Saturday, April 7, 2007

Can Ken Holland Run the Lions Too?

Do you recognize this man?

He is K
en Holland, GM of the Detroit Red Wings, and he may be the most underrated General Manager in any sport.

He has won two Stanley Cups as the Wings GM, in 1998 and 2002. The 2002 team was his masterpiece, the result of shrewd trades, great drafting and pure big-market free agency dominance. Holland pulled veteran defenseman Fredrik Olausson right out of the Swiss Hockey League, and signed future Hall-of-Famers Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull. He also traded forward Slava Kozlov and a first round draft pick for the slinky-spined Dominik Hasek. Rounding out the new additions to the 2002 team, rookie forward Pavel Datsyuk showed his talent by posting a 35 point season playing alongside Hull and Boyd Devereaux. Drafting Datsyuk may be one of Holland's greatest moves, as he had been passed over in both the 1996 and 1997 NHL Entry Drafts before being picked in the 6th round, 171st overall by Detroit.

The new additions melded seamlessly with an already talented Detroit squad featuring Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan, Niklas Lidstrom, and a strong supporting cast, many of whom had been on the 1997 and 1998 Cup winners. The Wings dominated the Western Conference in 2001-2002, notching 51 wins and defeating the Carolina Hurricanes for the Stanley Cup championship.

Perhaps Holland's most impressive accomplishment, however, has been his ability to keep the Red Wings at the top of the NHL despite the new salary cap rules instituted after the 2004-2005 lockout season. The Wings' 2003-2004 payroll was an NHL-high $77.8 million, but the cap for the 2005-2006 season was set at $39 million. Many predicted that the Wings' decade-long reign over the NHL was over, as they had been winning in part because they could outspend most other teams. Many thought wrong, however. Holland reworked deals with Shanahan, Yzerman and Lidstrom; let Hull, Devereaux and embattled goalie Curtis Joseph walk, and brought in Chris Osgood for his second stint as goaltender in Detroit. Holland had stockpiled young talent in Datsyuk, forward Henrik Zetterburg (a 7th round pick in 1999, another of Hollands incredible draft moves), and defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Jiri Fischer.

The Red Wings won the Presidents Trophy in 2005-2006 as the team with the best regular season record. Although they were upset in the first round to the eventual Western Conference Champion Edmonton Oilers, they have bounced back again this year, securing the number one seed in the Western Conference with a second straight 50+ win season. As former powers Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis struggle to make the playoffs in the "new" NHL, the Red Wings have picked up where they left off before the lockout, and Ken Holland has perhaps been the biggest reason for their continued success. Holland has ensured that Hockeytown will remain at the pinnacle of the NHL for years to come.

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