Red Wings Roundtable: Deja Vu?

Our turn!

We’ve already tackled some important issues at the Red Wings Roundtable: The Olympics, off-season acquisitions, running out of gas, breakout candidates, and goaltending. Now we take a look at the potential parallels between the last two times the Wings made it to the Final — and lost: 1995 and this past season.
A sincere thank you to Christy Hammond of Winging it in Motown for including little ol’ us in this unique collection of Hockeytown’s finest.

An apology to Matt Saler from On the Wings, whose answer didn’t make it onto the post as it originally was. Computing glitch from a guy who was overdue for an egregious mistake. My bad.

We posed the following question to our comrades:
The last time the Red Wings went to a Final and lost, it was 1995. The loss came at the hands of a Devils team that thoroughly dismantled an offensive juggernaut in Motown. The Wings won the President’s Trophy, and led the league in goals-for with 180 in a strike-shortened season. The leading scorer that season was eventual Norris winner Paul Coffey.

The Wings only lost two post-season games going into the Final but were swept. Our question is this: how do you expect this 2009-10 team to fare rebounding from the loss to Pittsburgh? Compare the scenarios faced by the ’96 and ’10 teams, weighing the coaching staffs and rosters – and evaluating which squad stood/stands a better chance of going the distance.

Obviously the ’96 Wings didn’t win the Cup either, losing in the Conference Finals. But we all know what happened in ’97 and ’98. Are we on a similar track right now?

…what followed was – obviously – pure brilliance:

The ’10 squad could very well come scorching out of the gates this year, and it wouldn’t be too surprising. They’ve got the motivation, talent and coaching to put together a stellar year. And I’ll take this team’s chances over the ’96 Wings — a team that didn’t know anything about winning a Stanley Cup yet.

It’s hard to say that we could be on a similar track when Lidstrom could be gone ni just a couple of years and the future of our goaltending is in doubt. The ’97 and ’98 teams kind of had the perfect storm of the greatest coach of all time, the “never won it before” motivation, and no salary cap to worry about.

From Drew of Nightmare on Helm Street:

Do I think that the Red Wings are going to have 62 wins this year as they did in the ’95-96 season? Absolutely not. It’s hard to compare this year’s team, who hasn’t even played a single pre-season game, to the team that had the most successful regular season ever. I do, however, think that this year’s team will certainly have more depth from the top down. Despite all of this year’s losses to free agency, KHL, etc. we still have potential 20-goal scorers vying for spots on the team. What other team in the NHL can say that? I’m not so sure we can pull of another 14 point increase like they did the season following the last defeat in the Finals, but I’m ok with that. The Wings were an absolute winning machine in ’95-96 but couldn’t finish the job in the play-offs. I can only hope that everyone uses last year’s heartbreaking defeat as a catalyst to get the Cup back to Hockeytown. I think that we have a great mix of talent, experience, youth, and guys with something to prove to go along with a superb coach. The team we ice this year will be arguably better than the one we won the cup with in ’08, so why the hell not? If Pittsburgh can rebound from a Finals loss and win the next year, then Detroit certainly can. And with the money we’re going to free up after ’09-10, it would hardly be surprising if the Wings don’t go back to back…again

From Kyle at Babcock’s Death Stare:

I expect this team is going to be really fired up. I was at Game 7, and I can tell you that they were not okay with losing. The pictures are there to prove it, though I wouldn’t recommend reliving any of that horror. But comparing the two losing teams, I think you notice one huge difference — the experience. Even the younger guys on this team have had the experience of winning, while all the players on the ’96 team had the not so fun distinction of being members of the longest standing Cup drought in the league. While some of these guys haven’t been on every Cup team, a good majority of them played with the Yzermans and Shanahans who truly learned how to win here, and got to play under the management that knew exactly what it took to win. So to sum it up, I think the ’96 and ’10 teams are going to be vastly different, but if you want to find the one common factor you won’t have to look much further than the idea that each is going to want to avenge the last seasons’s disappointment.

