March 31, 2017
Red Wings’ 25-year Stanley Cup
streak something to truly behold
By KEITH GAVE
The Red Wings may not own the longest streak of consecutive seasons making the playoffs at 25, but they certainly have the most impressive.
Which is why it galled me when studio analyst Mike Milbury stood in front of a national TV audience on NBC and openly rooted for Detroit’s streak to end – only so as not to threaten his Boston Bruins’ record of 29 straight. Laughable as that streak might be.
When Boston started its streak in 1967-68, the NHL had just doubled in size from six to 12 teams. Eight of them made the playoffs. For much of the duration of Boston’s streak, there were 21 teams, of which 16 made the playoffs. Understandably, the NHL’s playoff system was a running joke by professional sports’ standards.
Detroit’s 25-year streak started in the last year of the old 21-team league in 1990-91. From 1991 to 2000, the league grew to 30 teams. Still there were only 16 teams qualifying for the playoffs. So qualifying standards during the Red Wings’ streak was exponentially more difficult than Boston’s, when Milbury was playing; or Chicago’s 28 straight years from 1969-70 to 1996-97; or St. Louis’, 25, from 1979-80 to 2003-04.
Consistently making the playoffs got even more difficult in 2005-06, when the NHL returned after a lost season due to a lockout with a salary cap, instantly leveling competitive standards for all teams.
No longer could Ken Holland open up Mike Ilitich’s check book and sign all the best free agents available. The Wings’ general manager had to adjust, and he did, though for the previous couple of seasons he has resorted to metaphorical smoke, duct tape and mirrors to stitch together enough of a roster to squeak into the Stanley Cup tournament.
In the salary cap era, only two NHL clubs have made the playoffs each year: Detroit and Pittsburgh, which now owns the longest streak at 11. The Pens are followed by Chicago at nine, the New York Rangers at seven and the Blues at 6.
My point: It’s hard to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it’s getting harder with the NHL adding Las Vegas as an expansion market starting this fall.
There will be plenty of time for a post mortem for those petty enough to want to assign blame for Detroit’s failure to make the tournament this spring. Likewise, we will have months to examine what the Wings can and should do in order to begin another streak after they move into the spectacular new Little Caesars Arena this fall.
For now, let’s rejoice and celebrate an enormously successful accomplishment – what no less authority that Sports Illustrated is calling the greatest post-season streak in all of professional sports.
In the previous 25 seasons, the Detroit Red Wings have played 1,982 regular-season games and won 1,133 (104 more than any other NHL team), with 579 losses, 138 ties and 132 overtime losses. They compiled 2,536 points in the standings, 209 more than any other team. In the process, the set record for most wins in a season (62 in 1995-96), road wins in a season (31 in 2005-06), consecutive road wins (12 in 05-06) and consecutive home wins (23 in 2011-12).
Detroit hockey fans enjoyed 18 seasons watching their team finish with 100 or more points, including 12 straight from 2001-12 – with labor-strife-shortened seasons pro-rated. They averaged 105 points in those seasons. The won six President’s Trophies as the team with the best regular-season record – that’s three times more than any other club in that span.
It gets better.
In those 25 years, the Wings played 303 Stanley Cup playoff games in 54 seven-game series. They won 33 series, lost 21 with a record of 170-133. They made six trips to the Stanley Cup Finals and won four Stanley Cup titles – the same number as Pittsburgh in that 25-year span.
And some fans have the audacity to complain?
It’s not right.
I’ve enjoyed watching the fans showing up for these final dozen or so games at The Joe. It’s as though they are making a final pilgrimage, bringing their children or grandchildren. Sometimes is the whole family.
These are the fans who filled Joe Louis Arena 30 years ago, when the Wings were beginning their ascent to this wonderful streak of hockey they’ve given us. They’re the fans who got priced out of the market when ticket prices went through the roof because the Wings had waiting list of 15,000 in line to buy season tickets.
They are the ones, I am sure, who appreciate most what the Red Wings have given us over those 25 seasons – and even this one the way they’ve competed down the stretch.
Think about it: Anyone in their early to mid-30s has little or no memory of the Wings not making the playoffs. They only know Red Wings+April=Stanley Cup games. If this April feels weird to those of us of a certain age, think about how it feels to those younger fans.
They’re about to learn something we knew a long time ago: It’s not easy making the Stanley Cup tournament, despite how easy the Wings made it look for so many years. It’s something we should never take for granted. And that will make it a lot more fun when it happens.
. . .
Fight night at The Joe: 20 years ago, Claude Lemieux and a boy named Brendan created a serious dilemma for Red Wings’ Shanahan – visit www.keithgave.com