Bowman keeps close ties to Cup
PITTSBURGH -- If you missed the ceremonial puck drop at the start of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday night in Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, you missed a little bit of history, a dab of nostalgia and a tribute to greatness. Not something you often see in the ultra-competitive National Hockey League.
Dropping the puck at center ice was Scott Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history and a man whose name is on the Stanley Cup a stunning 10 times. What made the selection interesting is that though Bowman is still a consultant for the Detroit Red Wings and is working with them to defeat the Penguins, the Pens thought enough of him to have him stand at center ice in their building.
That's because Bowman -- who won three of his nine coaching Cups while at Detroit -- also has his name on hockey's silver chalice twice with Pittsburgh. He was a consultant with then-general manager Craig Patrick when the Pens first won the Cup in 1991 and he coached the team after the death of Bob Johnson for the second win in 1992.
The Pens recognized that contribution Wednesday night, but the Red Wings have honored his legacy in a different way: they never let him go.
Bowman announced his resignation as coach to Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, general manager Ken Holland and an international television audience in June 2002, the night the Wings won their last Stanley Cup in Joe Louis Arena. True to his word and despite numerous and sometimes even tempting offers, he has remained retired from the coaching profession, but he hasn't left hockey.
As a special consultant to the Wings he does a little pro scouting (most from his winter home in Florida). He comes in for a few meetings from time to time and he's always available by phone, but it's in the playoffs where the Wings really draw on his expertise. He works with the coaching staff and he sits with Holland and other members of the Detroit brain trust during the games. He makes notes, and it's been reported that he looks at film.
It's something Bowman, perhaps the ultimate student-turned-teacher has done for decades. He still produces blueprints for victory and it's something Holland has followed from the first moment he ascended to his current position.
"When I came onboard, Scotty had already laid out the plan," Holland says. "He had a commitment to defense and he convinced the players that that was how they would win the Stanley Cup."
Bowman had the same impact in Pittsburgh. Like the Red Wings afterward, the Pens of Bowman's time had great offensive players including Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, but he urged Patrick to get an upgrade in goal (Tom Barrasso whom Bowman had drafted and developed in Buffalo) and a strong-minded two-way center in Ron Francis, an offensive star in Hartford, but a player Bowman knew would sacrifice numbers and play the role of a checking center if it meant having a chance to win the Cup.
For all of Bowman's innovations and accomplishments, his lasting legacy to both teams and to hockey was his ability to get all the players to buy into a system that put the team ahead of individual goals. His players worked just as hard to prevent a goal as they did to scoring one.
"Scotty had that in place when I got here and the philosophy hasn't changed," Holland says. "We've kept that commitment to investing in defense and in players who would commit to team goals."
It is the Bowman rock upon which the Red Wings foundation has been built.
That legacy is evident in today's edition of the club, in which coach Mike Babcock -- a Bowman disciple for years before he arrived in Detroit -- still gets most of his offense from his two top guns, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. No coincidence that both are also finalists for this year's edition of the Selke.
That kind of commitment, coupled with a deep and talented blue-line corps and an equally experienced group of two-way forwards who supply the third and fourth lines with both tenacity and grit, are the hallmarks of a Bowman team.
The Red Wings have built a program and acquired the pieces necessary to keep it running, but the strength of the program is a commitment from all involved to play the game as a team and for the team by doing whatever is necessary, both with and without the puck, to win.
That's the legacy of Bowman. It was only fitting that both the Penguins and the Red Wings found a way to honor that Wednesday night.
Florida's unwillingness to grant the Toronto Maple Leafs permission to talk to Joe Nieuwendyk regarding a possible front office position is a clear indication as to how the Leafs are perceived by many clubs around the league.
Nieuwendyk earlier this season resigned his position as special assistant to the general manager (usually an entry position for a player who has an interest in being groomed for a role in hockey after his playing days are done). He resigned on his own, presumably because he didn't like the way things were done in Florida. But even though he is free of his contract after July 1, the Panthers would not give permission for the Leafs to contact him.
According to sources, there's some resentment toward Nieuwendyk for what amounted to a public embarrassment, but the bigger issue is with the Leafs. More than a few owners resented Toronto's attempts to scuttle the lockout and keep playing during the lockout season. The Leafs are also viewed by some as an arrogant organization dedicated to picking off front-office talent with money rather than develop it from within.
There are no guarantees the Leafs will offer Nieuwendyk a position, especially since they still don't have a general manager or coach in place, but rest assured they will talk to Nieuwendyk as soon as they are able.