7 NHL Careers That Were Rejuvenated by a Move to the Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are always thought of as one of the best run organizations in sports. While not perfect, they seem to get so many player moves right.
Prior to the salary cap era, they were known as the team that players wanted to go to in the twilight of their careers. The team could easily mold them into their system without requiring them to carry the load. Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Dominik Hasek are just a few of the players who joined the team for one last Stanley Cup run.
They also have a knack for making some great drafts picks. Henrik Zetterberg (210), Pavel Datsyuk ( 171) and Tomas Holmstrom (257) were all late-pick steals in the draft.
One area that gets overlooked is how the Red Wings have had a knack for helping players resurrect or even jump start their careers. They have found players who were once highly touted but never materialized, they have had veteran players who many thought were done have a second life in Detroit and they seemingly pulled players off of the NHL trash heap and made them solid players.
For various reasons Mike Commodore, Chris Conner and Fabian Brunnstrom are all current players looking for that spark to their career that the Red Wings seems to be able to provide. They hope to follow in the footsteps of other players who have done well once they came to Detroit.
Here are seven players who had their careers rejuvenated once they arrived in Hockeytown.
7. Mike Vernon
Vernon was a Stanley Cup winning goalie with the Calgary Flames in 1989. Once he arrived in Calgary midway through the 1985-86 season, he quickly wrestled the starting job away, and by the start of the next season, was the uncontested starter. He was able to win the Presidents' Trophy twice as the league’s top team in the regular season.
Following the Stanley Cup win in 1989, the team missed the playoffs one season and failed to win a playoff series in the other four. The lack of playoff success led the Flames to decide to trade Vernon to the Red Wings.
He led the Wings to the finals in two of his three seasons here, and in his final season, helped to end the 42-year Stanley Cup drought. Vernon has three of his best seasons while with the Wings.
He had averaged 3.24 goals against while playing in Calgary. That number dropped to 2.40 in Detroit. During the Stanley Cup winning 1997 playoffs, he had a remarkable 1.76 goals against and won the Conn Smythe trophy for his efforts.
6. Mikael Samuelsson
Samuelsson broke into the league with the New York Rangers during the 2001-02 season. He could not seem to find a place though as he played on four teams during his first five seasons.
He never scored more than eight goals, and the most points he had in a season was 22 during those first four seasons. During the lockout season, he headed to Europe to play. The Red Wings saw something they liked in him and signed him once the league was back in business. After all the jumping around early in his career, he found stability and played four seasons in Detroit.
He became a scoring threat on the team, especially on the power-play unit. After only scoring three power-play goals in his career, he scored seven in his first season in Detroit. He would go onto to score 23 power-play goals during his four seasons.
In his first season in Detroit, he would double his previous best point total output as he had 45. He goal numbers made an impressive jump also as his 23 goals nearly quadrupled his previous best.
He would hit the 40-point mark in three of his four seasons in Detroit, and the fourth he still had 24 points despite only playing in 53 games due to injuries. He would also win the Stanley Cup while with Detroit.
His stellar play in Detroit led to teams being interested in him when he hit the free-agent market in 2009. He would sign with Vancouver.
5. Frank Mahovlich
Mahovlich was a driving force of the Toronto Maple Leaf teams of the 1960s and won four Stanley Cups with them. He led the team in scoring for their three Cup wins from 1962-64.
A contract dispute began an ongoing bitterness between Mahovlich and the Leafs coach and general manager Punch Imlach continually weighed in on Mahovlich. His scoring dropped from his team record 48 in 1960-61 to 18 by the 1966-67 season. He had a couple bouts of depression that led to him being hospitalized.
He was traded to the Red Wings during the 1967-68 season. The following season, he had his renaissance year as he would score a career-best 49 goals. He followed that up with a 38-goal season.
He was off to another strong start on 1970 when he scored 14 goals in the first 35 games. He was then traded the Montreal.
4. Ray Sheppard
Sheppard entered the league as a highly touted offensive threat. In his final season in the OHL, he led the league with 81 goals and 142 points. He joined Buffalo for the 1987-88 season and did not disappoint as he scored 38 goals and 65 points while making the All-Rookie team.
