With the induction of Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov, the 2001-02 Red Wings now have nine players in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Will we ever see the likes of that team in the post-salary cap era?
Whether or not the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings enter the annals of the most decorated teams in the history of the game is now up solely to Pavel Datsyuk. The Magic Man must be inducted after he retires for that team to join the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs with the most players who reside in the hallowed hall.
With the additions of Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov, that Red Wings team now has a total of nine Hall of Famers, which currently stands just one behind the standard bearers in that category, the 1955-56 Canadiens and the 1966-67 Maple Leafs. How good was that team in Detroit? Well, consider that team had a fourth line that consisted of Igor Larionov centering Luc Robitaille and Tomas Holmstrom. Their fourth line. Think about that for a minute.
(So will Datsyuk get in? Probably, but it’s not a complete slam-dunk at the moment. From a personal standpoint, I’d have no problem with Datsyuk being a Hall of Famer, but I can also appreciate the sentiment that he might not be one, too.)
Lidstrom and Fedorov were both lynchpins for that team, complementing a ridiculous amount of talent, the levels of which we might never see again. Compare that Wings team to the two who pass for the post-salary cap dynasties. Among the Chicago Blackhawks, you have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and (maybe) Marian Hossa as potential Hall of Famers. On the Los Angeles Kings, there’s Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar who may someday find themselves in the Hall of Fame.
“There was no salary cap in those years and we had won a couple of years before,” said Scotty Bowman, whose last year coaching in the NHL was with that team. “It was a good destination for players. Kenny Holland was the manager and we had an owner who wanted to win all the time. Guys like Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille knew coming in the team was pretty deep and they didn’t get 20 minutes a game, instead they got 12 or 13 minutes a game.”
That season marked the second of Lidstrom’s seven Norris Trophy seasons and, despite the fact he was already 32 when that season ended, seemed to be hitting his stride as a perennial Norris winner. Perhaps the greatest compliment one can give to Lidstrom was that he made a position that was so difficult seem so easy to play.
“In those days we did a little bit of analytics and we had somebody tracking our defense, when they got the puck, where did it go?” Bowman said. “The numbers were in the high 90s, when he got the puck, unless he was in a shooting possession, we kept the puck. If you talk to guys like Sergei, Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk, he made their job a lot easier. He would put the puck right on your stick and never got excited.”
Fedorov was at the tail end of his career in Detroit, but was also in the midst of four straight 30-goal seasons. He was part of an interesting mix of players at different stages of their careers. Datsyuk was a rookie; Fedorov, Lidstrom and Chris Chelios were as productive as ever; while Yzerman, Hull, Dominik Hasek, Larionov and Robitaille were in their twilights.
“It’s an experience that, from the outside world, everybody sees that experience differently,” Fedorov said. “But when you show those results like nine Hall of Famers and a few of Stanley Cups, you know inside-out how to do it again. I think the Wings will do it again.”
But in the next breath, Fedorov acknowledges that Holland, “is not made out of steel,” and there are realities facing teams today that did not in the past. As the GM of the CSKA Moscow team in the Kontinental League, Fedorov understands intimately how difficult it is to build a winner. “Hockey is a very creative game and if people work hard, anything is possible,” Fedorov said. “But I know economics comes into play, politics, finances, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
For his part, Lidstrom thinks it will be almost impossible for teams now to duplicate what the Red Wings did. Having a guy like Lidstrom, who is almost impossible to find, is a good place to start. But Lidstrom said acquiring players of that caliber together is difficult enough, but getting them to mesh together as a cohesive unit is not as easy as it seems.
“Scotty was behind that,” Lidstrom said. “He was the mastermind of making players be happy with the roles they had. That was important for that team to be successful, for everyone to accept their roles.”