The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 24 years in a row. Regardless if you love them, hate them, hell, even nothing them, it’s an amazing feat. It’s a more difficult accomplishment than the three teams ahead of them in the “longest NHL playoff streak” category. In case you’re wondering, it’s Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, with 29, 28, and 25 consecutive seasons, respectively.
What makes the Wings’ streak more phenomenal, in my very biased opinion, is based on two key factors…
First of all, prior to the 2004-05 lockout, there was no salary cap nor luxury tax, allowing teams to freely spend money on players, and because there was limited revenue sharing, stronger market teams were able to have a potent financial advantage. Granted, the Red Wings became one of the stronger markets after the Ilitch family took over in the 80′s, eventually leading them to their current prosperity. I’m fine admitting that the team I love benefited from these pre-cap rules, winning three cups between ’97 and 2002. However, other teams had, and utilized, this advantage as well.
My point is that transitioning to the post-cap era was, well, a rather large challenge. The only team other than the Wings to be able to make the transition without missing the playoffs? The San Jose Sharks, and they’re out this year, ending their playoff streak which began the year before the lockout in ’03-’04.
The second major factor is that the Wings have been able to keep their playoff streak alive despite the higher parity in the league. Think about this, in 1985, a year in which the previously mentioned Bruins, Blackhawks, and Blues were in the middle of their record setting runs, there were 21 NHL teams. Out of those 21, a whopping sixteen teams, or basically 75% of the teams, made the playoffs.
Though sixteen teams still maintain playoff eligibility each NHL season, 9 years into the Red Wings 24 year stint (which started in 1991), the league had expanded to 30 teams, dropping the playoff team ratio by a third. Beyond that, because of the expansion, more emphasis was placed on finding talent deeper into drafts in order to build farm systems. The Red Wings were able to do that (more so after the cap was enacted) and acquire talented free agents in a league where demand for talent was rising, and the chances of making the playoffs were decreasing.
So there you have it. I’ll keep it relatively short and sweet for you, since I could go deeper into analyzing all of this, but unless you’re a sports dork, you probably don’t care. You probably haven’t made it this far into the article. Regardless, “Come on Wings, Let’s fly!”