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” Mironov, Alexei 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.