That takes time, though free agency has made it possible for teams to acquire one of those special players. "We may be at a point where a new formula can get you to the top and keep you there," Dryden says. "I don't know that Detroit had one of those special singular players who generate Stanley Cups. Every team can't have a Gretzky or Lemieux. So you need to find another way to win. There are always going to be different ways of winning."
If Dryden knows anything, it's winning. The challenge of unlocking that new formula is what he finds so stimulating, though whether he'll have the patience to ride out the inevitable bumps in the road remains a question. "The key is Year 3," says one friend. "If in three years the Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders, I'll be surprised if he stays around."
Dryden dismisses any such talk. "My time frame is to make it," he says. "If we're competing for the Stanley Cup in three years, that's only step one. This team has had a couple of teases before, when it got close and then fell back. They're cruel, and in the end they make things harder." He smiles. "It will be a struggle, but an interesting struggle."
When magic is required, it usually is.