If there was a team you'd want to pattern after, in the post-lockout/salary cap era, it's the Detroit Red Wings.
The NHL franchise from Motor City have built a successful system around a core of key players for nearly 20 years, and found a way to keep it successful in the "New NHL." It actually dates back further with the drafting of Steve Yzerman by then Wings GM and current Sr. VP Jim Devellano, but didn't really take shape until the arrival of Nicklas Lidstrom and company in the early nineties.
The Chicago Blackhawks started using that system, and it paid off. The Edmonton Oilers could be the next team to do it. Whether they can be as successful over that span all falls on the skills of the GM, and the patience of the fans.
It should be noted that when Devellano became GM of the Red Wings in 1982, he felt he could turn the team around from the "Dead Wings" era in five years. Seven years later they began winning Division titles and it was 15 years later until a Stanley Cup arrived. Do you think Canadiens fans would wait that long? No need to answer.
Much like the Canadiens developing and scouting out the Quebec-born talent, that they could get their hands on. Devellano and then senior scout Ken Holland starting an extensive scouting system in Europe. It was one of the first, and brought in a core of players that many NHL teams had little or no idea about.
Lidstrom, drafted in the Third Round in 1989, is part of that system, and 22 years later is still their top rearguard.
Pavel Datsyuk is an another prime example of the success Detroit had in Europe. Passed over in two entry drafts, Datsyuk was in the right place at the right time when Red Wings scout Hakan Anderrson got a glimpse of him, while actually scouting his competition.
He was eventually drafted, and still available in the 6th Round in 1998. Coming in a few spots ahead of him was Andrei Markov. Other current Montreal Canadiens in that draft class were Scott Gomez, Erik Cole and Brian Gionta.
Anyone know what Eric Chouinard is doing these days? He was the guy the Canadiens took in the First Round that year. We grabbed Mike Ribeiro later on, but we know how that turned out.
Meanwhile the Red Wings formula has fans wondering not if they will make the playoffs, but whether or not they finish in the Top Three in the Western Conference.
The Canadiens on the other hand are at the former of that. A win tonight would be a huge feather in the team's cap heading into the All-Star break. But of course it will be a huge task ahead of them.
Datsyuk leads his team in scoring (third in the league) and had the game winner in their last meeting in December of 2010. Jimmy Howard, who leads the league in wins with 30, was the man between the pipes that night and will be again tonight.
In five-on-five, the Red Wings only trail the Boston Bruins in for/against differential. Surprising given the team's abundance of defensive talent, is their 22nd ranked penalty kill, and just a single short-handed goal.
The Canadiens will want to get the lead early, and actually hold on to it. The Red Wings don't dicker with a lead, and are 19-2-1 when leading after one period, and 21-1-1 after 40 minutes.
Rene Bourque was absent for Tuesday's practice (flu), but is expected to be ready for tonight's game. The recently acquired forward leads the team in experience against Detroit (32 games, six goals) from his days with the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Carey Price's foot injury that occurred post-game Saturday is not a concern, as he was back at practice Tuesday. The Canadiens goaltender is 1-2-1 (2,49, .924) in his career against the Red Wings.
Scott Gomez will play on the wing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Bourque.
Update: Nicklas Lidstrom left the Wings morning skate early, with an illness, and will not dress tonight. It's a shame as this might have been the last time fans get to see the future Hall of Famer.
Raphael Diaz has been added, as an injury replacement, to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, as part of the rookie squads.
MONTREAL CANADIENS PROJECTED LINEUP
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Scott Gomez
[double shift] - Andreas Engqvist - Mike Blunden
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Carey Price - Peter Budaj
DETROIT RED WINGS PROJECTED LINEUP
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Dan Cleary
Jimmy Howard - Ty Conklin
SBN coverage from Winging It In Motown