By Avry Lewis-McDougall
23 years is a long time. 23 consecutive years of making the playoffs in the NHL is truly mind boggling and it’s something that the Detroit Red Wings have managed to do.
Before the Wings streak began in 1990-91 Detroit was coming off a terrible 1989-90 season in which they finished the year with 70 points and finished dead last in the Norris Division.
It was one of Steve Yzerman’s greatest season offensively in the NHL as he finished the season with 127 points but that was not enough to propel the Wings into a playoff spot.
1990-91 saw Detroit return to the post season where one of the most impressive modern day streaks in sports was born.
A lot has changed in the NHL since the streak began, helmets are now mandatory, the league is now composed of 30 teams, wood sticks are the thing of the past, and the red line has been eliminated from the game.
Something that hasn’t changed over the years has been Detroit’s ability to draft well past the first round to find key cogs for this franchise in the form of such players as Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Tomas Holmstrom as well as the ability to acquire free agents and making astute trades that have resulted in Detroit winning the Stanley Cup 4 times during the streak.
Ken Holland and Scotty Bowman and Jim Nill helped transform the team from a club that had a tough time getting over the hump to being the last truly great dynasty in the NHL.
Parity is at an all time high right now in the league which makes this streak even more impressive with the Red Wings, yes they have made it into the dance with the best record in hockey and with just absolutely stacked rosters (I can’t imagine it was much fun to face Yzerman, Shanahan, Chelios, Hull, Hasek and others nightly) but since 2011-12 they haven’t finished higher than 3rd in their division.
This year’s total of 93 points was the lowest that Detroit had in a season in a non lockout year since 1998-99.
Retirements have dramatically changed the look of the Wings in the past 6 years and injuries have taken their toll on veteran players still on the roster such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
The absolute dominance of the Wings has ended as this is a team that in the past few seasons truly has had to fight to make it back to the post season.
The end of the streak may be near so lets look at where it compares to other ones in the NHL and in other professional sports leagues.
-Edmonton Eskimos 34 seasons (CFL) 1972-2005
-Boston Bruins 29 seasons 1967-68 to 1995-96
-Chicago Blackhawks 28 seasons 1969-70 to 1996-97
-St. Louis Blues 25 seasons 1979-80 to 2003-04
-Montreal Canadiens 24 seasons 1970-71 to 1993-94
-Detroit Red Wings 23 seasons 1990-91 to Present
Each streak on this list transcends different eras and what is interesting about some of these streaks is that not every team on this list came away with a league title during this time frame. St Louis never made it to the Stanley Cup finals during their streak and the Blackhawks made the finals once in 1992 and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 4 games.
2013-14 may be the final year for this streak but by no means have they been push overs even with injuries this year.
Daniel Alfredsson in his first year in Detroit lead the team in scoring during the regular season with 49 points, and a new crop of potential leaders for this club has stepped up in a big way with Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan providing a massive boost of secondary scoring in Motown.
Many have the Bruins knocking off Detroit in the first round match up this year in the Eastern conference playoffs but going into game 3 this series is tied at 1 game apiece. It may be a new era for the Wings but that dosen’t mean they will be a push over at all.
With over two decades in a row of playing meaningful hockey in the spring and summer to their name it’s no wonder the Wings remain among the gold standard franchises in all of pro sports.
Another era of Edmonton Oilers history is about to come to an end on Saturday night.
On Thursday TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Ryan Smyth had announced his retirement after 18 NHL seasons and would play his final game this Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place.
It is perfect that the career of one of the ultimate leaders in Oilers history gets to end his career with the team and in the building where he became an icon to so many people in the hockey world.
To me and to many others he’s one of the last connections to an era of a team that was the epitome of the “blood, sweat and tears” Oiler players that had to go to war every single night to get the two points as the feisty underdogs.
Smyth was drafted in 1994 by the Oilers and grew up a lifelong fan, he had a 39 goal season with the team during the 1996-97 season where they stunned the Dallas Stars in 7 games in their first round playoff match up.
Smyth showed how much of a warrior he was by playing through injuries, one of the greatest moments in franchise history is of him during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs losing teeth from a bad clearance attempt by Chris Pronger against San Jose, but coming back in the same game (Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi finals) to set up the triple overtime winner by Shawn Horcoff.
in the modern NHL, Edmonton is a city that not many players want to get traded to and are glad to leave. Smyth was the opposite, breaking down crying at the Edmonton International Airport on deadline day in 2007 after being traded to the New York Islanders.
