The National Hockey League's most successful American franchise, the Detroit Red Wings have existed since 15 May, 1926, when the NHL awarded a team to a group of investors from the Motor City.
The team bought the roster of the Western Hockey League's Victoria Cougars, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and took to the ice of Windsor's Border Cities Arena as the Detroit Cougars for the 1926-1927 season. The franchise's inaugural season was marked by a 12-28-4 record, good for last place in the American Division.
Changes would be made before the start of the next season, most importantly the addition of Jack Adams as the team's manager. Adams led the Cougars into their first game in their new home, Detroit's Olympia Arena, on 22 November, 1927. Detroit fell to defending Stanley Cup champion Ottawa, 2-1.
The following seven seasons were difficult for the franchise, which made the playoffs only twice in that time. Changes continued to be made, including switching the team name to the Detroit Falcons in 1930, but the results stayed the same.
In 1932, things took a turn for the better for the troubled franchise. Millionaire James Norris purchased the team that summer. Norris gave the team their current logo in tribute to the Motor City and to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, and renamed them the Red Wings.
Finally having funds available to work with, Adams was able to bring in several key players to complete Detroit's lineup for the 1932-1933 season. The Red Wings reached the Stanley Cup semifinals in their first campaign with Norris as owner and the Finals in Norris' second season.
Detroit fell short of the playoffs in 1935 but picked up center Marty Barry for the next season and soared to the top of the standings. They met the Montreal Maroons in the first round of the playoffs. The Red Wings swept the defending champion Maroons, including a 1-0 win in game one, which lasted an NHL-record 176 minutes and 30 seconds. After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals, the Wings claimed their first Stanley Cup title.
Detroit downed the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup in 1937, becoming the first American team to win consecutive Cup championships. In the following season, the Red Wings fell from the playoffs and Adams realized he had to modify his strategy.
The Wings reached the finals in 1941, 1942 and 1943. After losing in 1941, Detroit took a 3-0 series lead over Toronto in 1942 but lost four straight games to lose the series, four games to three. It is the only time a team has blown a 3-0 lead and lost the finals.
In 1943, the Red Wings claimed their third Stanley Cup championship after finishing first in the league during the regular season.
Detroit again reached the finals in 1945 and nearly had their revenge on the Maple Leafs as Toronto won the first three games and the Red Wings claimed the next three but the Leafs took game seven and the Cup.
Gordie Howe joined the Red Wings in 1946, beginning his legendary career in the Motor City. Howe scored a goal against Toronto in his first NHL game.
Detroit finished in first place in the NHL from 1948-1949 to 1954-1955, an NHL-record seven-straight seasons. The Red Wings reached the finals five of those seven seasons, falling to the Maple Leafs in 1948 as they had in 1947 but claiming the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.
The Red Wings defeated the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup in 1950 downed the Canadiens for each of their other three championships in the 1950s. In 1952, Detroit went 8-0 throughout the playoffs, becoming the first NHL team to survive the postseason without a loss. The finals of both 1950 and 1954 stretched into overtime of the seventh game before Red Wings scorers could send the Cup back to Detroit. The 1955 finals also went to seven games, but were without overtime for the final game.
After their tremendous finishes in the early 1950s, the Red Wings fell to the bottom of the NHL for almost three decades. The Wings lost in the finals in 1956, 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1966 and made the playoffs only four times from 1966-1967 to 1985-1986.
The Red Wings' revival began in 1982 when current owners Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the team. Current team captain Steve Yzerman was drafted fourth overall in 1983 and Detroit reached the conference finals in 1987 and 1988.
In 1989, the Wings picked defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov and forward Sergei Fedorov in the NHL entry draft, players who would fill key roles on the team throughout the 1990s.
Scotty Bowman, the NHL's winningest coach, was brought to Detroit in 1993. The next season veteran goaltender Mike Vernon joined the Red Wings and in 1995 Detroit reached the finals for the first time in nearly thirty years only to be swept by the underdog New Jersey Devils.
After falling to the Colorado Avalanche in a rivalry-creating conference final in 1996, Detroit added sniper Brendan Shanahan and veteran defenseman Larry Murphy to make a run at the Cup in 1997. The Red Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals to claim their first Stanley Cup in forty-two years.
The celebration was short-lived as Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakonov were critically injured in a car accident only days after winning the Cup. Vernon, who had won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, was dealt to the San Jose Sharks in the off-season.
The Red Wings rebounded from the loss of Konstantinov and Vernon while going without holdout Fedorov for much of the season. When the playoffs came around, the Red Wings were ready. Again they made it to the finals, this time sweeping the Washington Capitals. The Wings won their sixteenth game of the post season on the sixteenth of June, twice matching the number sixteen worn on the jersey of fallen teammate Konstantinov, who was wheeled onto the ice for the celebration in Washington.
After starting the 1998-1999 season as favorites, Detroit seemed to only get better with the trade deadline acquisitions of defensemen Chris Chelios and Ulf Samuelsson, forward Wendel Clark, and goaltender Bill Ranford. After sweeping the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the first round, the Red Wings moved on to face the Avalanche without the help of goaltender Chris Osgood, who was injured in the fourth game of the series with the Ducks. Ranford carried Detroit through wins in the first two games in Colorado, but the Red Wings crashed for games three and four in Detroit. Even the premature return of Osgood was not enough to lift the Wings, who dropped the series in six games.
The 1999-2000 season was much the same for the Red Wings, who were again eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Colorado. After a tremendous second half of the 2000-2001 season, including a home unbeaten streak that stretched from late December to mid-April, the Red Wings were again early casualties in the postseason, falling to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the first round.
The Red Wings ignored calls to rebuild after three-straight early round playoff collapses, instead opting to reload by acquiring future Hall-of-Famers Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull. The revamped Red Wings dominated the 2001-2002 season and fought back from early playoff scares before eliminating the Colorado Avalanche in a seven game Western Conference Final series that included shutouts by Hasek in Games Six and Seven, when Detroit was facing elimination. The Wings faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Finals and after the Hurricanes surprised the hockey world with an overtime win in Game One, Detroit won four-straight games (including an epic Game Three ended in triple-overtime by Igor Larionov) to claim their third Stanley Cup in six years.
Hasek and Bowman retired following the Cup win but the Red Wings reloaded once again, bringing in All-Star Curtis Joseph to replace Hasek and promoting associate coach Dave Lewis to take Bowman's place. The Red Wings ran up against goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 2003 playoffs and were swept in the first round. Another attempt to reload that summer - signing defenseman Derian Hatcher and allowing Sergei Fedorov to bolt for the Mighty Ducks, along with the injury-shortened return of Hasek from retirement - failed when Detroit fell to the Calgary Flames in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Wings made few roster moves in the summer of 2004, anticipating the lockout that began on September 15 of that year. After the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season and the end of the lockout, Dave Lewis was replaced by Mike Babcock, formerly of the same Anaheim team that upset Detroit in the 2003 playoffs. With a salary cap in place, the Red Wings cut loose Hatcher, Ray Whitney, and fan-favorite Darren McCarty to make room to resign young stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
A surprise first-round loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 playoffs was the last time Detroit captain Steve Yzerman would play a game. Yzerman's retirement that summer, coupled with Shanahan signing with the New York Rangers, pushed the team to select a new set of captains. Lidstrom took over the "C" while Kris Draper and Henrik Zetterberg were named alternate captains.
The team returned to the Western Conference Finals 2007 but couldn't get past the eventual-champion Anaheim Ducks. The loss taught the Wings' young core of players what it took to make a long playoff run and in 2008 the Red Wings claimed their eleventh Stanley Cup with a 4-2 series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.