GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ray Whitney remembers a sense of awe when he walked into the Detroit Red Wings locker room at Joe Louis Arena for the first time after the free agent signed a three-deal with Detroit in July 2003.
“They had recently redone the locker room before I got there so not only are you surrounded by great hockey players like Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan, but when you walk in there are all these plaques up with the faces of the past greats like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsey,” said Whitney, who had 14 goals and 43 points for Detroit that season. “The aura of that place is just amazing.”
Whitney didn’t get to enjoy the experience long. A lockout cancelled the 2004-05 season and the Red Wings traded him to Carolina before the 2005-06 season. It worked out because he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, but Whitney, now retired and serving as a scout for the Hurricanes, still marvels at the Red Wings’ remarkable consistency.
“It’s especially impressive that they kept it going with the salary cap and having to give up draft picks every year at the trade deadline to get another missing piece of the puzzle for the playoffs,” he said. “It’s such a good organization.”
Detroit, which faces the Coyotes on Thursday at Gila River Arena, owns the longest current streak of consecutive playoff appearances in professional sports at 25 seasons, five more than the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and the third longest streak all-time in any sport (also third in the NHL).
As Whitney noted, Detroit’s streak is even more impressive because the Wings have sustained it in the modern era where there is a salary cap robbing teams of players on annual basis, and there are more teams in the league, creating longer odds than the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks (see below) faced during their runs.
Barring an epic rally, Detroit’s streak will end finally this season. Entering play Thursday, the Red Wings were 14 points behind the final wild card spot with 14 games to play, and Detroit would have to leapfrog seven teams to get there.
There is symbolism in having the streak end this year. The Red Wings’ new home, Little Caesars Arena, is scheduled to open in September and Joe Louis Arena will be demolished this year. The Red Wings also lost longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who died in February at age 87.
“You hate to see them end their time in an historic building like this,” Whitney said. “You sort of wish it could have gone one more year to honor Mr. I.”
*Longest postseason NHL streaks
Boston Bruins: 29 seasons (1968-1996)
Chicago Blackhawks: 28 seasons (1970-1997)
Detroit Red Wings: 25 seasons (1990-2016)
St. Louis Blues: 25 seasons (1980-2004)
*Longest active streaks postseason NHL streaks
#Detroit Red Wings: 25 seasons (1990-present)
^Pittsburgh Penguins: 10 seasons (2007-present)
^Chicago Blackhawks: 8 seasons (2009-present)
^New York Rangers: 6 seasons (2011-present)
* — A lockout cancelled the 2005 postseason
# – Have not officially been eliminated from playoff in 2017
^ – Have not officially clinched playoff spots in 2017
Longest streaks in other sports
Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers: 22 seasons (1950-1971)
Portland Trail Blazers: 21 seasons (1983-2003)
San Antonio Spurs: 20 seasons (1998-present)
Utah Jazz: 20 seasons (1984-2003)
Atlanta Braves: 14 seasons (1991-2005)
New York Yankees: 13 seasons (1995-2007)
6 teams tied at 5
* — The 1994 postseason was cancelled
Dallas Cowboys: 9 seasons (1975-1983)
Indianapolis Colts: 9 seasons (2002-2010)
6 teams tied at 8
Red Wings at Coyotes
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Red Wings — 26-31-11. Coyotes — 26-35-8.
Season series: Coyotes lead, 1-0
Injury report: Coyotes — D Kevin Connauton (upper body) and C Alexander Burmistrov (concussion) are day to day. C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is on injured reserve. Red Wings — C Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) and LW Johan Franzen (concussion symptoms) are on long-term injured reserve. D Jonathan Ericsson (wrist surgery) and D Ryan Sproul (ACL) are out for the season.
Scouting the Red Wings: Detroit was one point ahead of New Jersey for last place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s game in Denver. … LW Henrik Zetterberg leads the team with 14 goals and 55 points. … Petr Mrazek is expected to start in goal.