Greatest Sports Franchises - Detroit Red Wings

Founded in 1926, this American NHL club has come to be the winningest professional hockey team in the U.S. One of the Original Six NHL teams, the Detroit Red Wings have a storied history that includes tragedies and triumphs. With star players such as Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Niklas Lidstrom filling their rosters over the years, it’s no wonder they have the third most Stanley Cups in the league. The closest thing to a dynasty this side of the millennium, Detroit’s team is a perennial favorite to win. In this video, continues our series on the Greatest Sports Franchises of All Time with a look at the Detroit Red Wings.

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The History of the Detroit Red Wings

Founded in 1926, the team traces its origins to the defunct Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. The team played the home games of their inaugural season in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. However, by their second year they had relocated to the Detroit area to play in the Olympia Stadium. Their second year also marked the first year for Coach Jack Adams. This NHL legend has gone on to become the namesake for the trophy awarded to the league’s top coach.

Early Years

For its first few years of existence, the team retained the Cougars’ nickname, but by 1930 they were renamed the Falcons. The team struggled until 1932 when James Norris bought the team and christened them the Red Wings. It was Norris who introduced the club’s current logo, which is meant to represent the city’s role as the birthplace and center of the automotive industry. By 1936, the team won its first Stanley Cup, following up with another victory in 1937.

The Production Line

However, it wasn’t until 1946 that one of the all-time greatest hockey players joined the team: Canada’s Gordie Howe. A right-winger, he joined Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay in his second year. Those three went on to form the “Production Line,” which became one of the most dominant lines in league history.

The Howe Era

The 1950s and 60s were Howe’s era, with the Wings winning the Cup in 1950, ’52, ’54 and ’55. Reinforcing the squad was goaltender Terry Sawchuk, and Alex Delvecchio replaced Abel on the Production Line. It was in 1950 that championship-winning players began skating around the rink with the Stanley Cup hoisted above their heads, a tradition started by Ted Lindsay.

Norris Family

In 1952, Norris’ daughter Marguerite replaced her deceased father as team president, becoming the first woman to lead an NHL team.

NHL Players' Association

By 1957, Ted Lindsay and the leading defenseman of his era, Montreal Canadien Doug Harvey, joined forces to help start the NHL Players’ Association. Because of this, Lindsay was swiftly traded, and this began a gradual slide for the once-great team. Between the 1933-34 and 1965-66 seasons, the Red Wings missed the playoffs only four times, yet from 1967 onward, the team flailed. Howe retired after the 1970 season, though he would resume his career in the emerging World Hockey Association. When he retires, he led the league with 2,421 games played, 1,071 goals, 1,518 assists and 2,589 points. While Wayne Gretzky eventually passed him in goals, assists and points, he did not surpass him in games played or in games played with one team.

New Arena, New Owner

In the 1979-80 season, the Wings moved from the Olympia to the Joe Louis Arena. 1982 saw the changing of the guard, as the Norris family sold the club to the founder of Little Caesars’ Pizza, Mike Ilitch.

Steve Yzerman

The following year marked the beginning of a new era, with the club drafting Steve Yzerman with the fourth pick in the 1983 amateur entry draft. Yzerman led the team in scoring in his rookie year, and helped John Ogrodnick score 42 goals. The club also added enforcer Bob Probert, who remained with the team in the 1980s and 90s.

In 1989, Yzerman notched 65 goals, a career best. The next year he had 62. But the team kept missing the playoffs so coach Jacques Demers was fired, and rumors of Yzerman’s impending trade persisted.

Good thing the team didn’t pull the trigger, as the best was yet to come.

A New Direction

By 1994, former Canadiens’ coach Scotty Bowman joined the team and took them in a markedly European direction. The result, however, was victorious.

A Laundry List of Star Players

Slowly but surely, the team signed talented players, and their success drew others to join the club. Names like legendary defenseman Paul Coffey, Sergei Fedorov, Ray Sheppard, Slava Kozlov, Darren McCarty, Vladimir Konstantinov, goaltender Mike Vernon, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, and Pavel Datsyuk filled the rosters.

Legend of the Octopus

The Red Wings won the Cup in 1997 for the first time since 1955, finally the “Legend of the Octopus” bear fruit. This strange tradition sees an octopus thrown into the ice surface for good luck during playoff games. The victory in 1997 ended the longest Cup drought in the league.

A Career Cut Short

Konstantinov’s career was cut short following the 1997 Stanley Cup win as a result of a limousine crash. The team dedicated the next season to their recovering teammate, and repeated as Champions in 1998.

Scotty Bowman

Bowman retired after winning the Cup for a third time with the Wings in 2002. This added to the five he won with the Habs in the 1970s, and the one he won with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992. He also won the Cup three times as a member of an organization’s front office, if you’re keeping track.

More Cup Victories

After Bowman’s departure, the team failed to win a Cup for a few years. In 2005, they hired former Anaheim Ducks coach Mike Babcock, and he led the team to yet another win in 2008. That team featured such stars as Henrik Zetterberg and goalie Chris Osgood, who had replaced a struggling Hasek.

Winningest American NHL Franchise

Today, with 11 wins, the team trails only the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs in total Stanley Cup victories.

After years of struggles, the Wings have recaptured the spirit of their glory days of the mid-20th century, and are perennial favorites to go all the way.

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