The following is an excerpt of the upcoming book Hockey Prospectus 2011-12. To see the full Detroit Red Wings team essay, as it will appear in Hockey Prospectus 2011-12, click here for the .pdf.
Are we nearing the end of an era, or at least the end of a dynasty? Two years without a Stanley Cup appearance may not seem like long enough to ask such a question, but given the huge gap between their declining core of older stars and their exceptional system of prospects, even this brief absence could signal a change in the fortunes of the Detroit Red Wings. They clearly remain a great team with an enviable team model
but can they still be considered among the very best? And for how much longer? The answer lies more in the close examination of three key players than in the supporting cast surrounding them, a task particularly well-suited to objective statistical analysis.
Great and old
There are two things everybody knows about the Red Wings: they're great and they're old. How great? Well, they have 20 straight postseason appearances to their credit, including six Stanley Cup Finals appearances and four championships. In this span, they've topped 100 points a whopping 15 times, including 11 straight, winning the Central Division title 14 times. The last time they finished third was back in 1991. And how old? By Core Age (see "Core Age and the Strategic Direction of NHL Teams"), they averaged a league-high 31.5 years old (Calgary was second-oldest, at a comparatively young 30.0 years old). Even without elder statesmen like Mike Modano, Kris Draper, and Chris Osgood, they still had ten players aged 31 or over, including 65% of their combined cap hit, 67% of their GVT production and nine of their top ten scorers.
The Red Wings do have the talent to replenish the veteran stars, but they're still years away. In fact, Corey Pronman ranked their wealth of prospects tops in the league at www.hockeyprospectus.com:
Their system is so stocked with top-end talent like Gustav Nyquist, Calle Jarnkrok, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith, Teemu Pulkkinen, Adam Almqvist and Tomas Jurco that even if some of these players flat out miss, the remaining players that truly hit will become the core players to help Detroit continue their winning ways well through the end of this decade and beyond.
Detroit's still a great team and their organizational talent is second to none, but at the moment, they're getting worse, not better. They need to find a middle generation of superstars to bridge the gap between their young and old elite talent, but until then, their fate is in the hands of aging veterans, and three well-known grey-beards in particular
Lidstrom, Pasha, and Curly Fries
The secret to Detroit's past and current success has been the play of three elite players with whom they've been blessed: Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. Over the eight seasons they've all played together, they've amassed an amazing 1653 points and 457.4 goals of value above replacement-level. Given that a competitive team will earn about 120 GVT as a team, you could literally add these three players to any NHL team and make them a contender. Heck, at their peak in 2007-08 you probably could have added them to an AHL team, thrown in a few spare parts, and made the NHL playoffs!
To see the full Detroit Red Wings team essay, click here for the .pdf.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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