When you talk about creating a culture of winning, the textbook example would be the Detroit Red Wings. Sure there have been more successful teams in recent years like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, but no franchise has enjoyed a period of sustained success quite like Detroit.
The Red Wings last missed the playoffs in 1989-90, which translates to 23 consecutive seasons of postseason appearances (obviously, we’re ignoring the lockout eliminated 2004-05 campaign). That’s not the longest streak in the history of the league, but its close. Boston’s streak of 29 seasons from 1967–68 to 1995–96 holds that distinction, but it was arguably easier to make the playoffs for the Bruins given the percentage of teams that got in during that period.
Detroit has not only had to face more competition, but its also overcome the salary cap system.
Regardless, with every passing year, Detroit is coming closer to reaching that record, but how does that matter? After all, while the Red Wings are making the postseason, lately they haven’t done much in the playoffs.
The Red Wings have lost many of the players that made them a force to be reckoned with during much of their 23-season run; from Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and Sergei Fedorov, to Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Dominik Hasek. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still around and are two of the best forwards in the game, but they’re also in their mid-30s.
Sustained success has meant that the Detroit Red Wings haven’t been able to draft the cream of the crop prospects and while Datsyuk and Zetterberg were diamonds in the rough, Detroit hasn’t had a that big of a late-round success story since (Gustav Nyquist is arguably the closest after being taken in the fourth round of the 2008 entry draft, but he still has a lot to prove). They also haven’t been able to lure superstars to Detroit in recent years, which once wasn’t a big obstacle for the Red Wings.
This isn’t the suggest that the solution for Detroit is to abandon its attempt to rebuild on the fly and instead tank in the hopes of drafting the league’s next superstar. Chicago certainly benefited from a couple years of drafting high, but we’ve also seen with Edmonton that building through the draft can be a painful and not always effective process.
This also isn’t to dismiss Detroit’s current group of youngsters. Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Danny DeKeyser showed promise last season and they don’t represent the extent of the Red Wings’ farm system. At the same time, they have big shoes to fill and it’s far from a safe bet that they’ll be up to the task.
The question is more simple than that: Does Detroit’s consistency, by itself, matter? Would the Red Wings breaking that record be meaningful to fans if by that point they weren’t a true Stanley Cup contender and hadn’t been for years? It’s historic either way, but is it important?
Keep in mind that the next longest active streak is San Jose’s and no one seems to be celebrating the last decade of the Sharks making the playoffs.