The Top 25 Detroit Red Wings Of All Time

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst ISeptember 17, 2010

The Top 25 Detroit Red Wings Of All Time

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    Before we begin, let me tell you that I wasn't exactly thrilled when I got this assignment.

    For one thing, there's already a bazillion (yeah, that's a number) "Top 10, 20, 100..." lists of all kinds in the world.

    Top 10 Movies, Top 20 Vacation Destinations, Top 100 Places To Eat Organic Ice Cream Whilst Wearing a Three-Cornered Hat, The Top 10 Top 20 Lists of Top 100 Top 10 Lists...these things are everywhere.

    Additionally, "Top" lists run rampant in the sports world.  Now, this makes some sense as sports in general rely heavily on statistics and various forms of quantification when it comes to selecting players and developing strategies.

    Still, I for one think there are way too many "Top" lists that, more often than not, are simply statistical rankings (in which case, they contain information that anyone can get from a stat sheet), or, a ranking of "popular" players, teams, coaches, etc. that may or may not truly be at "the top" in their category.

    So, when I was asked to rank the Top 25 Detroit Red Wings of all time, I was left to wonder how exactly to go about creating something that was both interesting to write and interesting to read.

    Sure, I could do what most list writers seem to do and start with Gordie Howe and work my way down.  I could re-print a list of franchise scoring leaders and then add Terry Sawchuck into the mix. 

    I could simply list the 25 best players to ever wear a Red Wings jersey, which would lead to a little more diversity than such a list of would typically have.

    I could have done these things, but I didn't.

    What I focused on was trying to find the 25 best Red Wings of all time.

    Now, what is a "Red Wing"?

    To my mind, a "Red Wing" player is defined by his skill, his work ethic, his ability to put the team ahead of himself, and, his contribution to sustaining the Detroit Red Wings as the most successful US-based NHL franchise in history.

    That last one is a little tough to judge, but, suffice to say, if a player has contributed to winning a Stanley Cup, or is highly positioned in a list of franchise points or goals leaders, or (spoiler alert) is named "Bob Probert" they'll be in the mix for Top 25 status.

    All of these things, as well as a respectable tenure with the team (sorry, you won't find Brett Hull or Luc Robataille on here), are what I used to select a group of candidates.

    From that group (there were 42 I started with), I ranked them from the bottom-up, re-ranked them, and then, ranked them again.

    Once each name had a number next to it, I listed them in order, 1-42, drew a line under 25, and presto, I had my list.

    To be quite honest, I was surprised myself when I saw who was on there and where (which is hard to do when you're the only one making the list in the first place).

    I questioned my reasoning, thought about going in a different direction, and wondered if what I was doing was all wrong.

    Then, I read the list again and thought, "50 years from now, will any of these guys not be remembered for being Red Wings."

    The answer, to my mind, was "no."

    The proceeding list is likely going to look a lot different than others you've seen.

    Some picks may pleasantly surprise you, others may piss you off.

    However, consider the criteria by which they were selected before you flame a particular pick, I'm prepared to defend every one of them.

25. Darren McCarty: 1993-2004, 2007-09

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    When it comes to players who flat-out loved being a Red Wing, few did so with greater intensity than Darren McCarty.

    His dream as a boy was to one day become a Detroit Red Wing and in June 1992, that dream became a reality as the Detroit Red Wings drafted McCarty in the second round of that year's entry draft.

    Though McCarty become beloved by fans for his ability to use his fists and come to the aid of his teammates, his jaw-droppingly beautiful game-winning goal in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals cemented his status as one of the most popular Wings of all time. 

    That goal ended a 42-year Stanley Cup drought and sparked off a mini-dynasty that saw Detroit win three more Cups over the next 11 years.

    McCarty, not surprisingly, was part of all of them.

24. Kris Draper: 1993-Present

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    It reads like a joke, or some far-fetched exaggeration of the truth, but how Kris Draper got to Detroit is a story in itself.

    Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, Kris Draper spent four years in that organization before they decided that they just didn't see him fitting into their plans.

    In 1993, the Jets were so eager to rid themselves of Draper that they were asking for next to nothing in return: Draper was traded to Detroit for one US dollar.

    Four years later, the player that was literally worth less than a bag of pucks to the team that sent him packing raised the Stanley Cup over his head in May of 1997.

