The Detroit model, easier on paper then in reality

Just got back from a quick trip to Detroit. In reading the two local dailies it was hard to get beyond the scandal that is the mayoral situation there. The Lions and Tigers (and beard oh my) were on the front cover of the sports pages. The Tigers for trading Pudge, the Lions as they start training camp. The Wings were buried later in the paper as the news of Scotty’s departure was discussed. One paper explained the move as one out of compassion. Scotty’s son, who works for the Blackhawks is unwell and the article urged fans to view the move as exemplary, a father wanting to live and work closer to his ailing son.

On the 4 hour drive back to the big smoke, it occurred to me that as teams around the NHL try to follow the Red Wings front office model how difficult it will be to accomplish that. It was hard not to find it a tad ironic when i read John MacKinnon’s article in the National Post:

“By design or not, the Oilers front-office begins to resemble the gold standard, that of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

In Detroit, single owner Mike Ilitch has an all-star hockey department, led by GM Ken Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill, vice-president and GM-in-training Steve Yzerman, with longtime hockey man Jim Devellano in the mix as senior vice-president.”

As the Oilers add Steve Tambellini as GM and move Kevin Lowe to the President’s office it will be very interesting to watch this from a far. The Red Wings model, in my opinion will be very difficult to replicate. You had a very experienced senior adviser in Scotty Bowman, the ex coach. You also have the very senior ex Jimmy Devilano, who has been there for decades. You then have Ken Holland the GM and Jill Nill his assistant. Lastly you have Steve Yzerman the face of the franchise for the last couple of decades as a newly groomed exec. What all of these guys have in common is longevity with the Red Wings.

it won’t be hard for the Oilers, the Leafs or anyone else for that matter, to add in layers of experience in building a hockey department in attempt to replicate the Red Wing model. It will be very difficult to replicate its functionality because of the lack of synergies and years of working together. It wasn’t so long ago that the Leafs had Mike Smith, Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn as an executive team. We all know how well that worked. The solution is not just putting together a list of guys with experience. Rather it is putting together a TEAM that can and will work together. That is not easy to do. Detroit works because, with the exception of Yzerman, who played his entire career for the DRW, all of the guys have worked together forever too. Holland as a scout, Scotty (even though he is gone) as a coach, Jimmy D as a life long exec and so on.

Keep in mind that the Wings haven’t always been the success that they are today. There were some pretty dark years there to. When Illitch first bought the team times were pretty lean. In the early 90’s before becoming hockeytown, they lost in the playoffs to the Leafs and the Sharks in playoff disapointments. However, by putting the right pieces in place, and building a foundation they became the definitive model for the rest to try to replicate.

This is not going to be easy given all the different egos, as you try to build the foundation. Kudos to the Oilers new owner for trying. Hopefully the Leafs too will get there. For neither team will it come easy.

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