Now that the Detroit Red Wings have been officially eliminated from this year’s playoffs, their glorious postseason streak has reached its conclusion. Twenty-five straight seasons of success is certainly something to celebrate. So are their four Stanley Cups and six finals appearances total since 1990 – both of which lead the NHL during that span.
Simply put, it’s the end of an era. Some argue that said era has been over since the 2009-10 season. But making the playoffs every year since has given the Red Wings a chance at yet another Stanley Cup and that certainly counts for something.
To properly eulogize the streak, it would be appropriate to acknowledge how far Detroit, the NHL and the world have come since the Red Wings last went without a playoff berth. It’s only fair; a lot has changed since April 5, 1990 – opening night of the 1990 NHL playoffs. Let’s take a look at what was going on before the streak (B.S.).
The Detroit Red Wings in 1990
You’ll recognize Steve Yzerman from the 1989-90 Red Wings team, but not many other players. The captain led the way with 62 goals and 127 points, but the team only managed a 28-38-14 record – six points out of the last Norris Division playoff spot.
- In a blockbuster deal, Detroit acquired Jimmy Carson, Kevin McClelland, and a fifth round pick from Edmonton for Adam Graves, Joe Murphy, Petr Klima and Jeff Sharples. The latter four would help the Oilers win the Stanley Cup that year.
- Red Wings goaltender Sam St. Laurent tended the twine 14 times during the 1989-90 season – all of which while wearing an old school, fiberglass mask. St. Laurent was the last NHL goalie to do so.
- Present-day referee Dean Morton suited up for the Red Wings, along with Dallas GM Jim Nill, Red Wings assistant coach Doug Houda, Hall-of-Famer Borje Salming, Red Wings scout Glenn Merkosky, Kings Director of Player Development Mike O’Connell and former coaches Glen Hanlon and Gerard Gallant.
- Henrik Zetterberg—the eldest Red Wing on today’s team—was only nine-years-old when the 1990 playoffs started.
- Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, Xavier Ouellet, Riley Sheahan, Nick Jensen, Ryan Sproul, Tomas Nosek, Robbie Russo, Dan Renouf and Petr Mrazek were not born yet. It would be another six and a half years until Larkin was born.
- Three members of the 1989-90 Red Wings have passed away in the 27 years since: Shawn Burr, Steve Chiasson and Bob Probert.
The NHL in 1990
Back in 1990, the NHL was divided into the Wales and Campbell conferences, with the Adams and Patrick Divisions making up the former and the latter consisting of the Norris and Smythe Divisions. In addition, it would still be another year before Jaromir Jagr’s mullet would grace our presence. Fortunately, the mullet was still a trendy style back then in the Jagr-less NHL.
- The Los Angeles Kings were the only United States-based team west of Minnesota. Colorado, Arizona, Dallas, Anaheim and San Jose (plus Las Vegas) hadn’t received an NHL franchise yet.
- Speaking of the west, the Toronto Maple Leafs were technically a Western Conference team, as part of the Campbell Conference.
- Mark Messier led the Oilers to their fifth and final Stanley Cup of their extraordinary dynasty.
- The Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers and the previous incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets still existed.
- Each NHL game averaged 1.08 fights per contest. Today, that number is down to 0.35 fights per game.
- Guy Lafleur was still playing AND had another season in him. He — along with seven others — made up the last of the helmet-less warriors in the NHL.
The World in 1990
When the Red Wings last missed the playoffs, the Ottoman Empire, Prussia, and the Holy Roman Empire were still sovereign nations. Just kidding – but the United Soviet Socialist Republic, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia were still in existence. What else was going on in the world?
- The Berlin Wall had only come down six months prior to the start of the 1990 playoffs.
- Pablo Escobar was alive and thriving. As were John Candy, Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain.
- I wasn’t born yet – this bun still had another three weeks in the oven.
- The Internet was still in its infant stages.
- Walmart had not yet reached the United States west coast.
- Nelson Mandela had only been a free man for less than two months after spending the previous 27 years in jail.
It’s truly incredible how much has happened since the Red Wings last missed the playoffs. We’ve been spoiled with top-notch hockey for a long time. Hopefully, it will not be too long until the Red Wings start on their next playoff streak.
What do you think is most remarkable about the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff streak? Comment below with your opinion.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.