The Wings have the best GM in the business with Ken Holland. And probably the best coach, too, in Mike Babcock, behind the bench for the last nine seasons. Two back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances since then, and one win. The Wings also know how to draft. They have contacts and scouts throughout Europe, all under the watchful eye of Hakan Andersson, the Director of European Scouting for the Wings since 1990. Based in his native Stockholm, Sweden, Andersson catches as many as 200 amateur games a year. With the NHL salary cap enforced since 2004, the Wings--and any club for that matter--are free to spend what they want on scouting. Detroit has it figured out as one way to beat the cap. Some other teams still haven’t clued in. A few of the bottom dwellers probably never will.
Going back as far as Steve Yzerman, the Wings have drafted for talent. If a player is too small, he can always fill out as he matures. Yzerman was no Hulk at first. Pavel Datsyuk is another great example of the transition of the skinny little guy turned muscle man. And the Wings also pick players out of the middle rounds and roll them into stars, this despite the fact they have not drafted in the Top 20 since 1991, when they chose Martin Lapointe 10th overall.
Prior to Andersson’s appearance, the Wings made three classic draft picks in 1989, when they chose Nicklas Lidstrom in the third round, 53rd overall; Sergei Fedorov in the fourth round, 74th overall; and Vladimir Konstantinov in the 11th round, 221st overall. Since these three steals, Hakan Andersson and his overseas staff have been directly responsible for every European Red Wing draft pick. Andersson and company scour Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic. They look for players who are fast, with superior puck-handling abilities, regardless of size. Some are speedy players considered too small by other teams. Asked on repeated occasions what makes a successful scout, Andersson replies, “30 percent hard work, 30 percent good eyes, and 40 percent luck.”
Some of Andersson’s top European picks over the years are as follows…
1990 Vyacheslav Koslov, 2nd round, 45th overall
1994 Tomas Holmstrom, 10th round, 257th overall (played over 1,000 games before he retired)
1998 Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round, 171st (perhaps the best two-way player in the game)
1999 Henrik Zetterberg, 7th round, 210th (their captain)
2000 Niklas Kronwall, 1st round, 29th overall (considered too small of a defenseman by other clubs)
2002 Jonathan Ericsson, 9th round, 291st (the last pick of the draft)
2004 Johan Franzen, 3rd round, 97th overall
2008 Gustav Nyquist, 4th round, 121st (NHL scoring sensation in the last half of the 2013-14 season)
2009 Tomas Tatar, 2nd round, 60th overall
2011 Tomas Jurco, 2nd round, 35th overall
Besides drafting excellent European talent, the Wings have known how to trade. Two deals in the same season were significant. The first, Paul Coffey and Keith Primeau (two players who never seemed to fit in as Red Wings) were sent to the Hartford Whalers on 9 October 1996 in exchange for Brian Glynn and high-scoring winger Brendan Shanahan. That same season, Leaf defenseman and future Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy, was booed by the silly Toronto Maple Leaf fans every time he touched the puck. On 18 March 1997, the Leafs dealt Murphy to the Wings for future considerations. Scotty Bowman put him alongside Nicklas Lidstrom. The result? The best 1-2 defense punch in the NHL, and back-to-back NHL championships, the Wings first Stanley Cups since 1955.
Another great acquisition was Kris Draper in 1993, taken from Winnipeg for future considerations because Bowman wanted a fourth line center who could take face-offs. The futures ended up being one whole dollar, which Draper--as a joke--paid back to owner Mike Ilitch after the Wings won the Cup in 1997. Another acquisition was giving up a first round draft pick, future considerations, and Vyacheslav Kozlov to get Dominik Hasek from Buffalo in 2001. With Hasek in net, the Wings won the Cup in 2002.
Fourth lines are a touchy subject around the NHL. They’re usually the goon guys who wear their helmets sideways and are on the ice for six minutes, then in the penalty box for four minutes. Not so in Detroit. The Wings fourth line in any given year was--and still is--better than a lot of other teams’ third lines. For years, Detroit had one of the best in Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, and Kirk Maltby. The Grind Line. Today, when the young players come up to Detroit from their AHL Grand Rapids team, they’re put on the fourth line before they work their way up. It’s expected of them, and the players know it. Youngsters like Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary, and Justin Abdelkader had to earn their “wings.” In addition, the team doesn’t like to bring up a player too early. They stay down in the AHL until they are considered good and ready. However, this past season nearly half the Grand Rapid’s team came up for a varied amount of games because of the massive injuries on the big squad. And they performed quite well.
We can’t forget the goaltending. The Wings have had some decent guys between the pipes for the last few decades now, too. Mike Vernon, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, and more recently, Jimmy Howard, taken in the second round, 64th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft.
No wonder why Detroit is called “Hockeytown.” For years, starting with Nicklas Lidstrom drafted in 1989, the thought process around the league was that the Wings had too many Europeans to win the Stanley Cup. No guts. No grit. Well, they proved a lot of people wrong--including Don Cherry--once they won back-to-back in 1997 and 1998 and two more later. Four championships in 11 seasons, leading up to and including 2008.
The Wings go for the European speed, mixed in with North American talent. The Red Wings have the highest number of Europeans on their roster at 13. The lowest is Toronto with two. Maybe that tells you something about the Maple Leafs dismal showings these last few years. No speed. No wonder why they can’t keep up. They need a better mix. Chicago and Tampa--Steve Yzerman’s influence as Ken Holland’s assistant for sure--have 11. Every other NHL club is under 10.
Twenty-three straight years in the playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings…and counting. They’re obviously doing something right.