The Detroit Red Wings have had many star players. Some of the best players to ever play the game have worn the winged wheel. Despite the stars, Detroit has always had a special love for the blue-collar type of players.
The Grind Line is probably the best example, as this group became some of the most beloved Red Wing players ever. Here is to the Grind Line and six other unsung players from the Red Wings.
There were actually four players that were a part of the Grind Line. The original line was Kris Draper, Joe Kocur and Kirk Maltby. Eventually, Darren McCarty would replace Kocur on the line.
Regardless of the makeup of the line, their role and effect was the same. They were put together to provide tough defense to the opposing teams' top lines. They were skaters who hustled all over the ice.
These were players who may have had higher-scoring roles on other teams; however, they accepted these roles and helped lift Detroit to several championships.
Joe Kocur would play 10 years for the team over two separate stints. His best-scoring season was 1989-90 when he had 16 goals and 20 assists. Scoring was not his role, though. He did most of his help with his fist.
He originally teamed with Bob Probert as one half of the Bruise Brothers earlier in his career. By the time he became part of the Grind Line, he fought less, but still brought an intimidating and physical presence.
Kirk Maltby earned his way on the line as a tough checker who was good at drawing opponents into taking penalties. He is tied for eighth in games played in a Red Wings uniform.
Kris Draper became more than just a checking forward on the team. He was a leader in the locker room who would play the fifth-most games ever for the Red Wings. In 2004 he was awarded the Selke Award for his standout defensive play.
Darren McCarty will be best remembered for two events. The first was his amazing goal in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals that helped bring home the championship to Detroit after 42 years.
The other event was his fight with Claude Lemieux in what became known as Fight Night at the Joe.
The season before, in the playoffs, Lemieux had taken a cheap hit on Draper that resulted in multiple facial bones being broken. McCarty avenged the injury to his teammate Draper and ended up scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.
Probert is one of the most beloved players to have played for the team. While he is most remembered for being one of the best fighters in league history, many forget how much more he did.
He had six seasons where he scored double-digit goals. His career high was 29 in 1987-88 when he also had a career-best 62 points. Legal troubles and the fact that he was not allowed to travel to Canada for several years kept his numbers from being even more productive over those four seasons.
Tomas Holmstrom was a 1994 10th-round draft pick by the Red Wings. He started off slowly as he tried to find a role on the team. In the 2002-03 season, he broke 20 goals for the first time. Over the next eight seasons, he would average 21 goals a season with a career best of 30.
He has made a living parking in front of the goalie on the power play. Over half of his 243 goals have come on the power play. All the punches, sticks and low blows he has received throughout his career have endeared him to the Detroit fans.
The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups in the early 1950s. If asked to name the best players on those teams, Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio and Red Kelly would quickly come to mind. Many miss out on Marty Pavelich and the importance he had to those teams.
Pavelich was the defensive force on the team. His job was to shut down the opposing teams’ best players, and he excelled in that role. In Stan Fischler’s book Hockey’s 100 he ranked Pavelich as the fourth-best defensive forward of all time.
Unlike most checking forwards of the time, he could also score.
There was not as much scoring then as there is now. Between the 1948-49 season and 1954-55, the league’s goal-scoring leader ranged from 28 (Sid Abel) to 49 (Gordie Howe). To have a player who could shut down star players and also chip in by scoring was a huge asset.
Over the most productive part of his career, he averaged almost 12 goals and 29 points. He won four Stanley Cups over his 10-year career.
Doug Brown was on the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup-winning teams. While players like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov received most of the attention, Brown quietly finished fourth on the team in goals in 1998.
He played seven seasons with the Red Wings, and while never the star he was that second-tier player that every team needs in order to win championships.
Larry Aurie’s contributions and importance to the success of the organization have been lost over time. He was the first star of the team. During the 1930s he was a regular among the league’s scoring leaders. He was one of the best two-way players of his time.
He helped Detroit win its first two Stanley Cup championships in 1936 and 1937. He was also a part of the first NHL All-Star Game.
He reaches unsung hero status due to his recent treatment by the team.
When he retired, then team owner Bruce Norris retired his number. At the time it was not customary to hang retired numbers from the rafters. When Mike Ilitch bought the team in 1982, he started the tradition of hanging retired numbers in Joe Louis Arena.
Eventually the team would hang the previously retired jerseys of Howe, Lindsay, Delvecchio, Sawchuk and Abel, but not Aurie. To this day the team has failed to restore the honor that was bestowed on him.
Since he has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame, they do not feel he should have his jersey hanging from the rafters.
The biggest unsung hero is Chris Osgood. While he would win three Stanley Cups with the team he often found fans and even the team looking for someone else.
During the 1996-97 season, he was the leader in goal with 23 wins, 2.30 goals-against average and six shutouts.
Once the playoffs rolled around, Coach Scotty Bowman decided to go with the veteran Mike Vernon in net. The team would end up winning the championship that season.
The following year the job was all Osgood’s. He would lead the team to a second championship.
During his career, he happened to play at the same time as some of the greatest goalies ever: Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. At times there would be flashier goalies for a season or two, but they did not have the staying power and consistency that Osgood had.
He is often criticized for playing behind great players. Other top goalies also played behind Hall of Fame players, but for some reason that is only held against Osgood.
He finished his career ranked 10 in all-time wins. His career goals-against average is better than many others in the top 10, including Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour and Roy.
He would return to the Red Wings and in 2008, took over in the playoffs and led the team to another championship.
While many wondered why the team did not go after bigger-name goalies, they fail to recognize that by having Osgood in goal, the team was able to amass so many other great players.
They did not have to chase the flash-in-the-pan goalie of the moment. They were able to rely on Osgood’s consistent greatness in net. This allowed them to stack other areas of the team.