Stanley Cup Finals – Preview

It’s a plot taken directly from a Hollywood movie, a bunch of young-guns, talented and fearless going up against a veteren-filled proven champion team; this is the setting of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this year’s Stanley Cup finals holds the highest promotional value to Professional Ice Hockey in the past decade. It is matchup like this that can attract viewers to watch the most exciting sports on earth. Prior to the lock-out, we hear owners complaining about shrinking markets, dying franchises and lost viewers on cable networks, but after years of adjustments and changes like improved officiating and salary cap, we are here finally, back to the very basics – the entertainment and excitement of the game itself. Without this, there can be no future for this sport that we love so much.This is probably why I have never been a fan of the boring trapping style of play. The game is about speed and excitement. I still remember the days when I used to watch Pavel Bure flying through the neutral zone stick-handling through all five skaters on the opposing team and then do a double-deak to score on the goalie. Fans used to jump out of their seats and cheer. That’s when I fell in love with this sport. But recently I rarely hear young people talk about ice-hockey anymore. It almost seems like every time I bump into someone who enjoys hockey, they are the same age as I am. Those who have the luxury to experience the true exciting hockey games are those who remain loyal to the sport their entire life.

Although I am a Canucks fan, I find myself cheering for the Penguins and the Red Wings throughout their path to the finals this year. I think the reason I love both teams is simply that both teams play to score. Of course, the pens and the wings have excellent blue-liners, and both teams stresses team defense, but their success comes from their offense. Mike Babcock and Michel Therrien both are able to allow their forwards do what they do best, that is to score goals.

I will start by looking at the Detroit Red Wings. The wings are really the model franchise, as a lot of people will agree. In today’s Pro-Sport, especially those that have salary cap, it seems inevitable that cup-winning franchise will soon go into re-building phase once they reach the top. It’s especially true for the NHL, we see the Islanders, Oilers, Canadiens, Bruins, Penguins, Avalanche, Stars, all must go through a low cycle before they can bounce back to compete again. It makes perfect sense if you think about it,1. You build a cup-winning franchise
2. You win the cup
3. Maybe you can extend one more year with the current roster
4. Players become too expensive to remain the entire group intact
5. You loose key players and the team becomes less competitive
6. The team starts loosing
7. You drop the remaining star-player, maybe keeping one or two of your franchise players
8. You get a chance at a good drafting position
9. You draft top prospect for a few years while you team become bottom-feeders
10. Prospects mature, and the team becomes contender again


If you look at the Red Wings for the last 10 seasons (not including the lockout in 04-05), they have never had fewer than 43 wins per season, they were conference champions 5 times, won the Stanley Cup 3 times, sweeping the opponents 4 games to 0 in the finals twice (against Flyers in 97, against Capitals in 98). During this span, they have never been lower than 4th place in their conference. Detroit is also the only team with the most players to ever played for one team in their career. How do you build a franchise with such consistency and loyalty?? The answer is that the best team always build from within. Note that most, if not all, of Detroit’s most productive players, from the time of Yzerman to Zetterberg are all drafted and developed by their organization. Points producers of their early stanley cup team includes:Steve Yzerman – Detroit draft 1983 4th Overall
Sergei Federov – Detroit draft 1989 74th Overall
Mathieu Dandenault – Detroit draft 1994 49th Overall
Tomas Holmstrom – Detroit draft 1994 257th Overall
Vyacheslav Kozlov – Detroit draft 1990 45th Overall
Vladimir Konstantinov – Detroit draft 1989 221th Overall
Joey Kocur – Detroit draft 1983 88th Overall
Mike Knuble – Detroit draft 1991 76th Overall
Martin LaPointe – Detroit draft 1991 10th Overall
Nicklas Lidstrom – Detroit draft 1989 53th Overall
Darren McCarty – Detroit draft 1992 46th Overall
Chris Osgood – Detroit draft 1991 54th Overall
Jamie Pushor – Detroit draft 1991 32th Overall

What about this year’s Campbell Bowl winner line-up:

Justin Abdelkader – Detroit draft 2005 42th Overall
Pavel Datsyuk – Detroit draft 1998 171th Overall
Dallas Drake – Detroit draft 1989 116th Overall
Cory Emmerton – Detroit draft 2006 41th Overall
Valtteri Filppula – Detroit draft 2002 85th Overall
Johan Franzen – Detroit draft 2004 97th Overall
Darren Helm – Detroit draft 2005 132th Overall
Tomas Holmstrom – Detroit draft 1994 257th Overall
Jiri Hudler – Detroit draft 2002 58th Overall
Darren McCarty – Detroit draft 1992 46th Overall
Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit draft 1999 210th Overall
Jonathan Ericsson – Detroit draft 2002 291th Overall
Jakub Kindl – Detroit draft 2005 19th Overall
Niklas Kronwall – Detroit draft 2000 29th Overall
Nicklas Lidstrom – Detroit draft 1989 53th Overall
Derek Meech – Detroit draft 2002 229th Overall
Kyle Quincey – Detroit draft 2003 132th Overall
Jimmy Howard – Detroit draft 2003 64th Overall
Chris Osgood – Detroit draft 1991 54th Overall

On the teams of both era, there are more than half of the roster composed of Detroit’s own draft picks, while most of their star players are taken late in drafts. With the exception of Steve Yzerman, most of their franchise faces are low picks, Federov (74), Lidstrom (53), Datsyuk (171), Zetterberg (210), Osgood (54), Holmstrom (257), Franzen (97), Kronwall (29). This stat, some may interpret as a failure to use their top picks on drafting star players. But due to Detroit continual success in the recent decades, they are always late in terms of draft position. Yet they are still able to find the diamond in the rough in examples of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, year after year. Of course, aside from their scouting, their player development program plays the main role in this area of success.
To round out our look at Detroit, I think that in recent decades, rarely do we see a championship team composed of so many self-draft players, could this be related to the success of Detroit in the regular season as well as play-offs during this time? With a team so experienced (7 players returning from the 2002 cup-winning team) and so balanced in every aspect, having scoring leaders in the dynamic duo, future hall-of-famer Lidstrom on the blue-line with Rafalsky and Kronwall, powerful secondary scoring in Franzen, and cup-winning goaltender in Osgood, I would think that most can agree that the Red Wings have a slight upper-hand over the Penguins, at least on paper.
I will continue with a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow.

Signing out, this is Saint Pako of the Hockey Digest.

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