    He's repeated the move three times since.

    Kris Draper is not a potent offensive player (though he did score 24 goals in 2003-04) and isn't what anyone would call an elite player (though he did win the Selke Trophy that same year).

    Still, if you have designs on winning a Stanley Cup, you need a Kris Draper on your team.

    His speed, tenacity, and defensive acumen are valuable assets in the regular season, but vital essentials in the post-season.

    Draper has his name stamped on the Stanley Cup four times.  His play in each of those years was a big reason why "Detroit Red Wings" was the team that appeared above it.

23.Vladimir Konstantinov: 1991-97

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    If you're not a Red Wings fan, you likely still know the name "Vladimir Konstantinov," but not because of his on-ice abilities.

    Days after helping the Red Wings win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years, Konstantinov was nearly killed in a limousine accident in May 1997.

    Teammate and fellow Russian, Slava Fetisov also sustained injuries, from which he would recover, but the collision robbed Konstantinov and the Detroit Red Wings of the chance to see an already great career fully develop.

    Konstantinov was a beast on the ice.

    His aggressive play and devastating hits earned him nicknames like "Vlad the Impaler" and "Vladiator."  His goal, he said, was not to score goals, but keep opponents from doing so.

    Nevertheless, Vladdie also contributed on the score sheet.  So effective was he at both ends of the ice that Konstantinov finished the 1995-96 regular season with a plus/minus rating of plus-60; the highest such rating since Wayne Gretzky finished plus-70 10 years earlier.

    Vladdie continued his superb play into the following season where he emerged as the runner-up to Brian Leetch for Norris Trophy in 1996-97, which, quite unfortunately, was his final year in the league.

    At just 30 years old, Konstantinov had already carved out a tremendous hockey career in Detroit and looked as if he had much more to contribute.

    In fact, he did.

    Though he wasn't on the roster when the Wings won the Cup again in 1998, every man on that team can tell you that Vladdie was one of the biggest contributors to their motivation to keep the Cup in Hockeytown one more year.

22. Larry Murphy: 1996-2001

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    By the time Larry Murphy got to Detroit in 1996, he had already built an impressive hockey career for himself.

    He was a key contributor to Canada's championship in the Canada Cup tournament in 1987 and had won two Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

    His offensive skills were his most valuable asset, but his defensive awareness and puck possession skills were well above average among his peers.

    Despite his skill, Murphy was nearly burned in effigy while with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997, which prompted his trade to Detroit at that year's trade deadline.

    He was paired with a talented yet still developing defenseman named Nicklas Lidstrom and the two quickly become a lethally effective duo.

    Murphy was a key part of, not only Nicklas Lidstrom's development, but Detroit's back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998.

21. Slava Fetisov: 1995-98

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    Slava Fetisov was a legend before his blades even touched NHL ice for the first time in 1989.

    A part of the Soviet Red Army team, Fetisov was a member of the team that was beaten by Team USA in the "Miracle On Ice" game in 1980.

    Fetisov used the sting of that unimaginable silver medal finish to help propel his team back to Olympic excellence in 1984 and 1988.

    The following year, Fetisov was integral in another miraculous happening when he successfully lobbied, on behalf of himself and eight other Soviet players, to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union and play in the NHL.

    To that point, Soviet players (including Fetisov) were allowed to be drafted (and were) by NHL teams, though, were not allowed to defect to North America (what's that about the mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma?).

    Fetisov began his NHL career at 31, with the New Jersey Devils in 1989.

    Six years later, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings and promptly helped them reach the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the very same Devils with which Fetisov began the season.

    The next season, he again helped propel Detroit to excellence as they finished with a 62-10-10 record, but were thwarted in their quest for a Cup in the Western Conference Finals by Colorado.

    The next two season yielded better things for Fetisov and Detroit as they went on to win Cups in 1997 and 1998.

    Detroit did not become a championship team until Fetisov came to town, and that's not a coincidence.

20. Marcel Pronovost: 1950-1965

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    When Marcel Pronovost began the 1949-50 season, he had no clue he'd end his year by winning the Stanley Cup.

    Called up to Detroit as a rookie in that year's playoffs, Pronovost played his first nine games in the NHL amidst the strain and pressure of the Red Wings trying to win a Stanley Cup without Gordie Howe, whose injury lead to Pronovost's call up (Red Kelly, a defenseman, was moved to forward to cover for Howe, and Pronovost was inserted in Kelly's place).

