Detroit Red Wings: The 3 Best Players at Each Position in Franchise History

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIJune 22, 2011

Detroit Red Wings: The 3 Best Players at Each Position in Franchise History

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    The Detroit Red Wings are one of the most successful franchises in the NHL. Their list of great players reads like a who’s who of hockey history.

    How many other teams have so many players that are in the debate for best all time around the NHL?  The Wings have players in the best defensemen, best player, best captain and best goalie of all time debates.

    As with any list, there are some surprises.  The Wings have a deep history in amazing centers and left wingers.  For just about every player picked, there was an easy argument for one left off the list.  Other teams would have loved to have had the centers and left wingers that did not make the list. 

    While not weak by any means, the defense and right wing is not nearly as deep as centers and left wings.  Of course, many players move between the center and wings, however; they were considered for the positions that the Red Wings have listed them as.

    Another surprise was that beyond the first two goalies how steep the drop off is to the next goalie.  Now, part of that may be due to how long the top two were able to play for the Wings; combined, they controlled the net for 1,299 games.  Still, for a team that has won 11 Stanley Cups, 19 division titles and six Presidents Trophies, I would think that they would have had a deeper goalie history.

    Let the debates begin.  Here are the top three players at each position for the Detroit Red Wings

No. 1 Center: Steve Yzerman

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    No surprise here, as Yzerman is one of the all-time NHL greats and the greatest center in Red Wings history.  The greatest Red Wing debate comes down to Howe and Yzerman, but luckily for this list, they play different positions.  

    Yzerman had two very different halves of a career.  Early on, he was a tremendous scorer, as he averaged over 42 goals a season.  He scored more than 50 goals four times in his first 10 seasons, two of which were over 60 goals.  Two of those first 10 seasons also saw significant game time missed due to injury, so if could be argued he went over 50 goals in four of his first eight full seasons.

    Half way through his career, he went through a change that few players of his caliber would have dared to try.  In doing so, he became one of the best two way players in the game.  Among his many accolades was the 2000 Selke award as the best defensive forward.  The change in style did allow him the raise the Stanley Cup three times. Unfortunately, this meant that his 50 and 60 goal seasons were in the past.  Without that move, he may have not won the Cup, but he was on pace to eclipse Howe’s scoring marks.

    He ranks among the NHL’s top 10 in goals, assist, points, shorthanded goals, game-winning goals and playoff points.

    His stats:  692 goals, 1,063 assists and 1,755 points

No. 2 Center: Alex Delvecchio

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    Delvecchio was the ultimate team player.  He played 22 seasons in the NHL, all with the Detroit Red Wings.  While he never lead the team in scoring for any one season, at his retirement, he ranked second in most offensive stats in team history.  Even today, only Yzerman has passed him in Red Wings lore. That is a testimate to his consistency and longetivity.

    He helped the Wings win three Stanley Cups, was elected to 13 All-Star games and won the Lady Byng Trophy three times.

    Games played :1,549, 456 Goals,  825 assists, 1,281 points 

No. 3: Center Sergei Fedorov

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    While primarily a center, his skill was so great that coach Scotty Bowman used him at defense on several occasions, and he excelled there as well.  In fact, Wings VP Jimmy Devellano said of Fedorov’s time on defense that "I’m convinced if we left him there, he’d have won a Norris Trophy,"

    While his later years in Detroit seemed to revolve around money and contract disputes, there is no denying his playing greatness and what he meant to the Wings.  He is top four in most Red Wing offensive categories.

    He also won the Lester B. Pearson and Hart Trophy during his time with the Wings.  He is the only player to win the Selke and Hart trophy in the same season.  He also is the highest scoring Russian Player in NHL history (473).

    Stats as a Red Wing: Games Played 908, 400 goals, 554 assists, 954 points

    Honorable Mention:  Pavel Datsyuk, Norm Ullman

No. 1 RW: Gordie Howe

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    When you are called Mr. Hockey, it pretty much sums up your greatness and importance to the game. Howe has a level of scoring, toughness and longetivity that will not be matched.  He is easily considered among the two or three best players to ever.  He won six Art Ross Trophies, six Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups.  He is the most complete all around player to ever lace up the skates.   He didn’t need a bodyguard on the ice to protect him, as he scored just as quick as he would drop the gloves.  He was feared around the league as much for his scoring ability as he was for his punches.  That tenacity and skill brought the term Gordie Howe hat trick into existence, which consisted of a goal, assist and a fight.  