From Christy at Winging it in Motown:

I think we will rebound nicely from the loss and the consecutive trips to the Finals (and consequent short offseasons). However, our roster has not been improved like it was after our Cup-winning 2007-08 season so I don’t know if we’ll rebound back to the Cup. GM Ken Holland has said in interviews that he believes we have a strong core for a few more years and will have a great chance to play for the Cup during those years. Once Lidstrom retires, it’ll be a different time so I believe our best shot is now before he does.

When comparing the ’96 and ’10 squads, the first thing that stands out is Detroit’s trade of Ray Sheppard for Igor Larionov in the 1995-96 season. Due to the salary cap and how close we are to the limit, I don’t see any type of trade happening this year unless someone gets injured. This offseason, we did not see our team improve as four players left. GM Ken Holland did the best he could to fill that gap with $3.5 million, but the ’96 squad had improved over the team that went to the SCF the previous year by creating one of my favorite units of all time — the Russian Five. I have too much respect for Scotty Bowman’s mad skills so I have to rank him above Mike Babcock as the coach even though I think Babs is the man.

If I had to guess right now where I thought the Wings would end up this year without knowing who they’d face in the postseason, I would predict they’d lose in the Conference Finals. I would say that the ’96 squad stood a better chance of going the distance, but I still believe Detroit can do it this season. It’s just going to be even tougher and our defense is going to have to markedly improve for that to happen.

From Kris at Snipe Snipe Dangle Dangle:

This question’s difficult for me because I don’t remember a whole lot about 1995 (I was only eight and I had just discovered hockey for the first time during the Finals). That being said, I like to think that the 2010 team has a better chance of winning the Cup than the 1996 team did on account of the fact that they ended up losing that year. I’m not really sure I see them as being on a track similar to the one followed after the 1995 loss, although if that did end up happening, I can’t say I’d be completely unhappy. The ’96 team had kind of a different feel in the sense that they were a younger team just peaking and about to come into their own. They’ve been the standard bearers for the league pretty much since then and the fact that they’re well established now gives this team a different feel. I also think the expectations in 1996 were a lot higher than they are for this season. There was a lot of anticipation back then for the Wings to end the lengthy Cup drought and for Steve Yzerman to validate himself in a sense. This time around, I think the motivations will be different, albeit just as strong.

From Chris at Motown Wings:

I feel like this question is just begging for the “Well, we’ll probably make it back to the WCF again, but this year Chicago is going to beat us and go on to win the Stanley Cup and basically become the ’09 version of the ’96 Avalanche” response. Could it happen? Possibly. I don’t think it will though.

The biggest difference between these teams is that when the Wings made the Finals in ’95 and then lost in ’96, they were the upstart team with loads of talent, but minimal experience on the big stage of the Stanley Cup Finals. One of the best things to happen to that ’96 squad was losing to the Avs. Why? Because that team needed a reminder that winning the Cup is something that doesn’t come easy. ’97 may be one of the greatest Red Wings seasons we ever see, simply because of the sheer determination that that team put in. They fought for every inch of that Cup, and when they got it, they understood why losing in ’95 and ’96 were so important. They had to learn how bad they really wanted the Cup, and only then could they get there.

For this year’s squad, I don’t necessarily think that formula holds true. Most of these guys have been to the top of the mountain already, so they are very familiar with the sacrifice it takes to win a Cup. Rather, I almost see the Wings as the foil to another team right now, like the ‘Hawks or the Blues. Despite losing the Cup, the Wings are still very clearly the best team in the West, and they will hold that position on the mountaintop until somebody comes and knocks them off of it. The hope is that they aren’t complacent in that fact, because if they are, they will find themselves out of the Stanley Cup Finals this year.

My hope is that the Wings embrace the pain of losing that Cup, respect the fact that every team in the West is coming after them, take pride in doing whatever it takes to defend the West mountaintop, and then let emotion take over as they stomp out their foe in the Stanley Cup Finals.

