That rotting fish odor you’re smelling is coming from San Jose, where the Sharks have finally died their very timely death by being eliminated from playoff contention, thus ending their run of 10 straight playoff appearances. Ten straight playoff appearances is impressive; it was the third longest living streak in major North American pro team sports.* Yet it pales in comparison to the NHL’s current record holder, the 23 consecutive postseasons played by the Detroit Red Wings.
It’s tempting to dismiss these streaks as relatively meaningless. Certainly, in the case of the Sharks, that ten season streak never even amounted to a conference championship. And after all, it’s the NHL, where “everybody” gets into the playoffs. It’s hardly much of an accomplishment, is it?
Well, it’s self-evident that when 16 out of 30 teams reach the postseason, more than half the teams in the league are in the playoffs. But slightly more than half is not “everybody,” nor does that ratio doesn’t mean it’s easy to get there year after year; if it were easy, more teams would have exceptionally long streaks like Detroit’s current run (which is in danger, but still looks like a good bet to continue at this point). Indeed, one could suppose that getting into the playoffs is simply a matter of having enough talent on the team, keeping it all together even when things go disastrously wrong (as in last spring, Sharks vs. Kings), and getting everyone to perform just well enough to get the team into the top eight slots in the conference.
But its not that simple, as San Jose has proved this season. Their past failures caught up with them this year, and the Sharks’ listless play wasn’t enough to get it done, and has set them up for a major overhaul in the offseason. No such thing has happened in Detroit, because–unlike some teams–whether it was Scotty Bowman or Mike Babcock, Steve Yzerman or Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterburg, Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood or Jimmy Howard, they did not let it happen.
*The other current impressive streak belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, of course; 18 straight seasons and counting, with no end in sight.