Next week, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin and for the first time in 25 seasons, the Detroit Red Wings will not be lacing their skates and joining the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It is an unfamiliar sight to see the Red Wings omitted from Stanley Cup contention, as they have made it to the playoffs in every season since the 1989-90 season.
From quick, first round eliminations, which occurred a total of nine times during the streak, including three consecutive first round eliminations from the 2013-14 to the 2015-16 seasons.
To seasons where they would not stop playing until they secured the ultimate prize, which they did four times during the streak, as Stanley Cup Champions in the 1996- 97, 1997-98, 2001-02, 2007-08 seasons. And throw in 14 division championships and six conference championships, to boot.
When we last found ourselves in a Red Wingsless Stanley Cup Playoff, it was 1990 and the world was a different place.
George H.W. Bush was president, while Donald Trump won a Razzie for “Worst Supporting Actor” in the film “Ghosts Can’t Do It,” where he played himself. The USSR was hanging on, “The Simpsons” had just debuted and the Nintendo Gameboy was selling like wildfire.
In his first year as an NBA head coach, Phil Jackson helped lead the Chicago Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Detroit Pistons, prolonging the Bulls quest for their first NBA Championship (Both Phil Jackson and the Bulls would go on to win a championship or two).
The inception of the streak began with a couple of future Hall of Fame players: Sergie Federov and, who some label the greatest Red Wing of all time, Steve Yzerman.
The two would lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time during the streak in the 1994-95 season, where they were swept by the New Jersey Devils.
However, the duo would bounce back in the 1996-97 season and bring the Stanley Cup to Detroit for the first time since 1955.
It would be the start of a dynasty for Detroit hockey, as the Red Wings repeated as champions in the 1997-98 season and brought the cup back in the 2001-02 season.
The Federov and Yzerman era of Red Wings hockey came to a close, but not the playoff experiences.
The new look Red Wings, led by Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, would be crowned Stanley Cup Champions again in the 2007-08 season, their fourth and final championship during the streak.
In the following season, 2008-09, the Red Wings made it back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the last time during the streak, but were bested by the Pittsburgh Penguins (The Penguins now hold the current active longest playoff streak at ten seasons).
Hall of Fame and All Star players helped the Red Wings streak continue, but they came and went during the 25 seasons.
One of the greatest coaches of all time, Scotty Bowman, helped the Red Wings streak, but he retired when the streak was not even in its teenage years.
So, what exactly was the glue that kept the Red Wings streak alive for so long? First, the Joe Louis Arena, or “The Joe,” which is where the Red Wings have called home since 1979.
Next, and more notably, Mike Ilitch, who purchased the Red Wings in 1982 and remained as owner throughout the entire streak.
Ilitch, a pizza pie entrepreneur who gave us Little Caesars, turned the team into a perennial championship contender through genius draft picks, seen in the selection of Fedorov, Yzerman and Lidstrom, all the way to a promising new generation of Red Wings, such as Justin Abdelkader and Jimmy Howard.
As the sun sets on the streak and this era of Red Wings hockey, some may call it poetically divine and some may pass it as coincidence, but Ilitch passed away earlier this year, at the age of 87 and the Joe Louis Arena is expected to be demolished later this year.
When the 2017-18 NHL season rolls around, it will be first season in over two decades without “The Joe,” without Ilitch and without the Red Wings hoping to extend their playoff streak.