Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk and the 11 Most Skilled Players in Team History
Picking the most skilled Red Wings in history is a tricky task. And at times likes these—trying to pull an article like this together that covers so much time that I wasn't around for—I find myself a bit overwhelmed by dusty stories and second-hand accounts of some of the players who obviously must be on this list.
What a wonderful thing to be overwhelmed by, though.
If you are going to have hours of your day consumed by the history of one NHL franchise, it'd be hard to pick one littered with a better crop of players. Arguments could be made for any of the Original Six franchises, but I didn't grow up rooting for those teams. I grew up pulling for the Red Wings.
That being said, I was born in 1987. I just turned 24 this month, so some of these slides are going to be based totally on that aforementioned second-hand information.
But I'd love to start a conversation about some of these older players.
Maybe you go to catch one of these guys towards the end of their careers, or have an interesting anecdote to share. No matter what it is, I'd love to hear it. I don't like having my knowledge of Ted Lindsay limited to a few Google searches.
And, of course, I am sure I overlooked someone or that there is a player you believe should be on the list. So let me hear it.
Worth noting is that these slides are in no particular order. It'd be a ruse for me to rank players I have never seen play. I could base their skills only on stats, but there is so much more to a player than that.
Think about it: When you get older and a young pup fan asks you about Pavel Datsyuk, is the first thing that comes out of your mouth going to be his career point totals? Absolutely not. As such, I refuse to do the equivalent in this space.
As far as I am concerned, however, these twelve are the most highly skilled individuals that have ever worn the Winged Wheel.
This is the second or third time I've been able to write about Sergei Fedorov in the last month or so, and it's been a joy to go back and watch videos and read up to remind myself just how special a player the Red Wings had in Fedorov.
His stride was effortless—I could watch footage of the guy skating and be content for several hours. His shot was laser guided. And his vision was uncanny to the point that he could play both offense and defense.
Former coach Scotty Bowman put Fedorov back on the blueline as a way to boost his icetime, but it ended up working better than anyone thought it would. Bowman recalls a conversation he had with Wayne Gretzky about the move, and The Great One had the following to say about Fedorov:
"I couldn't play forward and defence. Mario couldn't do it. Jagr couldn't play defence. But Sergei could. He was a hell of a player."
And that's a hell of a statement from a guy who knows what he is talking about.
As I wrote last week, his list of accomplishments is so staggering that it is kind of boring to read. The guy won everything at ever level he played at. Not only is Fedorov one of the most talented Red Wings ever, I think he is one of the best players to have ever laced up a pair of skates.
Some guys could score more, or maybe feed the puck better, but only a select few have managed to bundle up all things hockey and do so effectively. He could do it all.
Terry Sawchuck is a name that will live in infamy so long as there is written word.
He is one of the most decorated goaltenders of all time, and is widely regarded as one of the best to ever play the position. He won the Calder Trophy in 1951, the Vezina a mind boggling four times and the Stanley Cup four times, and he was an NHL All-Star eleven times.
Sawchuck would eventually go on to play for four clubs outside of Detroit, but his better years came while he was wearing the Winged Wheel. The first half-decade of his career was particularly stellar. He lead Detroit to three Cups in his first five years with the squad and was the winner of three Vezina trophies during that time.
He also pitched a ridiculous 103 shutouts—a record that was only broken recently by Martin Brodeur.
Just as iconic as his play, however, was Sawchuck's toughness, as he is just as notorious for the injuries he played through and dealt with. For example, he reportedly had taken over 400 stitches to his face before finally adapting his legendary mask.
Sawchuck's prime was cut short by a plethora of mental and physical issues that went mostly untreated and unresolved. Still, for the duration of his time in Detroit he was one of the most skilled and dominating goaltenders, not only of his era, but in League history.
Not many goaltenders can say that the burst onto the NHL scene by pitching 56 shutouts over their first five years, and kept their GAA under 2.00 over that time.
Finding the ultra-talented Norm Ullman shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. He led the league in goals one time in his career, but Ullman stands out because of his remarkable consistency and endless amounts of stamina on the ice.
From what I can tell, Ullman was the Pavel Datsyuk of his day. He used his speed and stick to bewilder opponents and set up his linemates. He worked his way onto Detroit's top unit after only one season with the team, and the Wings never looked back.
Ullman scored 20 or more goals in 16 pro seasons, and racked up 1,229 points in 1,410 games in the League, and is one of the slickest, most talented forwards who has ever called Detroit home.
Red Kelly played through an impressive career for a blueliner. His point totals don't jump off of the page—he put up 823 points in 1,316 games played—but his achievements go far beyond only point totals.
He was a first team All-Star six times, is a Hall of Famer and was No. 22 on The Hockey News' top 100 hockey players of all time. Despite all of these accolades, however, nothing stands out more than the eight Stanley Cup rings that Kelly earned during his playing career.
Four of those championships came with Toronto and four of them came with Detroit. Four Cups in 13 years isn't half bad.
