It’s the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings as the club’s 25-year playoff streak will come to an end this season and the team will play its last ever game at the Joe Louis Arena on April 9th. The postseason streak began in the 1990/91 campaign and is the third-longest in NHL and pro-sports history. The Boston Bruins posted the longest streak of 29 seasons from 1967/68 to 1995/96 while the Chicago Blackhawks went 28 seasons from 1969/70 to 1996/97 and the St. Louis Blues enjoyed a 25-season run of their own from 1979/80 to 2003/04.
The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups during their streak, which took place over a quarter of a century while playing at the Joe Louis Arena. However, the rink which opened in 1979 will be demolished later in 2017 after the Wings’ new home, Little Caesars Arena, opens in September. The new rink will also be the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The Red Wings and Detroit fans will get the chance to say their final goodbyes to Joe Louis Arena with a game against the New Jersey Devils on the final day of the 2016/17 season.
Since the Red Wings streak began, there have been a total of four work stoppages in the NHL, plenty of rule changes, the introduction of a salary cap, five different U.S. presidential administrations, and the Soviet Union still existed. In addition, former NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning was just starting high school. Unfortunately, franchise owner Mike Ilitch, who was also the founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, passed away earlier this year as the streak was about to end.
The Red Wings have had five head coaches during the streak along with three different team captains and general managers. The Wings have been so good during that stretch that they haven’t had a top-10 draft pick since 1991. The club was cup contenders for so long due to the emergence of draft picks such as Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov and smart deals and free-agent signings including Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan. Stanley Cups were won in 1996/97, 1997/97, 2001/02 and 2007/08.
The first cup win of the streak ended the team’s 42-year drought without a championship. The 2002 cup-winning squad was one of the strongest in league history as it featured 10 Hall of Famers, with Pavel Datsyuk likely making it 11 in the future. Ilitch was a free spender in the early years of the streak and paid millions of dollars for top-name players, but the Red Wings also made the playoffs for the first 11 seasons after the salary cap was introduced after the 2004/05 lockout. They’re the only franchise to reach the postseason every year since the salary cap came in, until this year that is.
The end of the streak isn’t a complete disaster for the Red Wings. Fans may have seen it coming since the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the past three seasons, but they’ll now start to rebuild with this summer’s draft. Detroit may finish in last place in the Eastern Conference this season for a higher draft pick and also made several deals at the trade deadline for prospects and draft choices. And who knows, a brand new 25-season streak may begin later this year when the Red Wings christen Little Caesars Arena.