Editor, White Cover Magazine
It’s easy to remember that moment when you finally see the perfect embodiment of the one thing you’ve been observing for what seems like forever. It’s easy to remember probably because of the second half of that last sentence. You’ve been observing — watching, researching, documenting, and discussing — and you finally see exactly what you’ve been looking for.
I remember the moment I wrote my one great university essay (which was, fittingly, my last one ever). I remember the moment I knew I was actually in love (although that one’s still being defined). I remember seeing the greatest hockey team of all time, at least in my eyes.
That year — the 2007 that bled into the aforementioned even number — was a unique one for sports. If you’ll reach back into your memory bank, the New England Patriots were chasing perfection. They were only one incredible David Tyree helmet catch from getting it, too, which should tell you everything you need to know about labels like perfection and greatest ever. Luck and fortune (and timing) has almost everything to do with it.
I know there were moments earlier in that season where New England could have dropped one or two games to somebody else, but luck, fortune, and timing allowed them to win 18 games before losing one to New York. Silly football records — much like silly hockey undefeated streaks (Chicago) or silly NBA winning strings (Miami) — have little to do with actual substance and more to do with what Stephen A. Smith will say.
The 2008 Detroit Red Wings didn’t need luck or fortune. Or, timing. They were perfect, even if their record said otherwise. There were moments in that season where they’d lose a few in a row, but it always seemed like a laugh. At 54-21-7, they won the President’s Trophy by seven points (over second-place San Jose) but they were far from the greatest ever.
The greatest regular season ever is probably a toss-up between some Flyers/Bruins/Canadiens from the 70’s, the Red Wings from 1996 (62 wins and 131 points), or the ’11 Vancouver Canucks (the most goals scored, the fewest goals against, and the league’s best powerplay to go with a President’s Trophy and 117 points).
That Red Wings squad from Oh-Eight, though, was destined for glory. I remember thinking as much that January, when I said — to the surprise of everyone around me — that the Wings were a better hockey team that year than the Patriots were a football team.
I realized something that winter, while watching the Wings pick apart lowly losers like Columbus and actual contenders like San Jose with comparable and relative ease: Stanley Cups aren’t won by players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk (who the Wings had) or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who the Wings beat in the Cup Final).
Stanley Cups are won by full-blooded rosters. Rosters where no position is contested and every slot is full. Stanley Cup-winning teams are deep. (For example, for all the great things that were said about the Canucks two years ago, it was an incredibly stacked but unknown Boston Bruins team that ended up being the real deal.)
That Red Wings squad mixed together superstars (Datsyuk and Zetterberg) with established veterans (Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Dallas Drake and Daniel Cleary) and Hall of Fame defencemen (Nick Lidstrom and Chris Chelios). The Wings used perhaps the greatest three-headed goaltender of all time (Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, and Jimmy Howard) to legitimize Mike Babcock’s coaching and the European talent of Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Valteri Filppula, and Johan Franzen.
Add in d-men like Brian Rafalski, free agent acquisition Brad Stuart, and Nik Kronwall. Then, fill out your roster with hand-picked and tailor-made rookies and sophomores with something to prove — Tomas Kopecky, Matt Ellis, and St Andrews, Manitoba’s Darren Helm.
That Red Wings team was flushed from head-to-toe with players who were determined to prove themselves — from championship-less vets like Cleary to rookies to guys like Hasek, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, and Zetterberg, all of whom were trying to prove that they could win a Stanley Cup without Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan.
They were perfect in almost every way and their playoff record showed it. Not one playoff series they were in that postseason (against Nashville, Colorado, Dallas, and then Pittsburgh) lasted longer than six games, and not one challenger was a serious threat.
For me, every great team and every contender with 2008 forward will be compared to those Red Wings, but everyone has a team like that — some kind of squad they point to as the championship standard, the perfectly mixed cocktail.
Do you have one?
The Best of the Red Wings Roster, 2008…
97 points and a Hart Trophy nomination
43 goals and 92 points, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP
A third Norris Trophy, a +40 and 70 points from the blueline
42 points and the first player from Newfoundland to win a Stanley Cup
55 points, a +27 and 24 minutes played per game
A 14-4 playoff record and a third Stanley Cup (second as a starter)