When the Pacific Coast Hockey League folded in 1926, a deal was made so that the most successful of the teams in that league, the 1925 Stanley Cup champion Victoria Cougars, would jump to the NHL. Since no arena in the Motor City was ready at the time, the newly-renamed Detroit Cougars played their first two seasons in Windsor, Ontario.
In 1930 the Cougars were renamed the Falcons, but their woes continued, usually finishing near the bottom of the standings. When James Norris bought the team in 1932 the team was renamed the Detroit Red Wings. Their first year with the current name they won their first playoff series in the NHL, over the now-defunct Montreal Maroons. They failed in the semi-finals against the New York Rangers.
In 1934 the Wings made the Stanley Cup finals for the first time, with John Sorrell scoring 21 goals over 47 games and Larry Aurie leading the team in scoring. However, the Chicago Blackhawks had an easy time with Detroit in the finals, winning the best of 5 series in four games.
The Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 1936, defeating Toronto in four games. Marty Barry led the team in scoring, Ebbie Goodfellow was one of the top defensemen in the league, and Jack Adams (whose name lives on in the NHL's coach of the year award) was behind the bench. Detroit repeated its championship season in 1937, winning over the Rangers in the full five games.
The Wings struggled and finished at the bottom of the standings the following season. They regrouped and made the playoffs again the following year, and by the early 1940s they made the Stanley Cup Finals in three consecutive years. In 1941 they were swept by the Boston Bruins, in 1942 they blew a three-game lead against Toronto to lose the finals, but in 1943, with Syd Howe and Mud Bruneteau scoring 20 goals apiece, Detroit won their third Cup by sweeping the Bruins. They remained a solid team through the rest of the decade, making the playoffs every year, and reaching the finals three more times.
In 1946, one of the greatest players in hockey history came into the NHL with the Red Wings. Gordie Howe, a right-winger from Floral, Saskatchewan, only scored seven goals and 22 points in his first season; and wouldn't reach his prime for a few more years.
By his second season, Howe was paired with Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay to form one of the most productive lines in the league at the time. Linday's 33 goals propelled the Wings to the Stanley Cup finals, where they were swept by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Detroit reached the finals again the following season, o nly to be swept again by Toronto.
After being upset by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1951 semifinals, Detroit won its fifth Cup in 1952, with the Production Line of Howe, Abel and Lindsay joined by second-year goalie Terry Sawchuk. Abel left the Wings for Chicago following the season, and his spot on the roster was replaced by Alex Delvecchio.
The 1952 playoffs featured the start of a Red Wings tradition - the octopus throw. The owner of a local fish market threw one from the stands and onto the ice. The eight legs were symbolic of the eight playoff wins the Wings needed to win the Stanley Cup. They swept both of their opponents that year.
Following another playoff upset in 1953 at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the Red Wings won back to back Stanley Cups in 1954 (over Montreal, when Habs defenseman Doug Harvey redirected a Tony Leswick shot into his own net) and 1955 (also over Montreal in seven games). Detroit and Montreal once again met in the 1956 finals, but this time the Canadiens won the cup, their first of five in a row.
In 1957 Ted Lindsay, who scored 30 goals and led the league in assists that year, helped start the NHL Players Association. The rest of the team didn't hold up their bargain though, losing in the first round to the Bruins. By 1959 the Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.
Within a couple of years, Detroit was rejeuvenated and made the finals for four of the next six years between 1961 and 1966. However, they wouldn't win the Cup any of those four times - despite having Howe, Delvecchio, Norm Ullman and Parker MacDonald being consistent goal scorers, and Sawchuk and later Roger Crozier between the pipes.
Detroit lost Howe to the upstart World Hockey Association in 1972. Through the decade, with Mickey Redmond having two 50-goal seasons and Marcel Dionne starting to reach his prime (which he didn't attain until he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings), a lack of defensive and goaltending power continually hampered the Wings.
In 1983 the Wings drafted a centre from Cranbrook, British Columbia named Steve Yzerman. He led the team in scoring in his rookie year, and started the Wings' climb back to the top. That season, with John Ogrodnick scoring 42 times and Ivan Boldirev and Ron Duguay also with 30-goal seasons, Detroit made the playoffs for the first time in six years.
By 1987, with Yzerman joined by Petr Klima, Adam Oates, Gerard Gallant, defenseman Darren Veitch and new head coach Jacques Demers, the Wings made it to the semifinals for the first time in the modern era, losing in five games to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. They repeated the performance in 1988 with a similar result.
In 1989, Yzerman scored a career-best 65 goals, but Detroit was upset in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks. The following season Yzerman knotted 62 goals but the team didn't even make the playoffs. Demers was fired, and the Red Wings haven't missed the playoffs since. Yzerman was joined by Sergei Fedorov (who defected from the USSR) and enforcer Keith Primeau, two of the most familiar faces of the Wings in the 1990s. In 1992 the team acquired Ray Sheppard, who had a career-best 52 goals two years later; and top defenseman Paul Coffey. Also joining the Red Wings around this time were draft picks like Slava Kozlov, Darren McCarty, Vladimir Konstantinov and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, joined the Red Wings in 1993. In his second season, the lockout-shortened 1994-1995 season, he guided Detroit to its first finals appearance in 29 years. They were swept by the New Jersey Devils.
The Wings kept adding more star power, picking up Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov in trades. After a third-round playoff loss to the new Colorado Avalanche in 1996, Detroit, joined by Brendan Shanahan and Larry Murphy during the season, once again reached the finals in 1997, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in four straight games. It was the Wings' first Stanley Cup since 1955, breaking the longest drought in the league at that time.
Tragedy struck the Wings days after their championship. Vladimir Konstantinov suffered a brain injury in a car accident, and his career had to come to an abrupt end. Their 1997-1998 season, which also ended in a Cup victory (a sweep over the Washington Capitals), was dedicated to Konstantinov, who was carted out in a wheelchair that night to touch the Cup.
The Wings built up a fierce rivalry with the Avalanche by this time. With the Red Wings beating the Avalanche in the third round in 1997, and Colorado beating Detroit in the second round in both 1999 and 2000, the battles between these two teams has become one of the fiercest in sports. During one game, a brawl ensuded between Colorado goalie Patrick Roy and his Detroit counterpart Chris Osgood.
In 2001 Detroit, the league's second-best team in the regular season, suffered a first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings. They landed free-agent goalie Dominik Hasek and right-wing Brett Hull in the off-season, and ended up the odds-on favorite to win the Cup in 2002. They did not disappoint, having the league's best record in the regular season and capturing another Cup, in five games over the Cinderella Carolina Hurricanes. Scotty Bowman and Dominik Hasek both retired after the season.
In 2003, with new coach Dave Lewis and goalie pickup Curtis Joseph, the Wings were upset by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in four straight games in the first round. Hasek has come out of retirement, and has joined the Wings for the 2003-2004 season, although this means that Detroit has three goalies, with Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace as backups. Joseph, despite being one of the highest paid players in the NHL, has had to spend part of the season with Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate.
Players of note