Stars align for Red Wings in 2007-08
The Stanley Cup will once again make the familiar trip to Hockeytown, but this year's run was decidedly unique for the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit laid out an impressive blueprint for success in 2007-08, demonstrating an all-around game and focus that helped them to the league's best record in the regular season and didn't waver until Nicklas Lidstrom raised the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in 11 seasons at Mellon Arena on Wednesday.
And it only seems fitting that Lidstrom was the first player to do the lifting.
The five-time Norris Trophy winner captured his fourth Stanley Cup with Detroit, but made history as the first European captain ever to lead his team to victory.
"I've been over here for a long time and I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it for three times in the past," the Swedish defenceman said. "I'm very proud of being the first European. I'm very proud of being a captain of the Red Wings."
Lidstrom, 38, took over the captaincy after Yzerman retired in 2006, and shows no signs of slowing down.
"It's a great feeling," said Henrik Zetterberg. "There's been a lot of talk about that throughout the years. It's great to see him lifting the Cup and with the 'C' on his chest. It means so much for the team and the organization. He's bringing it every night. He's probably our best player every night.
"And I'm really happy for him."
Zetterberg, 27, also has plenty to smile about after becoming just the second European after Lidstrom to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player. The Swede serves as a shining example of how Detroit's historically strong international scouting paid tremendous dividends all season long.
After being drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, Zetterberg notched 92 points during the regular season and tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the lead in playoff scoring with 27 points.
"He's so determined," said defenceman Niklas Kronwall, who has known Zetterberg since they were teenagers. "Anything he does, he does it full on.
"He's one of the hardest working guys on our team and other guys follow that. They look up to that. We're blessed to have him on our team."
Several of Detroit's other key contributors this season were also the product of that same combination of brilliant scouting and incredible patience.
Lidstrom (drafted 53rd overall) and brilliant forward Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall) were also both drafted in the third round or later.
A glance at the Red Wings roster reveals even more late-round steals. Playoff revelation Johan Franzen (97th overall), Tomas Holmstrom (257th overall), Valterii Filppula (95th overall), Jiri Hudler (58th overall) and Mikael Samuelsson (145th overall) all were significant contributors to the Red Wings this season, with not a single one being drafted in the first round.
As Detroit's veteran talent moves on and eventually retires, the team can continue to be a threat with its ability to unearth blue-chip prospects through unconventional methods.
Shrewd moves pay off
But even when the Red Wings didn't rely on homegrown talent, it seemed to pay off.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland may not have dramatically altered his team's makeup after its third-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks in last season's playoffs, but the moves he did make all seemed to work in his team's favour.
After key defenceman Mathieu Schneider signed with Anaheim in the offseason, he was quickly replaced by Michigan native and two-time Stanley Cup winner Brian Rafalski, who seamlessly stepped into the lineup and had little difficulty adjusting to the Red Wings brand of puck possession and pinpoint passing.
After Rafalski, Lidstrom, and Kronwall were all hit by injuries near mid-season, Holland struck gold again at the deadline with the acquisition of Brad Stuart. The blue-liner was acquired for the modest price of a pair of late draft picks, but he became increasingly valuable as the playoffs rolled on, tallying five points in the first four games of the final. Stuart is a free agent this off-season and re-signing him will undoubtedly be a priority for Detroit.
Even Detroit's smaller moves looked sound as they increased their veteran leadership with the reacquisitions of Dallas Drake, who was drafted and played with the organization from 1992-1994, and Darren McCarty, who was out of the league but made an inspiring comeback to win his third Cup with Detroit.
Much like McCarty, Dan Clearly can identify with receiving second chances. With his career seemingly stalled after a stellar junior career, Cleary made the Red Wings after attending training camp in 2006 and has blossomed into a two-way force ever since.
By winning the Cup on Wednesday, the native of Harbour Grace, Nfld., becomes the first resident of that province to earn the honour in over 100 years.
"I remember watching the Stanley Cup celebrations back home on TV," said Cleary. "To finally be part of it is unbelievable. "This is amazing."
Goaltending change pays off
During the regular season, Detroit's goaltending situation was viewed as a question mark without a de facto No. 1. But in a season in which all the stars seemed to align for the Red Wings, even that worked in their favour come playoff time.
Both Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek won 27 games for Detroit this season. Osgood earned an all-star nod for his efforts and posted the slightly superior stats, but the team opted to go with Hasek when the playoffs began.
When the Dominator showed signs of faltering in the Red Wings' opening-round series against the Nashville Predators, Osgood seized the starting role and never looked back, going 14-4 with three shutouts and a 1.55 goals-against average the rest of the way to win his second Stanley Cup since 1998.
As a result, Osgood, 35, joins Terry Sawchuk as the only goalies to hoist the Stanley Cup at least 10 years apart.
"A little older and wiser," he said when asked how he was different from the last time he earned a ring, back in 1998. "I'm more relaxed now.
"It's fun playing for these guys. They're awesome."
With files from the Associated Press