Red Wings put on show for Brunnstrom
Having just flown in to Denver in the second leg of his three-leg North American tour -- in hockey centers like Toronto and Stockholm, Brunnstrom's tour took on a Beatles-like feel -- Brunnstrom sat in the Detroit management box and watched the Red Wings play like the best team in the world.
Brunnstrom is a likeable 23-year-old young man. He won the hockey lottery by emerging as an NHL talent this past season with his play in Sweden's top league. He's touring three cities to settle this -- from which team will he collect his windfall.
Brunnstrom's story is unusual, but understandable with a little knowledge of hockey in Sweden.
While most future NHL millionaires are drafted when they're 18 years old, Brunnstrom was eligible for five NHL drafts and was passed over by every team, every round, every time.
The reason is that Brunnstrom wasn't seen by scouts. He didn't start in the hockey fast lane as a teen-ager and wound up in a lower division of Swedish hockey. How low? Brunnstrom played for a team in Andreas Lilja's hometown and Lilja said that the majority of those players work 9-to-5 jobs in addition to playing hockey. Practices are held in the evening, acknowledging which career was more important.
Those levels of games are never scouted -- not just by NHL hawks, but not seen by Swedish elite league scouts either. Very few professional teams in Sweden have even a single scout.
Brunnstrom being signed by the top-level team Farjestads was one part his talent and one part accident. Brunnstrom's lower-level team happened to play in Farjestads' arena. Were he not scoring goals in their living room, Farjestads would not have found him.
Brunnstrom fared well enough in his one season with Farjestads that he will soon be signing a two-year NHL contract worth a total of $1.7-$3.4 million. (Entry-level NHL contracts are standardized. The $1.7 million over two seasons is base salary with another $1.7 million in possible bonuses.)
But on Thursday night in Denver, Fabian Brunnstrom saw something he had never seen the likes of before. The young man smartly dressed in a businessman's suit, cordial and apologetic for any hesitation he has when speaking English … that young man saw the best hockey club in a single game that he had ever seen.
The Red Wings destroyed the Colorado Avalanche. Henrik Zetterberg batted a puck into the net without seeing it and with his back to the goal. Pavel Datsyuk played brilliantly. Nicklas Lidstrom controlled Colorado's attack. Chris Osgood looked like a goalie capable of winning a third Stanley Cup. Roles were understood and executed by 20 men.
I know what Red Wings fans were thinking … Seen this before, doesn't mean a thing unless they win the Cup.
We have become spoiled by this franchise. In the past 13 seasons, the Red Wings have played in seven conference finals, won six Presidents' Trophies (best regular-season record) in the past 13 seasons and was runner-up for that trophy three times.
And for as much as we want to paint the Red Wings are playoff failures, no franchise can match their three Stanley Cups in the previous 10 seasons.
The Red Wings don't fit the old definition of a dynasty -- a three- or four-year run of championships -- but that definition should be changed. Under the current rules and league size, these Red Wings are just as much a dynasty as the Canadiens of the 70s of the Islanders or Oilers of the 80s.
But what was Fabian Brunnstrom, someone seeing his first Red Wings game in person, thinking?
I wonder if he saw in Johan Franzen his own unreached potential.
Franzen was buried in the lower divisions of Swedish hockey for years before finally reaching the elite league. Franzen was passed over in six NHL drafts before finally being selected by the Red Wings. (Under the old collective bargaining agreement, Europeans had to be drafted, thus Franzen could not sign as a free agent like Brunnstrom will do.)
Two nights ago, Johan Franzen did something remarkable. The NHL's goal-scoring leader in these playoffs, Franzen netted a hat trick, Thursday, giving him nine in the four-game series against Colorado.
No player in NHL history has ever scored nine goals in a four-game series. Only eight others have ever scored nine goals in a series and they needed five, six or seven games to do so. Wayne Gretzky never scored nine goals in a playoff series regardless of length. Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard never potted nine goals.
So did Brunnstrom think that the Red Wings are the conduit for his NHL success just as they have been for Franzen? Or did he think that on a team this good, he won't have much of an opportunity to play?
What he thought will tell a lot about the young man's confidence. Successful players don't skirt excellence; they're drawn to excellence.