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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Veterans wisdom

DETROIT -- Fans see the goals. They see the passes and the blocker saves.
But no one who isn't a player sees the things that go into winning hockey games that don't happen on the ice. Those contributions cannot be counted, but for the Detroit Red Wings those contributions can be counted on year after year.
The Red Wings have 50 wins again this season … again meaning that it's the third consecutive year that the franchise has done so. What's special about that is that it hasn't been done since the Scotty Bowman-coached Montreal Canadiens won 50 games four straight seasons (1975-79). This is just the fourth time in NHL history that a franchise has posted three straight 50-win campaigns.
"Kenny (general manager Ken Holland) is a big believer in leadership," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who became the first coach in NHL history to win 50 games in each of his first three seasons with a franchise. "He doesn't eliminate the old guys. He keeps them around. To me, that leads to consistency. When I first got here, we had (Steve) Yzerman, now we've got (Nicklas) Lidstrom. But we've got so many more."
When reporters entered the Red Wings' locker room in Columbus' Nationwide Arena after a 4-1 victory two days ago, injured veterans Dallas Drake and Tomas Holmstrom were standing in front of Johan Franzen, ribbing the forward about having scored his 10th goal in 10 games. From across the room, Kirk Maltby yelled for all reporters to hear, "Johan Franzen is right over there. Star of the game. Johan Franzen for interviews."
There is constant riding, joking, teasing and heckling in the Detroit locker room. One daily routine this season is for one player after practice to overly compliment someone sitting near him about his work on the iced that day. "You were flying out there," is said with a sly smile. "You were unbelievable." That leads to another player complimenting another and so on, until it becomes obvious that too much pride in one's effort is something to be laughed at, not applauded.
The banter tone is set by veteran players like Maltby and Kris Draper, Drake and Chris Chelios.
When asked why the Red Wings have been able to string together so many 50-win seasons, Franzen's first response was to point out the franchise's veteran leadership.
"They make you relaxed," said Franzen. "Of course you're going to be a little bit nervous at the beginning (of a career). But they make jokes all the way to the game and it relaxes you. It makes it easy on the young guys. It's a good atmosphere.
"Veteran players teach the young guys what it takes, preparation. The oldest guys on this team will often work out the hardest, set examples for the younger guys every day.
They don't let up any games. They're always prepared."
When veteran Mathieu Schneider broke his wrist in a playoff game in San Jose last spring, he called over teammate Brett Lebda in the locker room. The game was still going on. The din of the crowd noise could be heard in the locker room.
Lebda had been out with an injury of his own, but both knew that he'd be back in the lineup the next game now that Schneider was lost for the rest of the playoffs. Schneider, the veteran, made sure that Lebda, the youngster, knew his value and his role in this situation.
It was the ultimate veteran moment on a team that values veterans as much as any.
The selection of which veterans to keep and which veterans to bring into the fold has been intensified by the salary cap. Mistakes cannot be washed away without still counting against the cap.
The Red Wings' three straight 50-win seasons have come in the three seasons of the salary cap. (The franchise has just two other 50-win seasons to its credit.)
It's easier to get wins in today's game because of the tie-breakers of overtime and shootouts. Every game has a winner whereas 30 years ago, ties were common.
But it's also more difficult to become dominant enough to reach 50 wins than ever before because of the salary cap and expanded talent pool.
"The team has really found a way to find players to still be competitive out there," said Lidstrom. "People thought we were going to slip back after the lockout. We had to buy some players out. We were on an even playing field with other teams. We were still able to win games and play real well. I think it shows a lot to the coaching staff and the players as well."


Blogger Alex said...

Speaking of veteran leadership, I wonder if that's why the Wings have been so disciplined that they haven't taken a Too Many Men penalty this whole season. I wonder if thats true or I missed it or how many teams haven't so far. A stat on the penalties for each team would be nice.

March 24, 2008 at 1:23 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bruce, once again: Thanks for your "eyes in the locker room" insight.

March 24, 2008 at 6:33 PM 

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