From The Chief at Abel to Yzerman:

I think they’ll rebound the way a Dynasty is supposed to: they’re going to win the Central, win the West, then defeat Boston in the Final. I don’t believe they’ll have the best record in the NHL, a lot like ’97. I think the season will be spent establishing an attitude, re-establishing a work ethic and remembering what it takes to win when you’re hungry.

I think we’ll see the PK back to where it should be and we’ll see a return to the way elite Wing teams have played for more than a decade: puck possession and limiting opposition shots.

I’ve said it to Drew in his portion of the roundtable and it’s going to continue to be my refrain at A2Y until the Cup comes home next June: the Wings lost to a mediocre team and they lost due to injury and officiating. They won’t let it happen again if they’re healthy. In ’97 I think they felt the same way. The Wings will be a freight train next season, but only after it takes them a bit to generate the steam they need to get what they feel is theirs.

From Jessica at Bingo Bango:
This question really brings up the possibility of history repeating itself, which sends chills down the spines of Wings fans. 1995 was a slap in the face as a young hockey fan. We all thought 95 was their year just like all of us cocky fans thought 09 would bring another cup. Sure they came back strong in 96 with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. I see that happening again this year, but the question remains will the motivation translate into a cup this time? There are a number of similarities between the two teams. In 96 they had Yzerman who stepped up when necessary, especially with that double overtime goal that can still give me chills. Now they have Zetterberg who also is clutch when needed. Just ask Crosby how he felt having Zetterberg shut him down. Also the 96 team had a younger Nick Lidstrom coming into his prime. It’s obvious that right now Kronwall is entering his prime. While he will never be the superhuman that is Lidstrom, I think we will see him step up this year. Perhaps one of the more startling comparisons comes when we look at the goalie situation. 96 had the Vernon/Osgood tandem. You had the veteran goalie with the unproven sometimes questionable Ozzie. Could we see the same situation with Howard and Osgood this year? For me it’s one of the biggest questions for the 2010 season. Despite the similarities there is one glaring difference. In 96 the Wings were trying to win and fans were hoping to end the cup drought. This year, the media is expecting them to falter, while the fans are expecting them to win. Will the expectations affect them one way or another? Will their own expectations affect them? It shall be an interesting ride. Win or lose it will be in some ways a rebuilding year. But as a die hard, sometimes pompous fan, I’m going to have to predict that the 2010 team is in a better position with their core players to win another cup. The motivation and determination is there. They felt embarrassed to lose it at home. Reading the quotes from Zetterberg and Kronwall, the anticipation and expectations of the young guys coming up, and the leadership and skill of the veterans and those in their prime, spell wonderful things for the Detroit Red Wings. They expect to win, and they will demand if of themselves.

From Malik at Snapshots:
In my opinion, the differences between the team that lost to New Jersey in 1995 and the team that lost to Pittsburgh in 2008 are unbelievably vast.

The Red Wings that were soundly beaten by the Devils were admittedly out of their element and completely unprepared for playing against a trapping team that they hadn’t seen since the previous season (the first lockout eliminated inter-conference play as part of its 48-game abbreviated season), having little to no understanding of how very different the rarefied air of the Stanley Cup finals proves in terms of intensity and the level of play necessary to succeed…And the Wings were essentially wrestled and tackled out of their element by a team that took full advantage of the then-allowance of just about any obstructive play you could dream of.

Scotty Bowman essentially took the screws to what was still Bryan Murray’s team, tossing fan favorites like Shawn Burr, Dino Ciccarelli, Coffey, and parlaying Ray Sheppard and Keith Primeau into Igor Larionov and Brendan Shanahan over the next two seasons, really building the foundation of the team that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons, and losing in the finals stamped the, “We need to play the left wing lock” mantra upon his players, especially given that Barry Smith had brought that tweak back from Sweden around that time.