    The Wings survived the loss of Howe and won the first of four Stanley Cups in a decade.

    Playing the all important, yet often under-appreciated, role of defensive defenseman, Pronovost both doled out and endured a tremendous amount of pain in the wild days of the Original Six.

    He would go on to anchor Detroit's blue-line during the glory days of the 1950's and won another three Cups with Detroit in 1952, 54, and 55.

19. Chris Chelios: 1999-2009

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    Not to be a cop-out, but, honestly, there's nothing I can say here about Chris Chelios that I haven't already said once he officially announced his retirement in August.  He's truly my favorite idiot.

18. Bob Probert: 1985-94

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    A friend of mine once told me that the reason Bob Probert was his favorite player was because he was "the Wayne Gretzky of hockey fighters."

    Given Probert's standing in NHL goon history, it's hard to argue with that assessment.

    In hockey and in life, Probert was a mixed bag of elements that made him one of the most maddening, endearing and memorable players in Red Wings history.

    Probert was an absolute beast on the ice and his zeal for beating the living hell out of opponents who took liberties with his teammates, particularly Steve Yzerman, is what made him such a fan favorite in Detroit.

    However, off the ice, his run-ins with the law were almost as legendary as his fighting abilities.

    Substance abuse, alcoholism, numerous arrests, and a three-month prison stint are among the reasons the Red Wings finally let Probert walk as a free agent in 1994.

    As chaotic as his life was, his teammates will tell you that there was not a greater team guy, or genuinely good-hearted friend than Probie.

    His death on July 5, 2010, was tragic, but not all together surprising as, at just 45, Bob Probert had lived hard enough for two lifetimes.

17. Igor Larionov: 1995-2000, 2000-03

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    Like our No. 21 pick, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov arrived in the NHL already established as a hockey legend.

    Before he played his first NHL game, Larionov had racked up nine gold medals in international ice hockey competition and had a reputation for being one of the smartest hockey players in the world.

    He initially broke into the NHL with Vancouver in 1989 and after playing another few seasons for San Jose, arrived in Detroit in 1995.

    His superior hockey intellect and uncanny ability to set up his teammates with beautiful, pinpoint passes instantly elevated the talent level of the Detroit Red Wings.

    From 1995 on, Detroit became one of the most feared and talented teams in the league and the quiet and calculating "Professor," as Larionov became known, was a big reason why.

    Larionov won Cups with Detroit in 1997, 98 and 2002, the last of which being especially memorable for him.

    In Game 3 of the 2002 Finals against Carolina, Larionov became the oldest player (42 at the time) to score an overtime game-winning goal in the playoffs.

    What was even more amazing, he did so near the end of the third overtime period.

    And people wonder why Detroit signs veteran players year after year.

16. John Ogrodnick: 1979-87

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    Given the longevity and history of an Original Six, teams like Detroit, it's not surprising that certain decades have been classified as "eras."

    The 50's are often referred to as the "Gordie Howe Era", the 90's and early 2000's are of course the "Steve Yzerman Era," and the period of time between the late 60's and early 80's, well, that was the era of the "Dead Things."

    From 1967 to 1982, the Red Wings appeared in the playoffs only twice.

    The arrival of Steve Yzerman in 1983 certainly sparked some excitement and reasons for hope, but it would be over a decade before Detroit rose again to prominence.

    Given this fact, it's easy to overlook some of the players that were part of those Dead Things era teams, but, despite the lack of team success, there were some great players that wore the Winged-Wheel during this time.

    One of them is John Ogrodnick.

    In 1984-85, Ogrodnick set a franchise record (at that time) in goals with 55.  That's quite a feat considering he was playing for the same franchise Gordie Howe put on the map.

    Ogrodnick scored 259 goals as a Red Wing, which still ranks him eighth all-time in franchise scoring.

    Had Ogrodnick been born 10 years later than he was, he would have been at the heart of a Stanley Cup championship team in Detroit.

    Unfortunately, he ended his great career without ever lifting a Cup.

15. Reed Larson: 1976-86

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    The No. 23 pick, Vladimir Konstantinov, was rounding into a super-star defenseman before the 1997 limousine accident sidelined him forever.

