Red Wings’ Devellano still telling it like he sees it

Jimmy Devellano is considered to be the architect of modern-day Detroit Red Wings hockey.

Over the span of 31 years, Devellano, now the Red Wings senior vice president, has created a culture of winning and excellence that’s unrivaled in the city’s professional sports history.

Never one to shy away from giving his opinion, Devellano acknowledges that Chicago built its team following the Detroit model, and that the Blackhawks’ style does resemble great Red Wings teams of the recent past.

But unlike those Red Wings teams, which were at or near the top of league standings for decades, a hard salary-cap NHL will make the Blackhawks’ reign difficult to sustain.

“You can’t have a dynasty anymore,” Devellano said. “It’s going to be hard because the cap and the draft really do work.

“What they both do is, they create tremendous parity, and the people in New York — the Gary B. Bettmans — are rubbing their hands in glee. They love it.”

“I think we’re going to be a league with different teams winning every year. But to be fair to Chicago, they’re good enough to win it this year.”

Devellano also pointed out that Chicago’s past struggles gave them a plethora of high draft picks, including — in back-to-back years — superstars Jonathan Toews (third overall in 2006) and Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007). Those high picks transformed the bottom-feeding Blackhawks into contenders in a hurry.

When asked about Detroit’s chances in its Western Conference semifinal playoff series against a Blackhawks team labeled as the “next Red Wings,” Devellano gave an honest assessment.

“It would be the upset of upsets,” he said. “Chicago is really very, very talented.”    

“Our team is in the middle of the pack now. We don’t have the depth of star players anymore.

“We can match up with Kane and Toews with (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk, but we don’t have a Patrick Sharpe or Marian Hossa. Their depth of star players exceeds ours.”

For those of you wondering why Hossa is with the Blackhawks and not the Red Wings anymore, Devellano blamed the hard-cap system.

“We loved Marian Hossa,” Devellano said. “We loved him as a player and we loved him as a person. We would have loved to have kept him. He is a star, but we couldn’t (keep him) because of the salary cap.

“You have to remember, at that time, we had (Nick) Lidstrom, we had Datsyuk, we had Zetterberg. Well, were we willing to lose one of them? The answer was no, so we had to let Marian Hossa walk.”

Always a realist, Devellano views Detroit’s current situation as being extremely similar to what he inherited 31 years ago. The Wings will stockpile their draft picks and be very reluctant to trade a first-round pick in the near future.

The Wings also will continue to explore the ever-shrinking unrestricted free-agent market, seeking a top-four defenseman and a top-six forward who can score. But Devellano feels there are so many teams in the market for the same players, landing a top-shelf free agent isn’t a sure thing.

The Red Wings’ current roster and farm system, according to Devellano, feature several NHL-caliber prospects and rookies, but very few, if any, stars.

“Ken Holland is working like a son-of-a-gun along with Mike Babcock to keep us competitive and entertaining,” Devellano said. “We have spoiled people rotten here. We really have.

“But if you (fans) really follow the league, really know what’s going on and know the rules, then you’ll understand what the Red Wings are doing. You will not have unrealistic expectations.”