If no European captain had led his team to a Cup, it was primarily a by-product of how few Europeans had worn the c. Lars-Erik Sjoberg was Winnipeg's captain when the Jets were folded into the NHL in 1979, but the era of the modern Euro captaincy dates to the '97--98 season with Mats Sundin and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2007--08 there were nine full-time European captains, including four among the six Canadian teams. For the Red Wings, Lidstrom's ascension from alternate captain when Yzerman retired before the '06--07 season was seamless, given the defenseman's longevity in the organization—Lidstrom was a third-round pick in the 1989 draft—and the two players' similar low-key leadership styles.
Indeed the most vocal that Lidstrom became during this year's playoff run was before Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, after Detroit had lost two straight to the Dallas Stars. According to Cleary, Lidstrom said, "O.K., boys, this is going to be a good night for us. Do what we do, boys. Just believe in ourselves, and let's not be nervous." The Red Wings won 4--1 to clinch the series. Lidstrom speaks the hockey idiom in an English so lightly accented that veteran fourth-liner Kirk Maltby said he "found it weird" when Tomas Holmstrom joined the team in 1996 and Maltby heard Lidstrom speaking Swedish for the first time.
Yet Detroit's most significant transition has not been from Yzerman to Lidstrom, or the drift from Russian to Swedish as the second language in the dressing room, but from free-spending powerhouse into an organization constrained, like 29 others, by the salary cap. In the 2001--02 playoffs the Cup-winning Red Wings could afford to have two presumptive Hall of Famers, Igor Larionov and Luc Robitaille, on the fourth line with Holmstrom.
"When we went into a salary-capped world, many people thought—and Kenny [ Holland] and I thought they might be right—that we'd have trouble continuing our domination," senior vice president Jim Devellano says. "The inference was that we bought teams, which was partially true. People thought we'd be neutralized, that we'd never win another Cup, or at least not in the near future."
Even so, in the three seasons since the lockout, Detroit twice had the NHL's best regular-season record and, heading into this year's final, had won five playoff series, second only to Anaheim over that time. The Red Wings are basically the New England Patriots on skates. "We feel a little vindicated as an organization," says Devellano. "The scouting staff has done a great job, identifying players in the middle and late rounds who became stars."
HAKAN ANDERSSON, the European scouting director who is based in Stockholm, has been prescient. While in Moscow in the winter of 1997--98 to scout Dmitri Kalinin, a defenseman now with Buffalo, his eyes were drawn to "this little guy on the other team"—a slender Datsyuk. After seeing him play a second time for Dynamo Yekaterinburg, Andersson added Datsyuk to his list of prospects. He was on his way to watch Datsyuk a third time when his connecting flight sat on the runway for five hours before being canceled because of a snowstorm. Andersson didn't see Datsyuk play that night, but neither did the other scout on the plane; Andersson is relatively certain he is the only NHL scout to have seen Datsyuk before Detroit selected him 171st in the '98 draft.
The following year, while checking out Mattias Weinhandl, who would play 182 NHL games before returning to the Swedish Elite League, Andersson noticed Zetterberg, who turned out to be the best player drafted in 1999 even though he went 210th. If the Red Wings were really hockey's Einsteins, they would not have waited so long to take Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Still....
"I've heard other scouts say [Europeans] are too weak, too soft," Andersson says, "but I don't see how anyone can doubt their willingness or their toughness, their ability to take a hit and keep on playing."
The sturdy Red Wings kept playing into June, led by a Swedish captain who gave the younger Penguins a lesson in leadership.