Pierre LeBrun

Long after most reporters had left the Red Wings' dressing room Tuesday night, Daniel Cleary was still sitting there with most of his equipment on, chatting with a handful of reporters.

An introspective Cleary was contemplating what made this club so special. Again, take a second to consider that this team has had eight conference finals appearances in 14 seasons, including three straight in the salary-cap era, not to mention four Stanley Cups in 11 seasons. Much has been written on why that is, but it was interesting to hear it from a player.

"It just starts with the core, you know: Lidstrom, Drapes, Malts, Tommy [Holmstrom]," Cleary said. "We had Stevie [Yzerman] here, and Z and Pav learned from Stevie. Kronwall learns from Lidstrom. We bring in Raffy from Jersey, who's really solid. Once you've established a core, you bring in guys like Franzen. … I mean, me, Franzen and Sammy were the fourth line four years ago. Franzen's an All-Star now, and Sammy's been huge for us."

Oh, and Cleary hasn't been too shabby himself. Plucked off the scrap heap by the Wings coming out of the lockout (meaning any other team also could have had him for nothing), Cleary had back-to-back 20-goal seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08 and posted a 14-goal, 40-point campaign this regular season. He's been Mr. Clutch in the playoffs with six goals in 13 games. Penalty killer? Shot-blocker? Power-play guy? Goal scorer? He can do it all.

But one of the reasons Cleary went from unwanted free agent to quality veteran on a Cup champion team is the culture he walked into four years ago.

"The big thing is the work ethic we have off the ice," Cleary said. "The guys are always in the gym working."

Then there's Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who figured out the new NHL before many other coaches coming out of the lockout.

"We play a system that Babs instills in us that's defense, pressure and skating," Cleary said. "Everybody buys in. When your best players are your best defensive players, everyone has to buy in. If not, I don't know, you probably won't play."

Hart Trophy nominee Pavel Datsyuk is the reigning Selke Trophy winner, and he's up for the award again this season. Enough said on that front.

And if people are waiting for the Wings to grow old and go away, forget it. GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill are the best in the business and ensure that there's young blood coming up the Wings' food chain. One of the best Red Wings players I've noticed so far in the six Detroit playoff games I've covered? Darren Helm.

"Young players that get drafted by Detroit, they're not rushed into the NHL," Cleary said. "You go down, you get some seasoning in the minors, you become a good pro, and when your time is right, you come up. We've got good examples of that. Ericsson is a great example, Helm, Abdelkader, Filppula, Hudler -- these are all guys who played in the minors for a long time, who came up and we're better pros because of it.

"And each guy here, there's no egos. No matter how much you get paid or how many goals you score, everyone is even keel, and that, along with the work ethic, makes us a good team."

That's why guys such as Henrik Zetterberg and Franzen take discounts to stay in Detroit. It's why Marian Hossa might do the same after this season. The buzz is in Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago, where wonderful young stars are playing some exciting hockey. But Hockeytown is still printing Stanley Cup banners.


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