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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

McDaniel: Red Wings remain consistent in an era of change

The streak continues for at least one more year.

Thanks to Ottawa’s 6-1 drubbing of the Bruins in Boston Saturday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings find themselves in the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season, the longest active streak in any of the four major professional sports in this country.

Even though the Red Wings did their best at the end of the year to break the streak with back-to-back losses, they found a way into the playoffs yet again, and it says a lot about the franchise.

In an era of expansion, rule changes and increased parity, only Detroit has continued playing top-level hockey year in and year out.

Over the past 25 seasons, the Red Wings haven’t just been good, either. With four Stanley Cups and two other appearances in the finals, they’ve been great.

What makes the Wings’ run even more amazing is just how terrible they were before it. They made the playoffs just twice from 1967 to 1983, a stretch in which they had 14 different head coaches, before drafting the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Darren McCarty and Nicklas Lidstrom in the 1980s and early 1990s to begin the turn around.

And considering the last time the team had a top-10 draft selection was 1991 — and that pick, Martin Lapointe, has been retired since 2008 — the way the Red Wings have been able to remain competitive is almost hard to believe. When you think about how many teams intentionally enter rebuilding periods in order to draft top-tier talent, Detroit’s staying power is even more impressive. They continue to draw talent from lower rounds in the draft – as in 1998 sixth-round pick Pavel Datsyuk and 1999 seventh-round pick Henrik Zetterberg.

Now, I’m one of those people who thinks a season is only memorable if you win your last game of the year, hoisting your sport’s trophy while the rest of the field watches with envy.

However, a streak like this deserves respect, even if the team has settled for little more than mediocrity — by its own standards — recently. The Wings clearly haven’t been at their best over the past five or six seasons, only making it out of the first round twice since falling to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.

Plus, with Datsyuk now strongly considering retirement and Zetterberg not far behind him, a new era will be starting in Detroit. The franchise has a new and unproven leader in first-year head coach Jeff Blashill, and a younger team built around Dylan Larkin will soon take the reins.

They now sit a mere four more playoff appearances away from tying the all-time record set by the Bruins at 29 consecutive seasons. If they are to make it, they will need a good amount of luck and some more help from the rest of the league.

Regardless, reaching the 25-year milestone forces us to take a look back and appreciate such dominance. To put the craziness of such a streak in perspective, consider this. Larkin, Detroit’s leading scorer this season, was still six years away from being born the last time the team missed the playoffs.

But with all the changes that have happened in the last 25 years in the NHL, ranging from three lockouts to the creation of nine new expansion teams and conference realignment, one thing has remained constant: the Red Wings clinching their spot in the playoffs.