    Asked for comparisons at the time, most would tell you that Konstantinov could have been on his way to becoming another Reed Larson.

    Another great player who had the misfortune of playing his career in the Dead Things era, Reed Larson was not only a tough and aggressive defenseman, but a prolific scorer.

    His slap shot was legendary and his ability to use it accurately, and often, was what made him such a dangerous offensive player.

    Larson racked up five straight 20-plus goal seasons in Detroit (1979-84), a standing record for a Detroit defenseman, and remains 10th in points (564) and ninth in assists (382) on Detroit's all-time scoring list.

    Like the aforementioned John Ogrodnick, Larson had the terrible misfortune of being a superstar player for a basement-dwelling team.

    Regardless, he remains one of the best defensemen in Detroit Red Wings history.

14. Henrik Zetterberg: 2003-Present

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    When all is said and done, Henrik Zetterberg will retire having played nearly two decades as a Detroit Red Wing.

    If he were to retire today, he'd still be considered one of the best all time.

    He was plucked from the scrap heap of the 1999 Entry Draft, and other teams thought Detroit was out of their minds for trading away earlier picks in the draft to complete other transactions.

    What no one but Detroit knew at the time was, the 210th pick was all they needed to secure a future franchise icon.

    In 2003, Zetterberg's rookie year, GM Ken Holland made the decision to put Zetterberg's locker right next to Steve Yzerman's. 

    He saw in Zetterberg the same superb hockey sense, work ethic and two-way talent that had come to define Yzerman's career. 

    He also recognized that, at some point, the young Swede would likely have a 'C' stitched on to his sweater, so why not learn from the best?

    In just seven years with the team, Zetterberg has already emerged 10th all time in franchise goal-scoring and secured the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP en route to Detroit's 2008 Stanley Cup win.

    Though it's not something any Red Wings fan wants to think about, when Nicklas Lidstrom does retire, his teammate and countryman is almost certain to inherit the captaincy in Detroit.

    If he does, Zetterberg's life-time contract will go a long way towards ensuring that Detroit's chances of winning a Stanley Cup aren't going to diminish any time soon.

13. Pavel Datsyuk: 2002-Present

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    The Detroit Red Wings franchise will celebrate its 85th year of existence this season.

    In all that time, there likely has not been a player with more jaw-dropping puck-handling skills than Pavel Datsyuk.

    When Datsyuk came into the NHL, his appearance was little more than a blip on the radars of any team outside of Detroit.

    He had gone undrafted in 1996 and 1997 and was finally selected 171st overall by Detroit in 1999.

    Additionally, his inability to speak English and quiet, shy demeanor made him nearly invisible off the ice.

    Some will tell you that he pulls the same act on the ice, except, when you do see him, it's too late.

    Datsyuk's ability to undress defenders and scramble the brains of goalies is already legendary, but, so too are his defensive capabilities.

    The winner of three straight Selke Trophies (2008, 2009, 2010), Datsyuk is the only player in Detroit history to lay claim to such a feat.

    Additionally, he's risen to ninth all time in points and seventh in assists, putting him well on the way towards ending his career as one of the most talented Red Wings ever.

12. Chris Osgood: 1993-2001, 2005-Present

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    Perhaps no other player in Red Wings history has stirred more debate and polarized more fans than Chris Osgood.

    A quiet and relatively unexciting goalie, Osgood doesn't have the brash personality or flashy style that most hockey fans like to see in their goalies.

    However, what Osgood does have is supreme confidence in his abilities and an internal drive for success that has helped beat odds at every turn in his career.

    From being "too young," "too weak," "too whatever," to back-stopping two Stanley Cup championships in Detroit, Chris Osgood seems always to be counted out until he makes it impossible to do so.

    He is first all-time in playoff wins by a Detroit goalie, yes, even higher than Terry Sawchuck, and is the only Detroit goaltender to ever score a goal, which he did against the Hartford Whalers in 1996.

    Additionally, like Sawchuck before him, he emerged as just the second goalie in league history to win two Stanley Cups 10 years apart (1998, 2008) when he unexpectedly became the starter four games into the 2008 playoffs and didn't look back.

    Osgood finished that season as, not only a Stanley Cup champion, but as a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy, which eventually went to teammate Henrik Zetterberg.

