If the Detroit Red Wings expect to repeat as Stanley Cup champions next season, they're going to have to do it without legendary coach Scotty Bowman and probably their hyperkinetic goalie, Dominik Hasek, as well. But even impending retirements from the Wings' aging Hall of Fame lineup won't put a damper on celebrating capture of the gleaming silver trophy for the third time in six years.
Detroit's 3-1 victory over the outmatched Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night put the coveted prize in the Wings' hands for the 10th time in their storied history as one of the National Hockey League's original teams.
The five-game series victory is another rehabilitory boost for Hockeytown, as the city of Detroit reinvented itself after cup wins in 1997 and 1998. A million or more fans are expected for a celebratory parade along Woodward Avenue on Monday, and few worry any more about venturing downtown.
Some commentators point out that the Wings' $65 million payroll - twice that of the team they beat - allowed pizza czar Mike Illitch to buy the league title. But there is little disagreement that the carefully chosen roster of athletes, led by gritty captain Steve Yzerman, is the greatest professional hockey squad ever assembled.
One veteran who will definitely be back next year is Stanley, the eight-armed octupus mascot with the devilish grin adopted by the Wings during successful cup campaigns in 1997 and 1998. At least one octopus was hurled onto the ice during the final game, but no penalty was called even though league officials had banned the popular practice.
Now that Lord Stanley's cup is back in Hockeytown, only about four months remain until the new championship banner is raised in Joe Louis Arena and it will be time once again to let the octopi fly.