When it comes to model franchises in professional sports, some teams stand out from the rest. Franchises like the New England Patriots, San Antonio Spurs and St. Louis Cardinals immediately come to mind, but no franchise can currently match the consistency standard set by the Detroit Red Wings.
Sure, coaches like Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock have brought stability behind the bench, and elite players like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk have made legendary impacts. However, there is one common denominator for the Wings’ sustained success: GM Ken Holland.
Holland, one of the best GMs in all of sports over the last 20 years, has been busier than usual over the last two seasons. After perennially being a 100-point club battling at the top of the standings, the last two seasons have really showed why Holland is the top GM in pro sports.
It all started with the retirement of Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom before the 2012-2013, and the free agent losses of defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Jiri Hudler. The losses of those key personnel paired with injuries forced the Wings into a do-or-die final four games of the regular season, in which they needed all eight points just to make the playoffs.
Veterans like Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall led the way for the Wings, but the late-season signing of coveted young defenseman Danny DeKeyser was paramount in stabilizing the Wings’ weakness on the blueline. The college standout at Western Michigan University immediately stepped into the Wings’ lineup and looked like a seasoned veteran and helped bolster the Wings’ weakest leak.
As a result, the Wings not only extended their playoff streak to 22 years, but they also took out the high-flying Anaheim Ducks in the first round before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7 in the second round.
Thus, after a solid finish in what was to be a bit of a “rebuilding” year, there were high hopes for the Wings, especially moving over to the more shallow Eastern Conference. However, poor play at home, inconsistent play from the normally reliable Howard in net and a bevy of injuries to key cogs have once again put the Wings’ amazing playoff streak in jeopardy.
Crushing injuries to offensive catalysts Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm were seen as potential death blows to the Wings’ playoff streak, but per usual, super-GM Holland worked his magic to bolster one of the most banged-up teams in the league.
Holland was able to add a consummate veteran in center David Legwand at the trade deadline while not paying a killer price that most trade deadline acquisitions require. All Legwand has done is step into the Wings’ top line with Franzen and Nyquist and record three points in his first two games. The Michigan native was flat-out awesome in a big 7-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, and it appears that he will be a major piece if the Wings are to push their playoff streak to 23 straight years.
If this team can in fact get healthy and make the playoffs, the depleted center position will turn into an area of absolute strength. With centers like Zetterberg (hopeful for a first-round return), Datsyuk, Helm and Legwand in the mix, there is no reason to believe the Wings can’t go on another late season run like they did last year.
If that does happen, Holland will further cement his status as one of the best GMs in sports history.
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