There are plenty of ways to build a great sports dynasty. Some teams simply buy the best talent with their impossibly deep pockets; others luck out by losing their way to a host of No. 1 draft picks or absurdly one-sided trades. But few teams have done it just about every way imaginable like the Detroit Red Wings, a franchise that has dominated hockey for close to 20 years now.
Leagues are designed to strengthen the weak and paralyze those who seem too powerful, but the Red Wings have been so far ahead of the curve that it didn’t matter. Smart teams tend to unearth gems and no hockey club has done more with sixth round draft picks (two nobodies like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) than Detroit.
Their almost unfair dominance really began in the ’90s when the Red Wings made major investments in European scouting. The team took a chance on Sergei Fedorov when a Russian even being able to play in the U.S. was far from a sure thing and went to comical (but necessary) lengths to keep players such as Nicklas Lidstrom a secret, as Michael Farber of SI wrote.
” … [Detroit scout Neil] Smith was afraid that Meehan would raise Lidstrom’s profile by talking him up to G.M.’s or parading him around the Twin Cities during draft week. Smith even stopped mentioning Lidstrom to other Wings staffers for fear someone might drop the name in conversation. “There was a blackout,” Holland says. “Neil told me about Lidstrom when he got back from Europe that January-we were best friends at the time-but he saw no need for anybody else in the organization to [scout him].”
The Red Wings would need to be great at finding gems, because they’ve never had the chance to stockpile quality draft picks. In fact, because of aggressive trading and a perennially strong finish, the Red Wings only had two first round draft picks from 1997-2004 (Jiri Fischer in ’98 and Niklas Kronwall in ’00). Then again, when you win 13 division titles, earn 6 Presidents’ Trophies, make it to 6 Stanley Cup finals and end up with 4 Cups since 1990, you’re probably not going to get good draft picks.
Bad picks couldn’t stop Detroit. The salary cap only highlighted their savvy. So, yes, maybe Detroit isn’t as dominant this season but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.