After much speculation about their demise, the Red Wings have ultimately sustained success.
The weather has warmed. It's late May. The Red Wings are playing a pivotal Game 4 against the Blackhawks at an increasing frenzied Joe Louis Arena Thursday night.
The Red Wings have advanced to the second-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They hold a two games to one lead over Chicago, the best team in the NHL during the regular season. They have already knocked out the third-best NHL team during the regular season in the opening round, the Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings have maintained their tradition.
Unlike the Blackhawks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had the NHL's second-best record during the regular season, the Red Wings' success was not spawned from failure.
The Blackhawks are so good largely because they were so bad the first half of the 2000s. It put them in position to draft Jonathan Toews third overall and Patrick Kane first overall in back-to-back drafts, 2006 and 2007. They were the cornerstones for Chicago when it won the Stanley Cup championship in 2010. They remain the Blackhawks' core today.
Pittsburgh had several awful seasons, allowing the Penguins to garner such talent as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin early in the draft. Over a relatively short span, the Penguins had two first overall selections, and two second overall picks, in the NHL Draft.
The Red Wings have not had that opportunity. Because they win season after season without any lulls, they must find diamonds in the rough. They haven't been able to spend an inordinate amount of money, either. The salary cap has been in place since the mid 2000s. Yet, the Red Wings always make the playoffs, and more often than not, advance past the first round. They did reach the finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the Cup in ' 08.
It's not a mistake. The Red Wings' resident stars, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, were taken with the 210th and 171st overall draft picks. Jonathan Ericsson has played as many minutes lately as any Red Wings' defenseman. He was the last overall pick in the draft, a one-time awkward forward as an amateur, who has developed into a frontline defensemen.
But the story of Detroit's player development genius goes beyond the three most-cited examples.
Even though the Red Wings haven't had early picks in the first round, they have made the most of their selections throughout drafts.
In truth, the seeds of the “young' Red Wings were planted long ago with draft choices that have eventually hit. Gustav Nysquist was taken in the fourth round in 2008, Brendan Smith as the 28th overall selection in the first round in 2007. They added Joakim Andersson in the third round in '07. The Red Wings had a solid draft in 2005. They took Jakub Kindl in the first round and Justin Abdelkader in the second.
Kyle Quincey, who left and returned after he was lost on waivers, was a fourth-round pick in 2003, Johan Franzen a third-round selection in 2004. Goalie Jimmy Howard, perhaps the most important piece to the puzzle, was the Red Wings' first selection in the 2003 draft. It wasn't until the second round. He was the 64th overall selection.
It's a lot of productive players considering the Red Wings haven't gotten a crack at the obvious top-end talent any of those years.
There was a stage, prior to the implementation of the salary cap, the Red Wings seemed content to try to buy titles. Their player payroll skyrocketed to $77 million at one point during the early 2000s (the salary cap was still set at just $70 million, pre-lockout, for 2012-13 season).
The cap forced the Red Wings to return to what had been their great strength - scouting and player development - along with more subtle, but effective, veteran acquisitions.
It's a credit to the organization's structure, particularly general manager Ken Holland. Also, Mike Babcock is an excellent head coach. This season he has proven what he can do with younger, developing players - and that his run in Detroit is anything but finished.
It not only bodes well for the Red Wings' present - they have unexpectedly positioned themselves for a deep Stanley Cup playoff run - but their future.