In addition to keeping its most productive players, Detroit is unmatched at cultivating replacements from within the organization. The pipeline from its AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids gushes NHL-ready talent, including, in these playoffs, rookies Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader. (Forwards Abdelkader and Helm had no regular-season goals in limited time but have combined for three in the finals and six in the playoffs.) At least one other AHL player, goalie Jimmy Howard, figures to finish his apprenticeship and join the Red Wings as a backup to Chris Osgood next season. Like the House of Windsor, the royal family of Holland has this business of succession all figured out.
"The key is their resolve and belief in what they're doing," Shero says. "They know they're not going to win a Cup every year. They've lost in the first round [2003 and '06] and the second round ['04]. But Kenny didn't just blow it up. He stayed with the plan, with what he knew to be the right thing."
Just as the Penguins now mimic the Wings' high-octane, puck-possession hockey—"The teams play the same way because that's the only way you get here," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said before Game 5—they also have locked up their nucleus (box, page 48). Crosby is signed through 2013. Last summer Malkin agreed to a five-year extension and Orpik a six-year deal, and goalie Marc-André Fleury re-upped for seven. Ten years removed from bankruptcy, Pittsburgh now spends to the salary cap and will in the future. The revenue streams generated by the new rink rising across the street from Mellon Arena—the Penguins will move to the new place for the 2010--11 season—should allow the team to splash around in some black ink. "That'll be a hot ticket, and they'll have more revenue," Holland says. "[The Penguins are] a big thing in town. Athletes are entertainers. They want to play where hockey matters. With Mario Lemieux as an owner, you've got to believe that this will be a destination franchise for players."
Pittsburgh's ability to persuade players to agree to smaller numbers on their contracts will determine how long the Penguins remain a perennial power in the face of the salary cap. "It's worked here because players like Datsyuk, Franzen, Zetterberg and Hossa have done it and made it part of the culture," says Red Wings defenseman Brett Lebda. "Guys are willing to take less money because they can win a Stanley Cup." Pittsburgh has Crosby, 21, and Malkin, 22, as the carney barkers who can lure people into the tent. Their mere presence, guaranteed for several more years, should attract players whose interest in winning exceeds their concerns about the last dollar. "If you're looking for the puck," Holland said, "there might not be any better centermen than that."
"I talk a lot to Kris," Boucher says of Kris Letang, the Penguins' coveted right-shot defenseman, who can be a restricted free agent after the 2009--10 season. "He talks about his contract, worries about it like many young guys. I always tell him, why would you want to go run a power play anywhere else when you can play with these guys? After getting to the finals two years in a row, I'm sure more and more people are going to see this around the game. This will be the place for people who want to win."
With the Red Wings poised to complete their Stanley Cup defense on Tuesday in Game 6 at Mellon Arena—where they won it last year—Pittsburgh still might not have finished its own apprenticeship. While Detroit looked a little old in its 4--2 loss in Game 4, the Penguins' unraveling in Game 5 (48 minutes in penalties, Talbot's slash) made them look a little young. Unless they could win at home and finally take a game in Detroit, they would truly look like the perennial runner-up Dodgers.
And if you are that close to the Red Wings, the wait for next year can seem eternal.
All Locked Up
Many of Pittsburgh's and Detroit's most crucial players should be around for a while
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]