Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #3

Welcome back to the series, which is quickly making its way to #1. Since there is absolutely nothing else happening in the NHL or with the Wings, let's get right to it and discuss #3. However, before we do that, a correction from yesterday: when I initially did the post, I stated that Shanny was the last "lifer" to be on the list. Well, as you'll see in a second, that was just plain wrong, as there was one more to come. I just wanted to apologize for the error yesterday.

Sergei Fedorov

Pertinent Stats: 908 GP, 400 G, 554 A, 954 P, +276
Awards: 1994 - Hart Trophy, Selke Trophy, Lester Pearson Award; 1996 - Selke Trophy
Stanley Cups: 3 - 1997, 1998, 2002

So, as you can see, I had another non-lifer on the list. I guess I just choose to block out his post-Wings career because it didn't really amount to much. For whatever the reason, when I made the post yesterday, I considered Fedorov to be a lifelong Red Wing.

Fedorov was part of the epic 1989 draft that produced Lidstrom and Konstantinov. That he was picked in the 4th round shows how little the rest of the NHL believed in him, including the Wings. However, when he made his debut in 1990-91, it was pretty obvious the Wings had a special player on their hands, as he scored 79 points in 77 games as a rookie, losing the Calder to Ed Belfour. During his tenure with the Wings, he was probably the best pure-offensive talent they had, but his 1994 season was amazing by anyone's standards. That year he scored 56 goals and 64 assists, and won the Selke as the league's best defensive forward. He also added a Pearson as the MVP as chosen by the NHLPA and the Hart as the league MVP. Ironically, he did all this in a year that the Wings were upset by the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, a series in which Fedorov scored exactly 1 goal in 7 games.

As the '90s progressed, Fedorov got better. The man was a machine that could do anything on the ice. Be the #1 scorer on the team? Check. Play against the other team's top line and shut them down? Check. Play as a defenseman when the team was short on blueliners? Check. Not only could he do all of these things, but he did them all well. For a good portion of the 1990s, Fedorov was seen as one of the best players in the NHL, and with good reason. There were some epic games and plays during his career: I'll never forget the game against the Capitals in 1996-97 when he scored all 5 goals, including the OT winner, in a 5-4 Wing victory. When the Wings won the Cup in 1996-97, Fedorov was outstanding in the playoffs, totalling 20 points in 20 games. It's weird to think about now, but this was at a time when the stereotype surrounding Russian players was that they were soft and could not handle the rigours of a long playoff run. Fedorov was the leader of the "Russian Five" and helped put the notion that Russian players could not win in the NHL to rest once and for all.

However, his relationship with the team (and the fans) took a sour turn at the start of the next year when he held out from the team. He signed a huge offer sheet from the Hurricances which the Wings matched, and he was back in the lineup in time to help the Wings win their second straight Cup. Over the next few seasons, his point production dipped a little as he started to deal with injuries, but it should be noted that every single year that Fedorov played a full season, he scored at least 25 goals for the Wings.

After the Wings were eliminated by the Ducks in 2003, Fedorov became an unrestricted free agent, but the Wings offered him a 5 year/$50M deal and a 4 year/$40M deal to try and keep him on the team. In a move that shocked the team and fans, he signed a 5 year deal in Anaheim for $40M, less than what the Wings offered. The move was a slap in the face to the fans of Detroit, and he was booed mercilessly every time he touched the puck at the Joe. To me, this shows the loyal nature of Wing fans; hurt them and they will never forgive you. Contrast Fedorov leaving to Shanahan leaving; Wing fans still love Shanny and understood it was just time for he and the team to part ways. But with Fedorov, the nucleus was still intact for another run or two.

I've stated in the past the Todd Bertuzzi is easily the most polarizing player on the team today. However, before Bertuzzi came along, that title would easily have belonged to Sergei, but for vastly different reasons. We all loved Fedorov's talent and abilities, but his demeanour and attitude towards the team soured us. With players like Yzerman and Lidstrom on the team, guys that would do anything to make the Wings successful (like take paycuts), Fedorov's behaviour was seen as very selfish. After 1997-98, a lot of fans were peeved at him for holding out; however, all was forgiven when he was skating around the ice with the Cup in his hands. Once he left for Anaheim, it was a whole other ballgame: he was deserting the team, and he was going to the team that had just knocked out the Wings. I said earlier that I considered him to be a "lifer"; however, his actions show that he was just looking out for himself.

Regardless of the way he left the Wings or the holdout, no one can deny that the man had an incredible amount of talent. To this day, he remains the only player to win the Hart and Selke in the same season, and unless Datysuk wins a Hart someday, that's not going to change. He was the third-highest scorer in the postseason in the 1990s. He transformed the image of the Russian player, showing that they want to win as badly as North American players do and can handle a long playoff run. For the majority of the 1990s, he was their best player, and together with Yzerman formed a 1-2 punch at center that was unmatched by most of the league. He could pair up with Larry Murphy and form an effective defensive duo, and he could rush end-to-end and score one of the prettiest goals you would ever see. I know we all love Datsyuk, but in my humble opinion, Fedorov was even better, especially in his prime. Where Ciccarelli formed the mold for a guy like Holmstrom to be an effective player on the team, Fedorov did the same for Datsyuk.

As I made this list, I thought of what was going to determine a guy's place on the list. His abilities were obviously going to be considered, but so was his place on the team; if he left, how did he leave? I struggled with Fedorov being up this high initially, for the same reasons that a lot of Wing fans still resent him today. However, I had to look past all that and recognize that his skills were second to none on the team during the 1990s (Yzerman was close, but I don't think he could do what Fedorov did on the ice on a consistent basis). If Yzerman was the heart and Bowman was the brain of the team, Fedorov was the hands and legs. I have no doubts that without his contributions, the Wings would not have had the success they did, and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong on that. Love him or hate him, there's no denying that in terms of his abilities on the ice, he was a superstar. He is still the only Red Wing I've ever seen win the Hart, and more than once I saw him will the team to victory. I may not have liked the way he departed the team, but there's no question that Sergei Fedorov #3 on the list of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time.


  1. Graham: Now you really have me confused. As much as would have liked it to be so, Shanny and Fedorov aren't lifers are they...unless of course you really aren't recognizing that they played anywhere else. :-)

    BTW Really enjoying your series...brings back soooo many fond memories.


  2. PS It's in intro paragraph...hadn't read 1st Fedorov paragraph yet....getting clearer...must be these hot muggy days waiting for training camp.


  3. @wingsluver:

    No issues. I confused myself yesterday. I guess it's like when you start dating someone new: you just pretend that they haven't been with anyone else before you.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the series. It's been a lot of fun to write about.