His production fell off the next season to 22 goals and 43 points. He started his third season with the team and still was not near his rookie season numbers. After 18 games, he was traded to the New York Rangers. He topped the 20-goal mark with Rangers, but everyone was looking for more.
He signed a free-agent deal with Detroit in 1991 and really took off. He would play four full seasons in Detroit and would have three of his four best career seasons while in Detroit. He topped 30 goals in his first two seasons then exploded with a career-best 52 goals in 1993-94 to go along with his 93 points.
The following season, he shortened due to the strike. He scored 30 goals in only 43 games. He was on pace for a 57-goal season over a full season. Five games into the 1995-96 season, he was traded to San Jose.
3. Todd Bertuzzi
He had played in Vancouver where he was a consistent scorer for the team. He topped 25 goals in each of the five seasons where he played at least 70 games. He had a career-best 46 goals during the 2002-03 season.
While his play in Detroit has not matched those of his early years in Vancouver, he did not come to Detroit for a rejuvenation in his production. He was in need of an image makeover.
In March of 2004, Bertuzzi was involved in an ugly on-ice incident during a game against the Colorado Avalanche. Bertuzzi and his Canuck teammates were angry over what they viewed as a dirty hit by Steve Moore during a game a few weeks before that had injured their leading scorer Markus Naslund.
During the rematch in Vancouver, Bertuzzi tried to start a fight with Moore who refused. Eventually Bertuzzi sucker punched Moore from behind and rode him into the ice. Moore lay motionless on the ice with severe neck injuries which included three broken vertebrae and a serious concussion. Bertuzzi was not only suspended from the NHL but also international play.
He bounced around the league, playing for five teams in four seasons between 2005 and 2009, including an eight-game stint with Detroit. He ended up back in Detroit starting in 2009 and is now in his third season with the team.
He is still a bruising force and doesn’t shy away from contact, but he has never approached the level of penalty minutes he had earlier in his career. His high of 144 has dropped to 80.
His play in Detroit has not been as productive on the stat sheet, but his image has been helped. He will forever have to live with his action from the Moore hit, but in Detroit, he has been able to play an important role that shows it was a one-time mistake and not a habit.
2. Dan Cleary
Cleary had a great minor league career. In his first three seasons in the OHL, he averaged 37 goals a season with a best of 53. He would average 92 points over those seasons, almost 1.5 points a game. His great play led the Chicago Blackhawks to draft with the 13th pick in the first round of the 1997 draft.
He would only play in 41 games in a Blackhawk uniform as he never really found his stride. They traded him to Edmonton where they eventually bought out his contract. He ended up in Phoenix where he only played for one season as they did not offer him another contract.
He played in Sweden during the lockout but still did not have any type of standout year. Once the lockout was settled, he was without an NHL team until Detroit offered him a tryout. He made the team as a role player.
In his second year, he really blossomed as he scored 20 goals. He would reach the 20-goal mark in three of his first six seasons in Detroit with a best of 26 in 2010-11. He was instrumental in the Wings Stanley Cup winning playoff run of 2008 and has been a top-five goal scorer for the team.
1. Kris Draper
Draper was drafted by Winnipeg in 1989. He bounced between the minors and Jets over the next few seasons. His best performance came in a 35-game stint with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s where he had 19 goals and 42 assist. He was not able to repeat that success though.
He only was able to play 20 games with Winnipeg and only had three points, all on goals. In what may go down as one of the best trades of all time, the Red Wings were able to acquire Draper for only $1. He barely even had a career for the Wings to rejuvenate.
He started his first season in the franchise with their AHL team the Adirondack Red Wings. He would score 20 goals and 43 points in only 46 games. He finished the season with Detroit.
While he would never become a high scoring player he did have a career best 24 in 2003-04 and had five seasons with double digit goals. His true asset was as an energetic defensive forward and locker room presence.
He found his niche on the Wings as a member of the beloved Grind Line. His line was known for being able to shut down an opposing team’s top line while providing an energetic boost to the team. He also won the Selke trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2003-04 season.
In the locker room, Draper became a team leader and eventually wore the “A” as the team’s alternate captain. He would go on to play in 1,157 games for Detroit—the fifth most in team history. He would also win four Stanley Cups with the team. Not a bad deal for $1.