11. Brendan Shanahan: 1997-2006

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    Brendan Shanahan began and ended his career with the New Jersey Devils and also played for the Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues, and New York Rangers.

    Still, to most people, and even to himself, he will always be a Detroit Red Wing.

    Shanahan came to Detroit in the 1996-97 season and promptly went on to lead the team in scoring that year.

    His ability to overpower defenders and rip blistering shots past goalies was reminiscent of Gordie Howe, as was his willingness to drop the gloves in aid of his teammates.

    Shanahan was the power forward Detroit knew it was missing in previous season and, with him in the line-up, finally managed to end their 42-year Cup drought in 1997.

    Winner of three Stanley Cups with Detroit, Shanahan will be long remembered as the final piece of a puzzle that began a mini dynasty.

10. Norm Ullman: 1955-68

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    To this day, Norm Ullman is still considered one of the very best centers in NHL history and certainly one of the best the Red Wings ever had.

    Ullman's speed, puck-handling ability and fore-checking skills (a talent he perfected and others emulated) earned him the honor of centering a line flanked by Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in just his second season in Detroit.

    Ullman's conditioning and commitment to playing both ends of the ice were legendary and leave some convinced that, were he to be transported today's ultra-fast, highly-skilled game that is the "new NHL," Ullman would be a force to be reckoned with.

    And talk about consistency, though he left the Red Wings over 40 years ago, he remains sixth all time in franchise points (758), goals (324) and assists (434).

    Decades after Ullman's departure, players like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Datsyuk gained wide renown for being "proto-typical, two-way forwards." However, the true prototype was their Red Wings ancestor, Norm Ullman.

9. Red Kelly: 1947-60

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    Before Nicklas Lidstrom emerged as a living legend in Detroit, Red Kelly was widely considered to be the franchise's best defenseman ever.

    Kelly was an excellent skater, superb checker and virtually defined what it meant to be an offensive defenseman in the NHL.

    He was outstanding in every area of the game and used his superior puck-handling and passing skills to propel the daunting offensive attack Detroit became known for the in the 1950's.

    Additionally, he was able to play as a forward when the need arose, something he did when Gordie Howe went down to injury in the 1950 playoffs.

    Kelly and the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup that year, sparking a string of four Stanley Cup championships throughout the decade.

    Kelly's career in Detroit came to an ignoble end in 1960.

    After playing through a broken ankle the following season, Kelly revealed the injury to a reporter after the Wings finished out of the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.

    So incensed by Kelly's candor (injuries were a closely guarded secret in those days, even more so than today), general manager Jack Adams traded Kelly to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Upon arriving in Toronto, Leafs' coach Punch Imlach wanted to further utilize Kelly's offensive skills by making him a center.

    Kelly continued his career in that position until he retired as a Leaf in 1967, but not before winning another four Stanley Cups with the franchise including three in a row from 1961-64.

    Given his importance to both teams, Kelly would likely the only player in NHL history to legitimately emerge as a Top 10 player for both the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings.

8. Sergei Fedorov: 1990-2003

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    Though his departure from Detroit and relationship to the team since leaving was and remains tumultuous, there's no denying that No. 91 is one of the greatest Red Wings of all time.

    Fedorov was drafted in the fourth round of the 1989 Entry Draft and arrived in Detroit the following year.  How he got there reads like a spy novel.

    While participating in the Goodwill Games in Seattle, Fedorov, assisted by Red Wings management, managed to sneak out of his hotel room, into a waiting car and onto an airplane bound for Detroit.

    As the Soviet Union forbade its players from playing in North America without express consent and stipulations, defection was the only way Fedorov was going to start his NHL career on his own terms.

    By 1994, Fedorov was considered one of, if not the best player in the NHL. 

    That year, he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the most outstanding player in the league voted on by his fellow players.

    He also finished second in scoring that year to Wayne Gretzky and scored 56 goals.

    For much of his career in Detroit, teammates and opponents alike described him as three perfect players in one.

    He was a tremendous goal-scorer, world-class passer, and outstanding defensive player.

    His intelligence and skating ability allowed head coach Scotty Bowman to put Fedorov on the blue-line as a defenseman for extended stretches of time (something Fedorov often viewed as punishment, but Bowman saw as a compliment). 

    In fact, Bowman remarked, in all seriousness, that had he played as a defenseman for an entire season, he'd probably add a Norris Trophy to his impressive collection of hardware.