    When he retired, he owned just about every major scoring record and even today still ranks second in goals, third in points and eighth in assists in NHL history.  He ranked in the top five in scoring in the NHL  for a mind boggling 20 straight years.

    Red Wings stats: 1,687 games played, 786 goals, 1,023 assists, 1,809 points

No. 2 RW: Mickey Redmond

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    While not playing as many years with the team as others on the list, Redmond has carved his name into the team records.  In the 1972-73 season, he became the first Red Wing to score 50 goals in a season and only the seventh in league history.  The next season, he topped that mark again, becoming only the third player to reach that mark in back to back seasons.

    He was a great shooter and was a killer on the power play. He had an incredibly quick release on his shot that was also very hard.  A back injury forced him to retire early; otherwise, he would had ended up much higher on the teams stats list.

    Wings Stats: 317 Games played, 177 goals, 133 assists, 310 points

No. 3 RW: Darren McCarty

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    Stats are an easy way to determine greatness, but heart, determination and passion are much more difficult to measure yet equally important.  McCarty should be the measuring stick for those three areas. While Yzerman was the leader of the team, McCarty was the heart.

    He was a part of the much beloved Grind Line in Detroit.  His role, along with linemates Kris Draper and Kirk Matlby, was to shut down the opposing team’s top line.  He, and they, were very successful at that.  He was an intregal part of four Stanley Cup wins with the Wings.

    McCarty was also an enforcer on the team and made sure the likes of Yzerman and Fedorov  were well protected.  He is among the team leaders in penalty minutes.  As the video shows, he was capable of scoring as well.

    Wings Stats: 659 games played, 120 goals, 155 assists, 275 points, 1,302 penalty minutes

    Honorable mention: Ray Sheppard, Mud Bruneteau, Johan Franzen

No. 1 LW: Ted Lindsay

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    Lindsay was small by hockey standards at 5’8".  He didn’t let his size slow him down and even earned the nickname Terrible Ted for his toughness.  The league had to develop penalties due to Lindsay’s rough play with his elbows and knees.

    He won the Ross Trophy and was a four time Stanley Cup champ.  He was a member of the famed Production Line with Howe and Abel.  Upon his retirement, he was the all-time NHL leader in scoring for left wings.

    He is also credited with being the first player to raise the Cup and skate around the ice with it after the Wings' 1950 win.

    Wings Stats: 1,514 Games Played, 692 goals, 1,063 assists, 1,755 points

No. 2 LW: Brendan Shanahan

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    Shanahan was already an established player when he came to the Red Wings.  His addition to the team helped them win the Stanley Cup in his first two seasons with the team. In 2002, he won his third Stanley Cup.

    Shanahan possessed an uncanny skill for scoring and yet playing physical.  He is the only player to have 600 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes; over half of both of those stats came as a Red Wing. 

    He had amazing durability, in which he never played under 75 games in any of his nine seasons with the team and was over 80 games in five of those seasons.

    Wing Stats: 856 Games played:  309 goals, 324 assists, 633 points                            

No. 3 LW: Henrik Zetterberg

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    Zetterberg is a tremendous two way player and one of the best in the league.  He has won the Conn Smythe trophy and has been a finalist for the Selke and Calder Trophies.  He often gets overlooked, as he doesn’t have the flash of Datsyuk or the name like Crosby, but his game is just as good as any other player in the league. 

    What makes his play even more impressive is that while being one of the leading scorers for the team, he also ends up playing against the opposing team’s top line, facing the toughest competition on both ends of the ice.

    He has already climbed to 11th in points and goals and is 10th in assists in team history, all while playing in far fewer games then others in the top 10 in those categories.  As he has already signed a very long term deal with the team, expect Zetterberg to reach challenge for the top couple of spots in many Red Wing stats.

     Wings Stats 586 games played, 230 goals, 325 assists, 555 points

    Honorable mention:  John Ogrodnick

No. 1 Defenseman: Nick Lidstrom

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    When the debate over who is the greatest defenseman to ever play the game begins, Lidstrom is on that very short list.  He plays the game on such a different level than others.  It is as though he treats it much like a chess match, as he just out thinks other players.  He has won the Norris Trophy six times, and by the time that this is published, it could be seven.

    He is a tremendous passer with a wicked slap shot and is deadly on the power play.  Part of his greatness isn't only how well he has done over any one season, but that he has been able to maintain such a high level of excellence for 19 seasons.  The great Bobby Orr only played 12 years, and his last two were forgetable. This year, at the age of 41, Lidstrom has earned his 11th Norris Trophy nomination.  

