This is the difference between Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis and his predecessor, Scotty Bowman: On Dec. 10, Lewis read 'Twos the Night Before Christmas on stage at the city's renowned Fox Theatre. If Bowman had been invited, he would have read 'Twos the Night Before Christmas, but he also would have commented on Saint Nick's brutal travel schedule and wondered if Donder and Blitzen shouldn't be moved to the first line, ahead of Dasher and Dancer.
The record of the defending Stanley Cup champions resides in its usual high-end neighborhood—the Red Wings were 18-8-6-1 through Saturday, tied for third in the Western Conference. But the ambience around the team is different, and not merely because the dressing room was redone in cherry wood over the summer and the players now have a lounge so well-appointed they should be grabbing a postgame port instead of a beer. Bowman, the NHL's alltime best coach, who won a record nine Stanley Cups behind the bench before retiring last June, liked to foment a creative tension that kept his teams on edge. "Chaos isn't the right word, but there was more going on with Scotty," says Lewis, who before taking over had been an assistant in Detroit since his retirement as a player in 1987. "He understood that when you get in a game, things are chaotic, and he'd throw things out there and let the players handle it."
Lewis, whose style was influenced by his first NHL coach, the even-keeled Al Arbour of the New York Islanders, is far less opaque than Bowman, although his moves also occasionally need some explaining. Before a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 27, Lewis brought in 20 large carrots and placed one in each of the players' lockers. The message confused defenseman Mathieu Dandenault ("He wants us to eat them," he guessed, "because carrots are good for our eyes, and if our eyes are better, we'll make better plays") and winger Darren McCarty ("Horses eat carrots, and the Wings are horses," McCarty speculated), but veteran forwards Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull doped it out. Lewis was dangling a carrot: If Detroit beat the Devils, he would cancel practice the following day, which was Thanksgiving. The Red Wings won 3-2.
Lewis is a tall man with a droopy moustache and an unabashedly expressive side, one that prompted him to write a poem—Sixteen—about the will needed to win a Cup. His was the shoulder Wings players cried on during Bowman's nine-year tenure. The issue general manager Ken Holland pondered before naming Lewis head coach was whether Lewis could change from being a nurturer to an authority figure, or as one member of the organization put it, "whether a mother could become a father."
"He's still a caring guy," Shanahan says about Lewis, "and he can't be someone he's not, but there has to be some evolving to go from assistant to head coach. There has to be some intimidation with being a head coach. Whether he's an intimidating guy or not, the office he holds has to be intimidating. No matter what you think of George W., you have to be impressed with meeting the president." So far this season Lewis has not been timid, twice yanking star netminder Curtis Joseph.
Lewis has had the benefit of continuity. He has a veteran, self-motivated team that can soldier through injuries—captain Steve Yzerman has yet to play this season after undergoing knee surgery in August—and a superb associate coach in Barry Smith, a Bowman acolyte and one of the NHL's top X's and O's men. Lewis also uses the same breakout patterns and forecheck systems as the club did last season. He continues to juggle personnel and still seeks the delicate balance between rolling four lines and having his best players on the ice longer, but the coaching transition has been almost seamless. Of course, in Hockeytown, coaches are judged by their record in June, not on the night before Christmas.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]