    Fedorov is in the top five in goal scoring, assists and points all time for Detroit.

    Despite his contentious departure and hostile comments regarding his former coach in Detroit, the remains few players that did more for the Red Wings during their tenure than Sergei Fedorov.

7. Sid Abel: 1938-43, 1945-52

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    In case you haven't noticed, we're now deep into serious legend territory.

    If you've watched hockey with even moderate regularity, you've likely seen the following:

    A forward line starts a breakout out of their zone, the left winger shoots the puck hard into the corner of the offensive zone, rimming the puck around the back boards and popping it out somewhere in front of the goal. 

    The right-wing collects the puck and passes to the center, who has been trailing both wingers and is now high in the slot.  The center either skates in and scores, or passes back to the left wing for an easy lay-up.

    Sound familiar?  Sure it does, it's a classic set play and it was invented by Sid Abel and Detroit's famous "Production Line."

    In the late 1940's, Sid Abel was an aging, yet talented center that could still set up his line-mates, but lacked the speed to do so with high regularity.

    Two young and tough wingers named Gordie and Ted had only been with Detroit a couple of years, but had already emerged as the team's brightest stars.

    Head coach Tommy Ivan figured that, with the speed and skill of the two young wingers, Abel's passing ability could be put to better use given that he wouldn't need to carry the play as much with two speedsters on his line.

    Thus, the line of Lindsay, Able and Howe was born and with it, an entire new way in which to create offense in the NHL.

    Sid Abel was the elder statesmen that allowed Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay to become household names in Detroit and though his skill level was eclipsed by his two young line-mates, he was still the heart of the most famous line in hockey history.

6. Ted Lindsay: 1944-57, 1964-65

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    You've just read about the innovations developed on the production line, but, it's left wing component, Ted Lindsay, led to some hockey innovations all on his own.

    For one thing, he was one of the pioneering organizers of the NHL Players Union (an activity that actually got him traded out of Detroit).

    The reason players lift the Stanley Cup over their heads today is because Lindsay did it in 1952, although he did it just to make sure the fans in the stands could see it clearly, it remains the defining act of NHL victory to this day.

    Additionally, you may have heard of "elbowing" and "kneeing" penalties being called in the NHL?

    Well, we have Ted to thank for that too because, up until he entered the league, there were no such penalties in the rule book.

    Nicknamed "Terrible Ted", Lindsay was an absolutely vicious competitor. On top of his lightning-quick speed and awesome offensive skills, Lindsay was known to slash, punch, elbow, knee and head-butt anyone stupid enough to try and stop him from doing what he wanted to on the ice.

    At only 5'8", Lindsay didn't have the size to intimidate his opponents the way his buddy, Gordie Howe did.

    So, he resorted to sheer ruthlessness to make sure that if someone messed with him once, they'd think long and hard before doing it again.

    Ted Lindsay was part of four Stanley Cup Championships in Detroit and is fifth all-time in franchise goal-scoring with 335.

    At age 85, Ted Lindsay still has a locker in the Detroit dressing room and will even take the ice on occasion. 

    When he does, the current Wings give him all the room he likes; partly out of respect, but mostly out of fear.

5. Terry Sawchuk: 1949-55, 1957-64, 1968-69

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    The next time you're at the dentist and stop from wincing when the dentist drills into your tooth and, as such, believe yourself to be a tough guy; take a look at this picture and get over yourself.

    Terry Sawchuk was born into a poor, Ukranian family in Canada and his hard upbringing set the tone for how he would live the rest of his life.

    When he was a kid, he broke his elbow playing football.  Afraid his parents would beat him for doing something so stupid, he never revealed the injury and, as a result, his left arm grew to be a few inches shorter than his right.

    Sawchuk won the Calder Trophy in 1951 and followed up his rookie season by winning the Vezina and the Stanley Cup the following year.

    In the days before back-up goalies and goalie masks, Sawchuk played through face lacerations, broken bones, a collapsed lung, ruptured vertebrae as well as chronic depression to become one of the best goalies in NHL history.

    Sawchuk won three Stanley Cups with Detroit and recorded 351 in his three separate stints with the organization.

    His skill in goal was overshadowed only by his beyond-human toughness.

