2002 Detroit Red Wings: 10 Year Anniversary of a Hall of Fame Team

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2002 Detroit Red Wings: 10 Year Anniversary of a Hall of Fame Team
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It has been exactly a decade since arguably the greatest team in NHL history finished its championship season. 

On June 13, 2002, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals bringing another championship banner to Joe Louis Arena.

It was also the final game of Scotty Bowman's illustrious coaching career who finished his time behind the bench leading an unforgettable team.

The Red Wings had already won nine Stanley Cups before the 2001-2002 season, but even the great Gordie Howe-led teams from the 1950s and the back-to-back winners from the 1990s paled in comparison to the talent of this team.

Many were already comparing them to the greatest teams in NHL history before the season began, including the Montreal Canadians that head coach Scotty Bowman led in the 1970s.

Bowman's veteran team (eight players were 35 or older) had enormous expectations going into the  season after an offseason of blockbuster moves. The Red Wings were looking to make some big changes after three consecutive early playoff exits, following back to back Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998.

It began with trading Slava Kozlov to the Buffalo Sabres for Dominik Hasek who had accomplished about everything an NHL goalie could in a career (two Hart Trophys and six Vezinas), without winning a Stanley Cup. 

The trade for Hasek put them back in the discussion as a championship contender, but the additions of Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull raised their expectations to whole another level.

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Little did Dominik Hasek and Brett Hull know, that they would only be teammates a few years later.

In all, 10 players from this team will be enshrined in Toronto one day. It's scary to think that number could have been 11 or 12 players if Henrik Zetterberg had come over from Sweden a year earlier and/or Larry Murphy held off his retirement for another season.

The same honor could be said about general manager Ken Holland and senior-vice president Jim Devellano. Their roster read like a Hall of Fame ballot with talent and recognizable names all over the depth chart.

Steve Yzerman

Sergei Fedorov

Pavel Datsyuk

Igor Larionov

Brendan Shanahan

Brett Hull

Luc Robitaille

Nicklas Lidstrom

Chris Chelios 

Dominik Hasek

Their defensive corps also included Frederik Olausson, three time All-Star Steve Duchesne and Jiri Fischer whose once promising career was cut short because of heart problems in 2005.

That's in addition to longtime role players such as Thomas Holmstrom, the memorable Grind Line of Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby, as well as Manny Legace, one of the better backup goalies any team will ever find.

Detroit's payroll for the 2001-2002 season was $65 million (current NHL salary cap, $64.3 million) and the deep pockets of Mike Ilitch were a clear advantage in the pre-salary cap NHL.

This team probably couldn't be assembled today (that team's salary would be closer to $90 million in 2012), but the same could be said about other super-teams from that era like the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils.

The 2002 Detroit Red Wings were the first team in NHL history to have three players on their roster with at least 500 goals (Yzerman, Robitaille, and Hull), and all of them, including Shanahan (who scored his 500th career goal late in the season) surpassed the 600 goal mark during their illustrious careers.

Five Red Wings made the All-Star Game and 11 were represented in the Olympic Ice Hockey tournament that year in Park City, Utah.

They got off to a great start winning 22 of their first 27 games and clinched the league's best record in March. Detroit finished the regular season with 116 points—15 points ahead of the second closest team in the league and 17 points ahead of anybody else in the Western Conference.

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Despite their high payroll, Hall of Fame talent, Olympian accolades and regular season dominance, winning the Stanley Cup did not come easy for this team.

Detroit dropped the first two games of its first round series against the Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi-led Vancouver Canucks, before rallying back to win four in a row.

They returned to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in four years after a quick-five game series with the St. Louis Blues, setting up a showdown with their arch-rival, the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado looked well on its way to repeating as Stanley Cup champions after gaining a 3-2 series lead following a 2-1 overtime Game 5 win on the road. The Red Wings sent the series back to Detroit after winning Game 6 in Denver 2-0, though, and finished off their nemesis with a 7-0 rout in Game 7.

Many fans considered the Western Conference Finals that year to be the de-facto Stanley Cup Finals with the winner slated to play the Carolina Hurricanes in the championship round.

The Hurricanes surprised many with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1, but Detroit responded with four consecutive wins highlighted by a triple overtime thriller in Game 3.

The Red Wings' championship triumph concluded with a 3-1 win in Game 5 at home and Nicklas Lidstrom becoming the first-European born player to win the Conn Smythe Award.

A decade later the 2002 Detroit Red Wings are still considered one of the greatest teams in the NHL history and will always be highly regarded by hockey fans.

More Stanley Cup banners may come to Motown, but few if any team in any city will ever come close to matching the star power of this unforgettable team.

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