Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Closing Time.

It's a bit of a watered down term in sports nowadays: "Dynasty." Guys like John Wooden and Bill Russell probably laugh when they hear the Patriots being declared a dynasty after three Super Bowls in four years. They shake their heads with amusement when the Spurs are crowned a dynasty after four championships in nine years. Hell, the term dynasty gets thrown around in regards to USC football, and they only have one crystal football in their possession, and only have claim to one other title. Yeah, seven straight 11+ win seasons. Seven straight Pac-10 championships. Six BCS bowl victories.

Wooden and Russell think all of that is chump change. Bill Russell says 11 NBA championships in 13 years is a dynasty. John Wooden says 10 NCAA championships in 12 years is a dynasty.

Of course, that was a different era. Those kind of standards will never be met ever again, and it's unrealistic to expect them to be. So debates rage on. It's pretty much a consensus that the Patriots were a dynasty. Winning back to back Super Bowls, let alone three in four years, in a salary cap league is astonishing. There's a bit more debate with the Spurs, as they never won back to back titles, which seems to be one of the cornerstone prerequisites for "dynasty" status nowadays.

So now we come to the Detroit Red Wings. Since 1995:

  • 6 50-win seasons
  • 11 100-point seasons
  • 6 Presidents Trophies
  • 8 final fours
  • 6 conference championships
  • 4 Stanley Cups
That last number might increase to five after tonight. So that would be five Stanley Cups, all since 1997, all while transitioning into a salary cap era and going through basically a complete roster overhaul. The only guys left from the 1997 and 1998 Cup teams are Lidstrom, McCarty, Maltby, Draper, Holmstrom and Osgood. From the 2002 Cup team, Lidstrom, McCarty, Maltby, Draper, and Holmstrom (Ozzie wasn't on that one). Oh, and Datsyuk. He was an unknown rookie on the 2002 team, playing behind legends like Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, Hull, and Robitaille. All those guys are gone now. In their place are gems unearthed deep in the draft by the best front office in sports. Pavel Datsyuk, 171st overall, Hart Trophy finalist. Henrik Zetterberg, 210th overall, reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Johan Franzen, 97th overall, and one of the clutchest postseason performers in Red Wings history. Nicklas Lidstrom, 53rd overall, and one of the greatest players of all-time whose number will join the legends hanging in the Joe Louis Arena rafters the instant he retires. Chris Osgood, 54th overall, constantly scorned and eternally disrespected all the way to the Hall of Fame. Valtteri Filppula, 95th overall. Jiri Hudler, 58th overall. Tomas Holmstrom, 257th overall. Dan Cleary, the professional equivalent of a walkon. He was invited to training camp and won a job. Mikael Samuelsson, cast off from four different NHL teams before landing a niche in Detroit. Brian Rafalski, the hometown boy who left the trap machine in New Jersey and has filled in for the departed Mathieu Schneider perfectly. Brad Stuart, rescued from hockey pergatory (Los Angeles) at the trade deadline last year in exchange for a couple draft picks, now a steady and fearsome force on the blueline who took less money to re-sign after last season. His partner on defense, Niklas Kronwall, the only player on the roster drafted in the first round by the Red Wings. Marian Hossa, the only one even close to being a "hired gun" on this team, took less money to come here for one reason. That one reason is within his grasp tonight in Pittsburgh.

Closing time draws near. Whether it be tonight or Friday night back in Detroit. It was Rudy Tomjanovich who coined the phrase, "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion." When did he say that? In the aftermath of the Houston Rockets winning their second straight NBA championship. Saturday night, we saw the heart of a champion. We watched the Red Wings get beaten around in Games 3 and especially 4 in Pittsburgh. We all watched what we believed to be a fatigued, laboring team that had hit a wall. We watched the media start to size up the Penguins' fingers for Stanley Cup rings. And we watched them laugh in everyone's faces Saturday night, a 5-0 wipeout that showed us all what the Wings are made of. They're made of grit, and passion, and determination, and will. And heart.

Tonight or Friday, the bell will toll, destiny will call, and a dynasty will be crowned. Because this team isn't going to accept anything else.

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