This time around, save the free agent losses, all the moving parts of the Red Wings’ roster from their 2007 Cup win are in place, including four players who have won four Stanley Cups in Detroit, and their coaches are more expereinced in terms of battling for the Cup (we forget that Brad McCrimmon also played on the Philadelphia Flyers during their “we ran into the Oilers” Cup runs) and successfully (in 2007-08) and not-so-successfully (in 2008-09) balancing the Wings’ fantastic offensive potential with defensively sound play.

That being said, the losses of Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky, Ty Conklin, and Chris Chelios put tremendous pressure on Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, and the Wings’ acquisitions in Jason Williams and Todd Bertuzzi to fill a tremendous scoring void, and Jimmy Howard’s no Mike Vernon splitting time with Chris Osgood.

The Wings aren’t going to see any real veteran reinforcements of the Larionov variety this time around, and while I’d argue that their levels of physical and mental fatigue aren’t a factor at all given the fact that they lost the Cup on home ice, one could argue that three straight Conference Finals apperances have taken their toll, and the fact that the post-cap NHL really is much tighter in terms of the quality of teams that qualify for the playoffs makes their road back to the top that much tougher on top of their free agent losses and dreadful defensive performance during the regular season.

Mike Babcock does face a Bowman-like year in terms of revamping his team’s play to squeeze more offense out of his players while attempting to find out what Darren Helm, Ville Leino, and Jonathan Ericsson can give the team over a full season of play, balancing his roster concerns with a return to defensively stifling hockey, and getting better special teams play out of Paul MacLean (whose power play sputtered into oblivion during the last third of the season and playoffs) and McCrimmon (who had a bumpy road focusing on the Wings’ defenders), and, as previously stated, this team just doesn’t have the depth that it did in 95 because the cap essentially ensures that your “support players” are thrust into essential roles.

Given the fact that the Wings are still operating under the same general blueprint Bowman installed, however, and given their depth in terms of experience and star power (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, et. al. are no slouches), I think that this year’s Wings face a much tougher road back to the finals, but also stand a near-1996 chance of doing so.

From Matt at On the Wings:
I have to confess that the 1995 team was at the very start of my fanship experience when I was just a 10-year-old kid from a family that never paid attention to sports. So I’m not all that qualified to speak on that group because I was just getting my fan sea-legs, so to speak. I do think their record the next year and the success in the two years following that speak for themselves pretty well.

I see an easier comparison between this team and a more recent iteration, the 2007 squad since it’s the farthest they’ve gotten without winning the Cup since ’96 and the circumstances are more easily remembered. I look at the disappointment of being derailed from what seemed like a sure-fire Cup bid by the Ducks and compare it with the similar experience this past season and I can’t help but think we’ll see something approaching a 2008-like effort this coming year. Knowing the Wings, they don’t feel robbed, but they do know they have it in them to accomplish their goal. As in 2008, I expect this team to be cohesive and driven, aimed at one goal: redemption.

I guess the ’95 team probably had better odds given its place in history, but I like to think this team is poised for success in the current NHL.

Our take:
Do I expect the Red Wings to re-break the NHL mark for best record? No, definitely not. At the same time, I’m not ready to concede the Norris Division crown, either.

Long story short, I think they’ll rebound just fine – but would be rather shocked if they get the top seed in the Western Conference. They’ll take a top three seed into the post-season and be the most experienced playoff team by a mile.

Mike Babcock is the best coach in hockey, but he’s not Scotty Bowman (not yet, anyway). And that ’96 team was stacked. Yzerman, Fedorov, Larionov, Ciccarelli, Kozlov, Primeau, Coffey, Lidstrom, The Professor, Vladdy, Jamie Pushor.
Okay, the last one was a joke.
Not that our 2010 team is any push-over: Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Filppula, Franzen, Cleary, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart. Does the talent on this current team trump the ’96 version? Yeah, it might. Does that make it a better team? No, not automatically.
Are the Red Wings Stanley Cup favorites right now? Not in my eyes. But I also prefer it that way. Let’s hope they go into April, May, and June with chips on their shoulders, motivation to shove it back up Rosby’s pooper, and the conditioning to endure another big run.