#94 was a dude that loved where he played, he always wanted to be an Oiler and it never looked quite right seeing him playing for New York, Colorado and the LA Kings.
Offensively, Ryan Smyth ranks near the top for almost every single team stat with the Oilers, he’s 6th all time in points, 5th all time in goals and is 2nd all time in games played.
Smyth is also tied for the most power play goals as an Oiler with Glenn Anderson with 126 so Saturday will be the last chance for him to possibly have that mark all to himself.
On Saturday he deserves a standing ovation from the fans, to the Canucks, to the media and to the guy serving up hot dogs at one of the Rexall Place vendor stands.
He didn’t win a Stanley Cup nor any major league awards but he was the full embodiment of what an Edmonton Oiler should be.
Wouldn’t it be something if #94 was painted behind the nets on Saturday? On Hockey Night in Canada? Maybe former teammates are flown in the for the pre game ceremony.
With current captain Andrew Ference not expected to play in the season finale why not let Ryan Smyth wear the C? Truly give Ryan a night that he will never ever forget as he says goodbye to the league.
Twitter has already run with this idea and the hashtag #SmyttyForCaptain was trending on Twitter in Canada.
Smyth among Oiler fans has always been talked about with the utmost amount of respect, he’s one of the most polite NHLers you will meet, he has done incredible work for charities in Edmonton. He’s given out who knows how many pucks to kids over the years during the pre game skate.
Growing up in Edmonton in the late 90s and early 2000s I wasn’t alive to see the glory days of Gretzky, Fuhr, Messier and others. By the time I became a hockey fan in my youth they were in the twilight of their careers but Ryan Smyth was just in the start of his.
The Oilers I first admired would out hit you and out work you, no matter if it was game 1 of the regular season or game 7 of a playoff series.
Smyth, Mike Grier, Todd Marchant, Doug Weight, Curtis Joseph, Sean Brown and Janne Niimimaa, these were the dudes that were my heroes as a tyke.
Thank you Ryan for 18 incredible seasons playing this game. Thank you Ryan for giving 194% on every shift. Thank you Ryan for bleeding Orange (Copper for a few years) and Blue.
Question gang: if a pro baseball team were to return to Montreal would you cheer for a new version of the Expos?
By Avry Lewis-McDougall
The first and most likely only year of playing for the Kansas Jayhawks for Andrew Wiggins came to an end this week with their to 60-57 loss to Stanford this past weekend in the round of 32 in March Madness.
Freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins was kept in check by Stanford as he went 1-6 shooting wise and ended with just 4 points on the night.
There is chatter that the loss in the round of 32 may affect the draft stock of Wiggins and people are wondering if he truly is going to be able to live up to the hype in his career.
I for one think that his draft stock is still incredibly high, especially to teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and to the Milwaukee Bucks, two teams who desperately could use a dynamic scorer like him.
Wiggins in his first year at Kansas led the team in scoring, steals, minutes played, and field goals. His game can only go up in the coming years.
Kansas for many was a team that was seen as being able to make the final four or win the National title so a loss in the round of 32 is surprising but not the end of the world.
Many great players in NBA history were great college players and never won an NCAA national title, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Chris Webber to name a few.
Wiggins is only 19, his game is still developing we have no idea of how good he truly can be yet. Is the hype sensationalized to an incredible extent with the young man dubbed Maple Jordan? Yes but the over the top hype would have been the exact same for great players in any era if a giant collection of YouTube mix tapes and high school games being shown on National TV were available 20-30 years ago.
There is on the flip side people talking about him growing from this and also his name in the tournament does nothing but help the profile of Canadian basketball right now. 27 Canadians took part in March Madness this year, the stigma that Canadians can’t be gamebreakers in basketball is dying in a big way.
Along with Wiggins there have been Canadian players like Tyler Ennis on Syracuse, Nick Stauskas on Michigan and Melvin Ejim on Iowa State who are playing big minutes and have been massive contributors to their teams.
The 2013-14 Kansas Jayhawks season has shown us that Wiggins is capable at pure brilliance on the court, he had a 41 game this season, we’ve seen him on constant highlight reels for his dunks, this was just chapter 1 of his story.
He’s not going to plummet out of the top 10 of the NBA Draft or anything like that, he may not go #1 but being that first pick does not always guarantee a prosperous NBA career as we’ve see with players like Sam Bowie and Kwame Brown.
The critics need to let him figure his game out and grow, this is a teenager figuring out how to adjust to new levels of basketball and so far he’s making us all pay attention to his game.