- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

There are worse fates for a rookie coach than being handed a roster dotted with surefire Hall of Famers. However, Dave Lewis' first season behind the Detroit bench hasn't been as easy as the defending champion Red Wings' 32-17-9-3 record might indicate.
Captain Steve Yzerman, a Red Wing for 19 years and Detroit's leading scorer during last spring's drive to the team's third Stanley Cup title in six years, has played a game this season following knee surgery. Goalie Dominik Hasek retired after backstopping the Red Wings to the title and replacement Curtis Joseph hasn't been as impressive. Defensemen Chris Chelios and Jiri Fischer and forwards Darren McCarty and Pavel Datsyuk have also spent significant time on the shelf.
But Lewis, a Red Wing assistant for 14 seasons, didn't just assume the pressure of trying to repeat a Stanley Cup championship. He also succeeded a legend in his prickly former boss Scotty Bowman, who retired in June after a record nine titles and 1,244 victories.
"It has been a very successful transition," right wing Brett Hull said. "The lines of communication are a little bit more open with Dave than they were with Scotty. I can't imagine anyone else coming in and coaching this team. It's deeper than just us being a veteran team. We have six or seven sure Hall of Famers. There are a lot of egos in our room. If you didn't know the personalities, it would be a very tough job."
Not according to the 49-year-old Lewis, who previously interviewed for openings in Los Angeles and Columbus.
"It's great to have a standard to live up to like Scotty established," Lewis said after spending an extra 45 minutes on the ice with three young players following the Wings' morning skate at MCI Center yesterday. "I understand what's expected. We're the champions, but we're only one of eight to 10 teams that think they can win it this year. I really enjoy this job. All you really want is a chance to win and we certainly have that."
Lewis doesn't make a big deal of the pressure he's under to win the Cup or his role in keeping the Red Wings near the top of the NHL Detroit moved into the Central Division lead for the first time in more than a month after beating Washington 5-1 last night.
"The guys need to be prodded and challenged every now and then, but you're not going to tell a lot of them how to play the game," Lewis said. "You manage them individually and collectively. You manage the ice time. You manage the travel, the days off that you give them. That said, I think it was important for continuity for the coach to be either Barry [Smith, a Red Wings assistant for 10 years] or myself. We knew how the players think, how they react to certain situations. We understood their roles. When the guys put the jerseys on, their egos are somewhere else. They subordinate themselves individually for the good collectively. They know that's the only way you can win."
The guys in the red and white sweaters are appreciative of the job being done by the former defensive-minded defenseman for the New York Islanders, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Detroit.
"A lot of coaches from outside the organization would have had the temptation to try to reinvent the wheel and put their own fingerprints on the team, but Dave was part of this team," said Brendan Shanahan, a 500-goal scorer like fellow wingers Hull and Luc Robitaille. "He knows what makes so many of us tick. He knows what he has in this room. We have a certain degree of independence because of the experience factor."
Whether it's not having Hasek, Fischer or Yzerman, the usual post-championship letdown or an aging roster 15 of the 26 players are at least 30 with two over 40 the Red Wings aren't the 116-point juggernaut of last season. But they're on a 5-0-0-1 tear, they have the NHL's top power play and are still a serious threat to repeat as champions. And 10 of the regulars although not Joseph have the experience of winning at least two Cups.
"We're not having the year we thought we might, but we're getting better," Chelios said. "Having Stevie back will help us tremendously. We still feel that we control our own destiny. Since we're the champions, our challenge is expecting to win the Cup instead of hoping to win it."


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