For a record 25th straight season, the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs. For the seventh straight season, they didn’t get past the second round.
Well, no matter, Wings fans because whether the Pittsburgh Penguins or the San Jose Sharks raise the Cup, they will be following in your favorite players’ footsteps.
Let’s start at the start. The Red Wings go back to 1926, and have already outlived 16 teams that leave their cities or fold.
They won seven Stanley Cups before the Penguins were born in 1967, and four more after the Sharks were formed in 1991. The Red Wings have played for the Cup 24 times, and won it more times than any other American franchise – by far.
But the Wings have left their mark in other ways. After the Wings won their fourth Cup in 1950, Ted Lindsay hoisted it over his head, took a lap with it, and passed it to his teammates, who then took their own victory laps.
The winners have been following “Terrible Ted’s” example ever since.
The Stanley Cup is the only major team trophy with the winners’ names engraved on it — and not just the teams. The cup lists players, team owners, presidents, general managers, coaches, assistant coaches, even trainers — more than 2,200 names in all. That includes 12 women, starting with Marguerite Norris, the president of the Detroit Red Wings’ 1954 and 1955 title teams.
But many of the early champions didn’t even get their team’s name on the Cup. They didn’t start adding players’ names until 1925, and they didn’t have a limit until Detroit piled a record 55 names on the Cup in 1998. Thanks to your own Red Wings, the keepers of the Cup set the limit at 52.
Today, players must have played in 41 games (half the regular season) or just one game in the Stanley Cup finals.
But the Red Wings pushed for one of the most benevolent, if bittersweet, grace notes on the Cup. A few days after the Red Wings won the Cup in 1997, star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and his teammates were celebrating in a limousine when the driver crashed into a tree, leaving Konstantinov permanently disabled. When the Red Wings repeated in 1998, Konstantinov’s teammates brought him onto the ice, in his wheelchair.
Captain Steve Yzerman passed the Cup to Konstantinov first, and the league agreed to engrave Konstantinov’s name alongside his teammates’.
The 1995 New Jersey Devils started another tradition, when each of their players took the Stanley Cup home for a day, but Detroit perfected it. Two years later, the Russian Red Wings decided to pool their days with the Cup and take it back to Moscow, where it visited the Kremlin.
Konstantinov couldn’t make it, of course, but his name did, engraved right there on the grail for his countrymen to see.
Since the players started taking the Cup for a day, it has been used for everything from a baptismal font to a dog’s food dish to a prop for the dancers at an Edmonton strip club – and probably a few things we’d rather not know about.
This explains why a Hall of Fame official now accompanies the Cup wherever it goes, whether it’s the former Soviet Union, or, well, a strip club.
The Stanley Cup is just a symbol, of course, but some symbols are worth more than others. Many of the better traditions that surround this symbol, the Stanley Cup, were started right here in Detroit.
John U. Bacon is the author of four New York Times bestsellers. His most recent book, "Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football," is on the list now. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.
*Correction - an earlier version of this post contained a photo caption that said the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup more than any other NHL Team. It should have read more than any other "American NHL Team." It has been corrected above.