players, big-time offensive contributors who play key minutes. The Wings won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final without Franzen and Game 4 without Holmstrom.
In Game 1, Samuelsson stepped up with two goals in Franzen’s absence. In Game 4, Cleary was effective taking Holmstrom’s spot on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Depth.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk, meanwhile, are emblematic of what the Wings have been all about ever since Scotty Bowman convinced Steve Yzerman to give up 20 offensive points a year in exchange for becoming the game’s best two-way centre. Zetterberg and Datsyuk are the offensive catalysts on this team. They’re also both nominated for the Selke Trophy this year, awarded to the NHL’s best defensive forward.
So while Zetterberg has been limited to one goal and one assist in the Cup final, his defensive work has been spectacular. And that’s why he’s a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The real backbone of this team, however, is a blue-line as deep as they come in the salary cap era. The top four, especially, is bulletproof. Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski and five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom have limited a Pittsburgh Penguins offence that proved unstoppable in the Eastern Conference this year.
Lidstrom is the key, of course, a player the Wings believe has actually been underrated despite his collection of trophies. Like Zetterberg, he’s also a Conn Smythe candidate.
“Nick Lidstrom is a guy that should have won the Most Valuable Player award at some point in time,” said Holland. “He’s been the greatest defenceman in the game for a decade.”
He’s the player that’s made all the other decisions possible over the last 15 years.
“By the mid-90s, you’ve got one of the most important players in the game on your team,” said Holland. “And that’s where it starts.”
Surrounding Lidstrom with other gems has been the job of Holland, Nill, director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell and director of European scouting Hakan Anderson.
Because of their perennial success – 17 consecutive years in the payoffs – and trade deadline deals sending high draft picks to other teams, the Wings have had to find stars way past the first round.
Holmstrom was taken 257th overall in 1994, Datsyuk, 171st overall in ’98, Zetterberg, 210th overall in 1999, Tomas Kopecky, 38th overall in 2000, Jiri Hudler, 58th overall in ’02, Valtteri Filppula, 95th overall in ’02, and Franzen, 97th overall in ’04.
And there’s more coming. The Wings believe 24-year-old defenceman Jonathan Ericsson will be a stud, perhaps as soon as next season. The six-foot-four, 206-pound Swede (of course) was taken 291st overall in the 2002 NHL entry draft.
While the Cups will be harder to come by once the 38-year-old Lidstrom calls it quits in a few years, that kind of continued drafting will ensure stability and a competitive team.