Because the trophy was heavier than he had expected, Red Wings
coach Scotty Bowman did not hold it very high or skate with it
for very long. Thus did Bowman confirm what we already knew: In
addition to being the coolest championship trophy in sports, the
Stanley Cup has become the hardest to hang on to.
That's a switch. Until 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens ended
the Pittsburgh Penguins' two-year championship run, it seemed
that this grail was available only for long-term leasing. The
Flyers won it in 1974 and '75. For the next four years it was
monopolized by the Canadiens, who were supplanted by the New
York Islanders, who won four straight titles before yielding to
the Edmonton Oilers, who won five Cups between 1984 and '90.
Now Lord Stanley resides in Motown, but for how long? Detroit is
the sixth team in the past six years to win the Cup. NHL
dynasties have this in common with Blake Carrington's Dynasty:
They can be seen only on reruns.
What's with all the one-year wonders? Where once there were six
NHL teams, there are now 26, "and soon there'll be 30," says Red
Wings defenseman Larry Murphy. "As the league grows, your
chances get slimmer."
As do your chances to draft franchise players. "You could look
to get a Cup through draft choices when there were six teams, 12
teams," says Detroit scout Mark Howe. "Now you're drafting on a
hope and a prayer a lot of times."
When a top pick does pan out, he usually goes panning for gold.
Retaining superstars has become prohibitively expensive. Says
former Oilers forward Craig Simpson, who won two Cups in
Edmonton and who is now a sportscaster for Fox, "In 1985, with
Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky and four other guys who
are going to the Hall of Fame, Edmonton's payroll was probably
$9 million. What would those guys cost now?"
Bowman suggests an alternate route to building at least a
minidynasty: a half-decade or so of ineptitude. Finish in or
near the cellar consistently enough--"I'm thinking of the Ottawa
Senators and the New York Islanders," says Bowman--and you get a
chance to draft lots of good young players. Once you have a
nucleus of young studs, you lock 'em up contractually, then hope
they win a Cup or two before the inevitable entropy kicks in and
the boys demand big money.
Simpson says that once the pieces are in place, "You have to win
right away, before the window closes." Is the window already
closing on the Red Wings? Bowman has dropped hints that he has
coached his final game. Center Sergei Fedorov will be a
restricted free agent in July, and he wants a lavish, long-term
contract. Defenseman Slava Fetisov will soon be eligible for the
AARP. Who knows if any of them will be back?
Joe Kocur, the rugged right wing, seemed to be allowing for a
certain amount of disbanding when he addressed the team during
last Saturday's second intermission. "We all come from different
parts of the world, and we're all going to different parts of
the world," he said. "But if we win this thing, no matter where
we end up, we'll always be together."
It was an inspiring speech, and surprisingly sweet coming from a
guy who has made a career of tenderizing opponents with his
fists. But then, the Red Wings are inspiring champions. They are
deserving champions. What they will not be, if recent history is
our guide, is repeat champions.