(Reuters) - Jimmy Devellano often has been asked what feat he is most proud of in his 33 years in the Detroit Red Wings front office.
”People think it’s the four Stanley Cups,“ the 72-year-old senior vice-president told Reuters. ”But I‘m most proud of the fact we have missed the playoffs only three times in my 33 years.
“It’s quite an accomplishment to make the playoffs these days. Almost half the league (14 of 30 teams) does not make the playoffs.”
Detroit, who open their first-round series against Tampa Bay on Thursday, have made the NHL playoffs in 24 consecutive seasons. It’s the longest active streak in North American professional sports.
The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, who are about to make their 19th consecutive postseason appearance, own the next closest active streak.
Detroit, whose remarkable run has produced four Stanley Cup titles in six trips to the final, will begin the playoffs with seven players on their roster that weren’t even born the last time the club missed the postseason.
Owners Mike and Marian Illitch, Devellano, current Detroit general manager Ken Holland as well as European scout Hakan Andersson have been the steady influences in this ride.
“Hakan is our Hart Trophy winner,” Devellano, referring to the award given the to NHL’s most valuable payer, said. “He’s been our lifesaver.”
The roll call of players Andersson has discovered has been well documented.
He stocked Detroit with mid-to-late round draft picks like Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula.
Detroit have long been a model franchise for its draft record and development of prospects. Every so often a new wave of talent keeps the winged-wheel successfully spinning. The latest to emerge include Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
But before these players arrived Detroit had superstars like Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov. The streak began when Fedorov, who later departed via free agency in 2003, arrived in 1990.
“This franchise had a financial advantage before the salary cap era with supportive ownership, we’ve always had a core of superstars and we’ve had stability,” Holland told Reuters.
The stability Holland referred to was behind the bench with the lengthy stints of Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock. But there also has been stability with the successful partnership of Devellano and Holland.
How did they wind up working together?
“It’s an amazing story,” said Devellano, who signed Holland in 1983 for goaltending depth in the organization.
After Holland’s 1984-85 season with the AHL Adirondack Red Wings had concluded, Devellano informed the goalie that he was not going to be re-signed.
Then, Adirondack head coach Bill Dineen called with a recommendation. He told Devellano that he should hire Holland as a scout in Western Canada.
But Devellano was initially concerned about Holland’s lack of experience, that he had three young children and a wife that would not be happy about the amount of travel involved.
Holland ultimately helped Devellano build a winner. He nearly left for the New York Rangers a few years later, but was convinced to stay by Devellano and eventually took over as general manager after the 1997 Stanley Cup win.
“(Dineen) told me that (Holland) was a smart hockey man,” Devellano said. “They drove to the rink together and Bill told me that he staked his reputation that Kenny would work out.”
Reporting by Tim Wharmsby in Toronto