Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 11/10/11
DETROIT -- Before they became the model franchise of the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings struggled for decades. They drafted high and finished low in the standings. Eventually ownership changed, Jimmy Devellano was hired as general manager and the slow process towards respectability and then dominance began. Since the 1990-91 season, the Red Wings have the best overall record in the NHL. They have dodged free falling in the NHL standings by a combination of astute drafting, key free agent signings, timely trades, top-shelf coaching and luck. This mixture along with current general manager Ken Hollands own shrewd competence have given Motor City sports fans an astonishing run of excellence, which is unparalleled in the annals of Detroits sports history. With all their success, its hard to imagine the Red Wings being mediocre or just plain bad. But drafting low and the parity-creating salary cap have finally begun to impact the Wings. By winning their last two games by a combined 10-2 score, it appears the Red Wings have rebounded from their stretch of six straight losses and a scoring drought that saw them score six goals during that skid; however, Wings fans might have to get used to a streaky hockey team. For the past several years as their roster aged and their superstars retired or chose to pursue other opportunities in the league, the Wings have replaced their personnel with talented, gritty players who are not natural goal-scorers. Theres a feeling among Detroits hierarchy that if a player is pure goal-scorer, theyre a top-tier first-round draft pick -- a draft position the Wings havent been in for decades. In todays NHL, if you want a player whos a sniper, your team needs to bottom out and be in what Holland refers to as a full rebuild. Thanks to the salary cap, most goal-scorers never leave their original team, unless theyve become disgruntled and are traded for another disgruntled goal-scorer or their skill erodes to a point where theyre allowed to become a free agent. There are always exceptions, but what the Red Wings are facing now is something that they knew would eventually catch up with them. Detroit has not drafted high enough in the first round to replenish their goal-scoring arsenal. Its a testament to the prowess of Wings management that theyve been able to hold off the drought as long as they have. Many of you might be thinking, What are you talking about? Detroits three best forwards -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen -- were drafted in the sixth, seventh and third rounds respectively. That's true, but the NHL scouting landscape has changed dramatically since Datsyuks, Zetterbergs and Franzens draft years. Red Wing assistant GM Jim Nill loves to tell what I call his Doctor Zhivago story. When Nill first began to scour the earth for players, his quest brought him to some of the most remote areas of the planet. The days were short and the nights were long and wintery. On many occasions, Nill found himself being transported by a reindeer sleigh (a Laplander sleigh pulled by actual reindeer) to the outskirts of a tiny town where there was an ice rink filled with potential NHL talent. Nill would be in one sleigh and the townspeople would be in another. It was a desolate lifestyle, but it paid off because many of the Wings' top prospects were first discovered in these isolated ice rinks. Fast forward to today. Nill is still in his reindeer sleigh, the townspeople are still in their sleigh, but theyre joined by 29 other reindeer sleighs, each carrying a scout from every NHL team. Players no longer fall through the cracks, especially if they show any kind of scoring ability. That being said, in the short run, the Red Wings appear capable of digging themselves out of any goal-scoring malaise. If weve learned anything over the past few season about this Detroit roster it's that its full of streaky goal-scorers. One could argue that all goal-scorers in the NHL are streaky, which might be true to a degree. But its the time between streaks that has often rendered the Wings' offense anemic. In the long run, Detroit might get scoring help from some of their forward prospects. Thomas Tartar, Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pukkinen, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Jurco have all shown goal-scoring ability in the eyes of Detroits management. Some within the organization believe that Jarnkrok and Pukkinen could be the diamonds in the rough that keep Detroit at the top of the NHL standings. Until their prospects reach the NHL level, the speculation about what type of players theyll become is a reach. What is not a reach is that Holland and his inner circle need to make a decision about what type of team Detroit will be in the future. Do they change their philosophy and become all defense all the time? Or do they stomach some lean years and pick their next Steve Yzerman? Within the next few months, a telltale sign will emerge as to which course Holland will sail the Red Wings' future towards -- abandon ship or steady as she goes.
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