The Detroit Model: Built To Last?

Don't stop now boys. Photo courtesy of Walt Neubrand/Hockey Hall of Fame



This is the 1st installment of a series of articles regarding the “Detroit Red Wings Model for Success” by John Schultz.

With Stan Bowman, and no doubt Scotty, calling the shots for the Blackhawks, one shouldn’t expect anything but for the father and son duo to follow what has been highly touted as the blueprint of long term success: “The Detroit Model.” I could go into the details of Scotty Bowman’s illustrious career – the last 15 spent in Detroit prior to coming to Chicago as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations in 2008 – but 12 Stanley Cups speak for themselves. (Stan, you’ve got some catching up to do here)

The Red Wings’ current 20-season streak of making the postseason is the longest active streak of any of the four major professional sports leagues in North America (NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB). But make no mistake, the Wings bought much of that success. Since the mid-90′s Detroit has consistently iced one of the highest payrolls in the league, second only to the NY Rangers.  Why do I bring this up? Sour grapes? No, not at all. Although I am definitely envious of their prosperity, I’m not thoroughly convinced that the hype surrounding the “Detroit model” is justified.

While Detroit was making guys with names like Fedorov, Yzerman and Lidstrom their highest-paid players, Bill Wirtz and company were giving out the biggest contracts to the likes of Doug “$300,000 per goal” Gilmour, Boris “Yes, you really were Badonov” MironovAlexei Zhamnov (he’s no Roenick), Betty Ford Center regular Theo Fleury, and for their final sin, Nikolai Khabibulin.

The disparity in payroll size reached its peak in the years leading up to the lockout. By 2003-04, Detroit’s team payroll was a ridiculous 2-1/2 times that of Chicago’s – and nearly double the league average. Prior to the lockout, the divergence of these two franchises’ paths truly was a tale of two cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

In a season that Tyler Arnason – a player who was sent down to Norfolk two years earlier due to poor conditioning as a rookie - is your leading scorer, you know things didn’t go well. The Hawks finished dead last in the Western Conference that year and rightfully so with the crap that was thrown on the ice – the team itself.

The Wings on the other hand had a roster which included the likes of Datsyuk, Hull, Shanahan, Yzerman, Schneider, Zetterberg, Whitney, Draper, Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Chelios – need I go on? They won the President’s Trophy that season, but lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to an upstart Calgary team led by Jarome Iginla and phenomenal goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff who shutout the Wings 1-0 in each of the two final games of the series.

As you can see from the chart below, in the six seasons prior to the introduction of the salary cap, Detroit consistently was paying its players an astounding 64% over the league average. Chicago, on the other hand, dropped from paying 20% over the league average to 30% under it during that same period. 2003-04 was the most extreme example between Detroit and Chicago. And since this is a Blackhawks blog, it’s worth taking a trip back to see just how much things changed. Sorry Wings fans, but as The The so aptly put it, “All the money in the world couldn’t buy you back those days.

So is the Detroit model simply a case of outspending the competition? It definitely appears to be a major part of the pre-salary cap equation. Detroit regularly finished 26% above the league average in the standings while the Blackhawks sank to the bottom as their spending decreased even though the league average payroll steadily increased.

It makes sense that there exists a correlation between salary and performance. Unless you’re filling the roster with twenty-three Tomas Kopeckys at $3M a pop, you’re typically allocating that additional money towards the league’s best available talent.

But what about post-lockout Detroit? Have they been as successful when compared to the rest of the league with their ability to open the wallet dramatically hampered? In my next article I’ll take a look at the directions of the Blackhawks and Red Wings in a salary-capped world.

John Schultz, lead writer for BlackhawkUp. Please leave a comment and follow me on Twitter @ChiNativeSon.


Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Detroit Red Wings Model NHL Salary Cap Lockout

  • Jerry Kayne

    Among several important drafting characteristics the Red Wings also have a more prominent model that comes post-lockout. Build from within but don’t bring anyone up until they’re fully developed.

    They have had the luxury of their veterans lasting for decades so the call-ups can get their feet wet, but now that the veterans are getting worn down there’s talk in the blogisphere that maybe that’s not the best model after all. Thoughts?

  • ChicagoNativeSon

    @Jerry Kayne Regarding your first point, Jerry. I agree completely. I hear people pining for guys like Smith, Kruger, Morin, and even Beach to all be on the opening day roster next season. The only reason Smith and Kruger were up last year was due to the lack of depth. Normally those guys would be at least another notch further down the depth chart.

    They need more time, and the Hawks need to reestablish balance throughout the organization.

    Right now they have an excess of prospects, but not many guys who can make the jump if needed. In the next year or two, that shouldn’t be the case. Not saying 1 or 2 of these players won’t be up, but if they are it’s because Stan wasn’t able to fill the holes at 2C/2LW or 4C cost effectively.

    And regarding your 2nd point. Models come and go. Either the league catches up, or the environment changes like it did with the lockout – and will again after next season with the new CBA.

    Stan was blessed with an extremely young and talented system. Holland on the other hand had to cut 50% of his salary post-lockout, so they started from very different positions salary and age-wise.

    It’s interesting to note though that the Hawks went from the youngest team in the league to middle of the pack (with today’s roster) in just two years.

    Although moving contracts like Campbell’s are seldom popular, they are completely necessary. Hoping your core is going to age like a Sakic or Lidstrom probably isn’t a very good long term strategy.

  • cliffkoroll

    This is teed up nicely. Innerested to see part deux.

  • BGenz

    Looking at the 6 years represented in the table is interesting. I understand holding the next 7 years (’04 to present) for your next post. But it would be interesting to also see the prior 7 years – to flesh out the whole 20 years of the Bowman legacy – or “Detroit Model”. What did the salaries look like while they were building toward the cup in ’97?

  • ChicagoNativeSon

    @BGenz Sure, we could go back further, but the point of this and my future posts really isn’t really to completely devalue the Detroit model, just chop it down from the mythical status it has attained in many circles. The league-wide data prior to ’98 wasn’t as readily available to include.

    I actually believe it is a great model to imitate, with a few adjustments.

  • BGenz

    @John Schultz When you analyze the “Bowman Influence” in Chicago, it may (or may not) be interesting to compare those years against Bowmans first years in Detroit – rather that comparing against Holland – and an already mature model.

  • ChicagoNativeSon

    @BGenz Maybe (or maybe not, as you suggested), but the future articles will deal much less with the salary and more with player personnel and strategy in “today’s NHL.” The salary cap and rule changes would make comparing the two eras difficult, plus it’s the new model the Hawks are following.

    Stay tuned…

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