Happy Monday to everyone. Ok, there's no such thing as a "Happy" Monday, but it's here, and we have to make the best of it. We will continue our series in a moment, but first, a little note on the press conference on Friday.
I think it's safe to say that the Wings have a new slogan for the playoffs this year. "Cuppy, cuppy, cuppy" was hilarious, especially out of the mouth of one of the most powerful men in the city. I guess it shows that he can be prone to fits of silly fan-ness just like the rest of us, and will make up non-sensical phrases to show how happy and confident he is. I also liked Modano's answers, about wanting to win, and about playing whatever role the Wings want him to. I don't think this is a guy that is going to rock the boat or become an issue in the dressing room; he just wants to contribute to a Stanley Cup winning team. After the presser, I was excited and wished that the season would just start, so that we could witness the march to 12.
I don't really have an opinion on Chelios landing in the Wings' front office. He will certainly be an asset in conditioning, since he's known to be a workout fiend. I also expect him to be in the dressing room talking to young Ericsson and Kindl about how to approach the game and make smart decisions out there. This will ease the burden on Lidstrom, who can concentrate on avenging his Norris snub last year.
Back to the series. This week we enter the Top-10, but unlike Letterman, I couldn't get anyone famous to read these for me. Here we go:
Pertinent Stats: 607 GP, 202 G, 213 A, 415 P, +134
Stanley Cups: 2 - 1997, 1998
Coming it at #10 is the second of the "Russian Five". Slava was drafted in the third round after the Wings had taken Primeau earlier. Kozlov didn't crack the lineup for a few years, but when he got his shot in 1993-94, he made the most of it, racking up 34 goals and 73 points in 77 games. Over the next couple of seasons, he remained an almost-a-point-per-game player, but unfortunately that skill was not enough to help the Wings win a Championship. Through the next 5 years, his point production declined, but given the amount of scoring that was on the team, the Wings did not need him to be their #1 point producer. He still scored at least 20 goals in 4 of the next 5 seasons, and as a left winger, no one was expecting him to put up big assist totals.
What Kozlov was able to do was score important goals, perhaps none of them bigger than in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Blackhawks. He scored in double OT to put the Wings in the Finals for the first time since 1966, and I can bet that for most of us, this was the first time we ever saw our team make it that far. I can still remember running around my house (I was 16) shouting "We're going to the Finals! We're going to the Finals!" My father was not that impressed (being a Leaf fan, he's not impressed with anything the Wings do), and told me very calmly to "shut the fuck up, no one cares, go to bed." Naturally, I didn't sleep for a while, although after watching the Finals that year, you would have thought that the Devils' style of play would have been enough to put me in a coma.
Kozlov seemed to have a knack for scoring key goals. Besides the double OT goal in 1995, he also scored the triple OT goal in 1997 against the Ducks in Game 2 (thank you Doug Brown). He scored both goals in Game 3 against the Avs in the Conference Finals, giving them a stranglehold of that series. He also tacked on a goal in the Finals that year, and ultimately finished with 8 goals in those playoffs. His goal total went down the next year, but he was still a big part of why the Wings were able to repeat. As the decade ended, Kozlov's point totals continued to decrease, and he was eventually used as the centerpiece of the deal to get Dominik Hasek from Buffalo before the 2001-02 season. Kozlov has continued to put up respectable numbers, and is now known as one of the premier shootout specialists in the NHL (the Wings sure could have used him last year).
For me, Kozlov has always been one of the most talented offensive players I have ever seen. I would probably rank him 3rd of 4th behind Federov, Datsyuk and Yzerman. Kozlov's skill with the puck on his stick was, for lack of a better term, disgusting. More than once I saw him absolutely undress a defenseman or deke a goalie out of his pants to score a pretty goal. He was certainly never a defensive specialist or a tough guy, so if he wasn't scoring, he wasn't that valuable to the team. But like I said before, he could score some of the most beautiful goals you'll ever see. However, his contributions to the team were not limited to on-ice accomplishments. He was one of the players who was most affected by the tragedy involving Vladimir Konstantinov, and Kozlov was the one who started the "Believe" theme of the 97-98 season. He had been given a rock that had the phrase inscribed on it, and he put it in Vlad's locker after the accident. This led to the team adopting it as their slogan for the season as they attempted to repeat, which they did, culminating in the greatest on-ice Stanley Cup celebration of all time. Oh, and according to the girls on Twitter, he was also kind of cute, so I guess I'll throw that in here to score some points with the ladies.
Slava Kozlov was never the best 2-way player on the Wings, nor was he the best scorer. However, together with the Russian Five, he was part of the best 5-man unit in the NHL, and served as the main goal scorer on that line. The offensive skills he had were among the best on the team, and he had a knack for potting a crucial goal. He was as instrumental in the Wings' first Cup in '97 as almost anyone on the team. Not only did he contribute to 2 Stanley Cups, but he was the best player in the deal for Hasek, a move that allowed the Wings to win their third Cup in 6 years. For those reasons, he deserves his spot as the #10 Greatest Red Wing of My Time.