Detroit Rock City

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

DETROIT -- The salary cap was supposed to hit the Detroit Red Wings right where it hurts.

In the wallet.

A level financial playing field meant they'd be reduced to mere mortals, no longer free to spend their way to the top of the Western Conference.

Well, three years into the new collective bargaining agreement, it's the same old, same old in Motor City.

They're the best team in the NHL, on pace for an eighth-consecutive 100-plus point season.

They're a whopping 22-6-1 this year, had a nine-game winning streak earlier this season (tying the franchise record) and brought seven wins in a row into last night's game with Edmonton.

GREAT MANAGEMENT

"I think you have to give management a lot of credit," said defenceman Nick Lidstrom. "Ken Holland and his staff and scouts do a great job of finding players, finding guys who fit our system. And we have some veteran guys who've been here a while, and that experience helps a team."

The Wings didn't miss a beat when they had to shave some $25 million off their payroll.

"First it was our age, then it was the cap," said Chris Chelios, listing the reasons why people keep expecting the Wings to falter. "Everybody is waiting for us to drop, or not be one of the dominant teams, but as long as I've been here, it hasn't happened yet. And the cap obviously hasn't affected us one bit.

"I guess they're not giving the Detroit Red Wings management and staff enough credit for having the right players here."

It's become a self-perpetuating cycle. The Wings always win, so talented free agents want to go there, and elite veterans want to stay there. In turn, talented free agents and elite veterans translate into more wins. In the last 10 seasons, they've won more games (524) than any other team in the NHL.

"They've had success here, so players want to stay," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "You don't have to be in the league very long to realize you want to be on a winner. Life is a whole lot easier when you are winning.

"Players want to stay here, so they've got players on pretty good deals.

"And the players that they've brought in are really good role players. That's the new game. You get some really good high-end players (Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Lidstrom) and you fill in the rest."

SUPERIOR DRAFTING

And they draft and develop better than anyone else in the game. Teams that gripe about not getting high picks need only look at the Wings, who drafted Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Lidstrom, none of them in the first round.

"It goes to show that you can have success without spending more money," said Lidstrom. "You have to have good scouts and a good team system to be able to have success."

Their success validates (not that Wings ever sought validation) their accomplishments in the pre-cap world, when people accused them of buying championships.

"I guess they're lucky we can't still buy it," said Chelios. "Because then we'd be unbeatable."


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