'01-02 Red Wings were the best of the decade
For the first time since the NHL took control of the Stanley Cup in the 1920s, the 2000s saw no repeat champions. There were no dynasties like the Canadiens of the 1950s and 1970s, the Maple Leafs of the 1960s, or the Islanders and Oilers in the 1980s. There weren't even any "almost dynasties" -- repeat winners like the Penguins and Red Wings in the 1990s who came up just short of greatness.
That doesn't mean there weren't excellent teams during the decade -- if anything, it means the caliber of play has improved so much that there are few (if any) easy wins these days. With more parity than ever, powerhouse teams had more trouble than ever staying on top -- and none of them managed to do it more than once.
Here are our top five teams for the first decade of the 21st Century:
1) 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings
Regular season: 116 points; First in Central Division, First in Western Conference, Won Presidents' Trophy
Playoffs: Won Stanley Cup (beat Carolina 4-1 in finals)
Talk about a team awash in talent. The '01-02 Red Wings were swimming in Hall of Famers (present and future), from goal (Dominik Hasek) to defense (Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios) to the front line (Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov) and even behind the bench (Scotty Bowman).
Those Wings were so good that Pavel Datsyuk, a star in the later part of the decade, was basically a spare part (13:39 average ice time in 70 games).
Under Bowman, the Wings blew through the regular-season, finishing 15 points ahead of the next-best team (Boston) despite having no player score more than 75 points. They had to go to seven games to beat archrival Colorado in the Western finals, but routed the Avs, 7-0, in the deciding game. Carolina stunned the Wings by winning the opener 3-2 in overtime, but Detroit allowed just four goals in winning the next four games, capped by a 3-1 win in Game 5.
Yzerman, who led the Wings in playoff scoring despite playing on one healthy leg, carried the Stanley Cup for the third and final time in his career. Lidstrom, who won the first of his six Norris trophies as the NHL's best defenseman, received the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Bowman, who had decided earlier in the season that he would retire, stunned everyone by putting on skates and joining in the on-ice celebration.
With as many as 10 current or future Hall of Famers on the roster (plus Bowman, who was inducted a decade earlier), the Wings have a solid claim as the best team to take the ice during this decade.
3) 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings
Regular-season: 115 points: First in Central Division, First in Western Conference, Won Presidents' Trophy
Playoffs: Won Stanley Cup (beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in finals)
Like most good teams, the Wings were more than the sum of their parts -- and those parts were awfully good.
With Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood in goal, the Wings were assured of top-caliber netminding every night. Nicklas Lidstrom led the defense by winning his sixth Norris Trophy in seven seasons. Pavel Datsyuk (31-66-97, plus-41) and Henrik Zetterberg (43-49-92, plus-30) led a deep, diverse attack that also knew how to be responsible without the puck.
The Wings won their division by 24 points and the conference and Presidents' Trophy by seven over San Jose.
Coach Mike Babcock made the biggest move of the playoffs in Game 4 of the opening round against Nashville, replacing a struggling Hasek with Osgood -- who played so well that Hasek never got his job back. The Wings went on to beat Nashville in six games, swept Colorado, beat Dallas in six and knocked off the young Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to bring the Cup back to Hockeytown for the first time since 2002. Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after finishing tied for first in goals and points -- and shutting down Sidney Crosby in the Final.
Lidstrom became the first European to captain a Stanley Cup winner.
"Nicklas Lidstrom, in my opinion, is a phenomenal leader and captain with his poise and his skill," Babcock said. "And then the support group in (Chris) Chelios and (Kris) Draper. And (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg, for their leadership. "we have a very special team, and we're thrilled to be in this situation."
Honorable mention (best team that didn't win the Cup)
2005-06 Detroit Red Wings
Regular-season: 124 points: Won Central Division, Won Western Conference, Won Presidents' Trophy
The arrival of the "new NHL" following the work stoppage didn't keep the Detroit Red Wings from doing what they had done the previous season -- finishing ahead of everyone else during the regular-season. The Wings piled up 58 victories and 124 points, making them the favorites for the Stanley Cup.
But it wasn't to be. The Wings faced the eighth-place Edmonton Oilers in the opening round of the playoffs, and it was apparent immediately that the series wouldn't be the cakewalk many had expected. After the teams split the first four games, Edmonton came into Joe Louis Arena, scored three goals in the second period and made them stand up for a 3-2 win. Back at Rexall Place, Ales Hemsky tied the game with 3:53 remaining and scored again with 1:06 to play to give the Oilers a stunning 4-3 victory -- sending the Wings home with nothing to show for the decade's best regular-season record.