Finding a member of the famed Production Line on this list of skilled players should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite a rich history in talented players, the Wings haven't retired a lot of numbers. Yet when you look to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, there hangs the name Abel.
If that doesn't qualify him as one of the most outstanding skill players in Detroit's history, then I don't know what does. Of course, if the Wings retired all the numbers that Abel wore through his career they may have current skaters wearing doubles.
But still, there his number 12 hangs.
He won the Hart trophy once and was a three-time Stanley Cup Champion with Detroit.
Ted Lindsay was another member of Detroit's Production Line, also has his number retired from circulation with the Wings, and would have probably retired a Red Wing had he not helped organize the NHLPA in the late-1950s.
Few players, either former or current, have had a greater impact on the game away from the ice. Lindsay was instrumental in piecing together a Players Union, and for that he'll always remain among the most important skaters in the history of the game.
He also happens to be one of the most outstanding Red Wings forwards of all time.
Paired with Gordie Howe and Sid Abel, he helped propel Detroit to numerous regular season championships and Stanley Cups. A statue enshrines him on the Joe Louis Arena concourse, and has also had an NHL trophy named after him in recent years.
The Ted Lindsay Award is now given to the NHL's most outstanding player as voted by the members of the Players Association he helped establish.
If there was a consummate Red Wing before Steve Yzerman, it was Alex Delvecchio.
He helped Detroit win the Cup during his first season as a Wing, and would go on to be one of the most memorable, loyal Red Wings ever. He played in 22 seasons with the team, and no other player in League history has played more games with one franchise than Delvecchio.
Because of the teammates he played with he never lead the Red Wings in team scoring, yet would retire second in most scoring categories behind only Gordie Howe in Detroit's history. A lot of his team records have since been broken by Yzerman, but that is hardly anything to be ashamed of.
However, he is still second in games played as a Wing, which is remarkable considering the history of the franchise.
Mr. Hockey is regarded as one of the best skaters to ever play the game, so his place on this list is a no-brainer.
He remained competitive through five decades of play, and is the only pro-hockey player that can claim to have played across that kind of time frame. He won six Hart Trophies to go along with his six Art Ross Trophies. Howe also had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup four times, and played in 23 All-Star Games.
Howe was everything that a hockey player should be. He was a highly skilled individual who had plenty of toughness to match. Mr. Hockey was infamous for throwing elbows at any opposing player that dared get close enough to him, and he was a freight train of a skater.
He was obviously a top notch, multi-generational talent. But the most astonishing feat of his career may be the fact that he was a top-five NHL scorer for 20 consecutive seasons. Try and wrap your head around that one.
Nicklas Lidstrom could very well be the perfect hockey player. He may have lost a stride or two, but he's a bit grey in the beard. Wings fans should have no problem excusing him considering he still has one of the best brains and active sticks in the League.
He has spent his entire career in Detroit, and seems to have every intention of retiring while sporing Red and White. Lidstrom has won seven Norris Trophies as the top blueliner in the League, and could very well break the record for most wins ever by the time he is done.
Among his list of achievements is the fact that he was the first European-born captain to ever win a Cup, and also the first Euro to be named the playoff MVP. The Hockey News wrote that Lidstrom is the best European-born player to ever play in the League, and both the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated selected him as the fifth-best NHL player of the decade from 2000-2010.
Not only is Lidstrom one of the most skilled Red Wings of all time, he is one of the most talented players in history.
As a Red Wings fan there really isn't enough good I can say about Steve Yzerman. How many players have had a "C" attached to their number before it is raised to the rafters?
What the captaincy meant to the Red Wings organization can't be measured by point totals or personal achievement awards. Yzerman came along during the infamous Dead Wings era, anyone could easily assume that he helped save the franchise.
If nothing else, he was the cornerstone in Detroit's long climb back to relevance and respectability.
When he came into the League there was no denying that this was a supremely talented individual. Early in his career, few players could boast the offensive zone acumen that Yzerman possessed. But when Scott Bowman got a hold of him, he demanded more in all three zones.
Yzerman selflessly relinquished personal offensive numbers to become a better two-way player, and the effects of this sacrifice still has repercussions within the franchise to this day. The Red Wings expect their players to be able to play on both sides of the puck and in any given situation.
That all started with Steve Yzerman.
A hot debate in the hockey community these days is who would you rather have on your squad, Pavel Datsyuk or Sidney Crosby.
While it may make a lot more fantasy hockey sense to pick up Sid, I'd have to got with Datsyuk. As mentioned in the previous slide, Detroit players are expected to play all sides of the puck, and no one does that better than this magician of a player.
There isn't a forward around that is better on outright stripping pucks from opposing players, and the creativity that oozes from Datsyuk's every shift will go down in Red Wings lore and will persist long after he has called it a day and retired.
Pav is arguably the biggest draft-day steal ever, and I feel pretty lucky to have been able to watch this guy go from fledgling rookie to heart of a hockey team. As far as sheer talent goes, Datsyuk might surpass all but Howe in that department.
Very debatable obviously, but there is no denying that this is one of the players that Detroit would clone if they could.
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