If (when?) the Detroit Red Wings make the playoffs this season, it'll lengthen their streak to twenty-four years. Every team in the NHL would love to follow their example, and so should the Oilers.
The guy in the picture above is Tomas Tatar, who the Red Wings drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft (the Paajarvi/Lander draft) and who didn't see regular NHL action until last year. He played most of four seasons for Detroit's AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for a total of 265 AHL games. He didn't finally stick in the NHL until the Red Wings would have had to lose him on waivers if they tried to send him down.
But even then it wasn't a home run that Tatar would make the team, as the Red Wings had a bunch of extra forwards at training camp and demanded that their young prospect outplay them.
Compare that approach to the Oilers, who have made the playoffs in nine out of the 24 seasons (including this one) since Detroit last missed.
Compare Tatar to Anton Lander, who was a full-time NHLer two years before Tatar and has since gone on to play most of two seasons in Oklahoma City. Lander played two seasons in Sweden after being drafted, which was fine for him, but that didn't teach him much about playing in the NHL in 2011-12. Now it appears that Lander has to make it work with the Oilers, or they'll walk away. Meanwhile, Tatar is just starting a promising career.
Twenty-three players have suited up for the Red Wings this season, sixteen of which were drafted by that team*. Fourteen of those have played at least forty games in a single NHL season, and those players averaged four years from the draft to their first 40-game season.
A big part of that is where the Red Wings draft, of course. When you're always making your picks deeper in the draft, you don't typically get players that can step directly into the NHL.
But Tomas Tatar is a fine example of how Detroit fundamentally develops their youth. Tatar had 23-26-49 in 61 AHL games in 2012-13, and another 4-3-7 in 18 games with the big club. He was probably ready to test the waters of the NHL that year, but the Red Wings gave him another in the minors and then still didn't hand him a job the following season.
Detroit has been lucky with players like Lidstrom and Zetterberg and Datsyuk, but they have also done the right thing with the draft. Largely out of necessity, the Red Wings don't look to the draft for immediate help - they seem to always have an eye to the distant future. That has created a pipeline of NHL calibre players on the farm, just waiting for the call.
But it's not just luck and drafting that has created competition. Tatar was competing against Dan Cleary for his spot in 2013-14, a veteran player who the Wings re-signed to give themselves some insurance. By contrast, the Oilers are willing to draft a young player and not only guarantee him a roster spot, but also give themselves little or no insurance at the position.
Players want to go to Detroit because that's where you have a chance to win. Marian Hossa signed there even though the Oilers offered him some $80 million. Daniel Alfredsson chose Detroit to sign with when he finally left Ottawa.
Edmonton averages 48.6 inches of snow per year, and Detroit averages 42.7 inches. Edmonton's cold season starts on November 20th and lasts until March 7th, with an average high of -6 degrees Celsius. Detroit's cold season starts on November 30th and lasts until March 3rd, with an average high of -1 degree Celsius. Detroit's recent decline has been well documented (see photos).
But players want to go there. Because they win. They've been winning forever.
Please, Oilers. Follow their lead.
* - Seventeen if you count Kyle Quincey, who found his way back to Detroit after being drafted by that team. Andrej Nestrasil is also counted above, but is no longer on the team.