     Just a few of his impressive stats:

    -His career plus-429 rating is 11th all time.  Among active players, he has a 235 lead over the second place player.

    -In the playoffs alone, he is 11th in points, second in games played, sixth in plus/minus and fifth in power play goals and assists.

    -Sixth highest scoring defensemen of all time

    Wings Stats: 1,494 games played, 253 goals, 855 assist, 1,108 points

No. 2 Defenseman: Red Kelly

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    Kelly was one of the first scoring defensemen in the league.  He was just as apt at shutting down the opposing team as he was racing up the ice to score.  He was an all around great player, as he could score, pass, lay a hard check and shut down other team’s top scorers.

    He was a six time first team defensemen, won the Stanley Cup eight times (four with Wings), was a Hart Trophy finalist and won the first ever Norris Trophy.

    When he retired in 1967, he was by far the highest scoring defender to ever play and boasted a 255 point lead over second place.  He would hold that record until Bobby Orr came along.  Even today, Kelly ranks 14th on the all-time defensemen scoring list.

    Wings Stats: 846 games played, 162 goals, 310 assists, 472 points

No. 3 Defenseman: Vladimir Konstantinov

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    Konstantinov seems to mostly be remembered for the horrible limo accident and the subsequent injuries that he suffered following the Wings 1997 cup win.  It often seems that his playing abilities are sometimes forgotten.  He was a devastatingly amazing talent and a dominant force on the ice.   It is hard not to wonder how much more success the Wings would have had if he and Lidstrom had been able to continue playing together.

     Playing defense to him wasn't just his job or role on the team.  No; with him, playing defense was his life's mission and holding the other team from scoring was more than a goal it just had to happen. This mentality lead to his remarkable plus-60 rating during the 1995-96 season.  Only two other defensemen have had a better rating for an entire season since the 1982-83 season.  In fact, since he blew away the league with that number, the average league leader since then has only been plus 42.2. In his five and a half seasons with the team, he was an incredible plus-185.

    He loved doing whatever was needed to get the opposing team off of their game.  The more they focused on him, they less that they were focused on scoring. 

    At the time of the accident, he was already being considered one of the better defenders in the game and had already been a Norris Trophy finalist in his short career. 

    Stats Games Played 446, 47 goals, 127 assists, 174 points,  plus-185

    Honorable Mention: Chris Chelios; Marcel Pronovost

No. 1 Goalie: Terry Sawchuk

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    Sawchuk ranks as one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game.  He was the standard for which goalies attempted to attain. When hockey toughness is thought of, Sawchuk is the face that comes to mind. Known for an incredible toughness, he played through a laundry list of injuries that would have most of us laying in hospital beds. 

    When his career was over, he was the career leader in wins (447) and shutouts (103). He raised the cup three times with the Wings (four overall) and won the Vezina Trophy three times with the Wings (four overall). 

    In his first five seasons in Detroit, his worst, yes worst, goals against average was 1.99 his rookie year. 

    Red Wings Stats: 734 games played, 35 wins, 2.44 goals against

No. 2 Goalie: Chris Osgood

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    Osgood is only the 10th goalie to ever earn 400 wins; 317 have been with Detroit.  Of those ahead of him on the all time wins list, only two have a better goals against average.

    A more in depth look into Osgood's career can be found at:

    He is eighth in playoffs wins and fourth in playoff shutouts. He became the second goalie to ever score a direct goal, is a two time Jennings trophy winner, a Vezina finalist and has raised the Stanley Cup three times.

    Wings Stats: 565 games played, 317 wins, 2.49 goals against average

No. 3 Goalie

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    For all the great success that the Red Wings have had, they really have only had the two great goalies mentioned before.

    Players such as Harry Lumley, Tim Cheveldae and Roger Crozier may rank high on the Wings all-time wins list, but their numbers are very average. Others such as Dominik Hasek, Mike Vernon, Glenn Hall or Curtis Joseph had great careers but did not play long enough with the Red Wings to earn all time Red Wing status.  At this point, Jimmy Howard has a great chance to jump to that number three spot if he progresses at the rate most believe that he can.  After only two seasons as the starter, he is already 12th on the Wings all time-win list.

    A spot in the top three should not just settle on a guy who is third in stats.  It must be earned.  So with that said, there will be no No. 3 goalie on the list as of yet.  Hopefully, Howard will play great over the next few seasons and earn at least the third spot.


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