How Detroit Red Wings helped shape final four Stanley Cup playoff teams

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings aren’t where they want to be — in the playoffs — but all four teams left in the playoffs have ties to the Wings.

The Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning are left to battle for the Stanley Cup.

The Oilers have a strong tie to the Wings because of Ken Holland. He was named general manager in Edmonton in May 2019, one month after Steve Yzerman succeeded Holland as GM of the Wings. Holland and Yzerman have made multiple trades with one another, though none of the ex-Wings that went to Edmonton are still with the Oilers.

Holland was promoted to GM of the Wings in the summer of 1998, about a month after the 1997 Stanley Cup championship. Holland won three Cups as GM, in 1998, 2002 and 2008. When Yzerman retired in 2006, he segued into a front-office job as Holland’s understudy.

The Rangers are coached by Gerard Gallant, a good friend and former linemate’s of Yzerman. The Rangers hired Gallant in April 2021, more than a year after he had been released by the Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant played for the Wings from 1985 until 1993, when he left as a free agent.

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In addition to Gallant, the Rangers’ payroll numbers Ryan Martin, who last summer left his position as assistant general manager with the Wings to accept the same title with New York. On the ice, defenseman Patrik Nemeth played in five games of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was signed by Yzerman in July 2019 and traded at the 2021 deadline to the Colorado Avalanche, going on to sign a three-year deal with the Rangers after becoming a free agent in summer 2021.

The Rangers play the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. Though it’s been three years since Yzerman left the organization — of which he was named GM in 2010 — the Bolts bear a heavy Yzerman imprint. Jon Cooper, the coach, was hired by Yzerman; Andrei Vasilevskiy, the goaltender who is a Conn Smythe candidate, was drafted by Yzerman, as was Tampa’s leading playoff scorer, Nikita Kucherov. Multiple other players either were brought in or re-signed by Yzerman during his eight years in charge of the Bolts. (He stepped back in fall 2018, setting in motion his return to Detroit.)

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This month marks 25 years since the Wings’ highly entertaining WCF against the Avalanche. The rivalry certainly has dimmed, as all the principals have long since retired. The Avs were a preseason favorite to win the Cup, and face Holland’s Oilers as the final challenge to the Stanley Cup Final. The Avs advanced to the conference finals in six games thanks to the handiwork of longtime former Wings forward Darren Helm, who scored with 5.6 seconds left in regulation to secure the berth. Helm signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Avs last summer, as he no longer fit into the Wings’ rebuilding plans. No wonder Helm appealed to the Avs — he’s a veteran center who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs, having won the Stanley Cup in 2008 as a rookie with the Wings.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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