    Sawchuk embodied the soul of the city of Detroit, as it was then, and as it was today; tough times are no match for tougher people.

4. Alex Delvecchio: 1950-74

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    When the Production Line was first formed in 1947, Delvecchio was a 16-year-old kid.

    However, by 1952, he was the one centering Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe which led to the third of four championships the team would win in the 1950s.

    A supremely intelligent passer and graceful skater, Delvecchio was also a gentlemanly player and won the Lady Byng Trophy three times over his career.

    Then again, with bruisers like Howe and Lindsay on his line, there wouldn't have been much room for more aggression anyway.

    Delvecchio is third all-time in points, goals, and assists by a Red Wing and remains the longest-tenured Red Wing (24 years) of all time, which is also good for the longest tenure of any player with one team in the history of the NHL.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom: 1991-Present

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    When discussing certain players, there comes a point where any further opinion, observation, or recitation of achievements really becomes a masturbatory exercise.

    Such is the case with Nicklas Lidstrom.

    Suffice to say that no other defenseman in the history of the Detroit Red Wings has been as important to the franchise than Nicklas Lidstrom. 

    And, should the franchise last another 85 years, the same statement could be made then and would likely still be true.

    No one will ever wear No. 5 again in Detroit and, if the league decided to retire the number all together (something they won't do, but, they could), there wouldn't be much if any argument from other organizations.

    Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman not named Bobby Orr ever to play the game of hockey, period.

    Red Wings fans have had, and continue to have, the privilege of calling him our own for 19 years and counting, and for that, we are eternally grateful.

2. Gordie Howe: 1946-71

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    Yep, this is probably a bit of a shock.

    Go ahead and get your most cutting insults ready to post, but, I'd ask that you wait until the end of the next slide to post it.

    In all honesty, once you get past the stratosphere of Detroit Red Wings hockey within which Nicklas Lidstrom resides, any rankings really become meaningless as you have essentially left the mortal world and are now in the realm of gods.

    In another 100 years, provided NHL hockey is still around (I know, stop laughing), the name "Gordie Howe" will still be relevant to the discussion of the greatest players to ever play the game.

    From his fearsome physical ability, to his ambidextrous shooting skills, to his mind-boggling point totals, Gordie Howe is a player few, if any, players could be compared to with any degree of seriousness.

    He is, and always will be, Mr. Hockey.

1. Steve Yzerman: 1983-2006

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    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    Steve Yzerman's favorite non-hockey athlete is Muhammad Ali.

    This is strange considering you'd be hard-pressed to find an athlete whose persona is as far from Muhammad Ali's than that of Steven Gregory Yzerman.

    But, if birds of a feather truly flock together (that sounds like the start of an Ali quote, doesn't it?), then it makes sense that Yzerman feels some connection to the Greatest Of All Time.

    When Jimmy Devellano drafted Steve Yzerman in the first round of the 1983 Entry Draft, he said he was looking for a kid that had the Whinged-Wheel tattooed on his chest.

    That's exactly what they got, and more, out of Steve Yzerman.

    In his 23 years with the Detroit Red Wings, there isn't a single thing the team needed that Steve Yzerman did not provide.

    Scoring? Check.

    Leadership? Check.

    Defense? Check.

    A championship? Check, check and check.

    During Yzerman's tenure with the team, the man and the organization seemed to merge one with the other.

    Steve Yzerman was the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Red Wings were Steve Yzerman.

    He came to embody everything that Red Wings hockey, and, for my money, hockey in general is about: skill, leadership, passion, humility, brotherhood, self-sacrifice, and honor.

    There are some players that still get compared to Steve Yzerman inasmuch as they resemble the same amazing offensive talents he displayed throughout his career.

    Indeed, the star center for the team he now leads as GM, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has often been compared to his new boss.

    However, it will be years, perhaps decades, before Stamkos or any other player will emerge to become to their team everything that Yzerman was to Detroit.

    Honestly, it may never happen.

    The debate between who is the greatest Red Wings ever, Howe or Yzerman, is hardly a debate at all. 

    They both gave so much to the team and meant so much to hockey that the best assessment may be to simply assign them randomly as 1A and 1B on an all-time greatest list.

    Additionally, each would point to the other if asked who the greatest ever really was.

    But, for my part, "Detroit Red Wings" and "Steve Yzerman" will always be one in the same. 

     

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