When it comes to ranking athletes across all time, fans probably overrate the stars they watched in youth. Just Wide is not exempt from this tendency. But it’s hard to deny the greatness of Sergei Fedorov.
As a Red Wing, he won the Stanley Cup three times and the League MVP Hart Trophy once — the first European player to do so. He’s fourth on the team’s list of all-time top goal scorers with an even 400, behind only Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, and Alex Delvecchio — undisputed franchise royalty all, whose numbers are retired. He owns the team’s sixth-highest points total (between Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk), and ranks 11th in games played.
Impressively, Fedorov is fourth among all Red Wings in points per game, despite playing in a relatively low-scoring era. The top three spots in this category belong to Marcel Dionne, Yzerman, and Howe. (Dionne only spent his first four NHL seasons as a Red Wing. His number 16 hangs in L.A., where he played the next dozen.)
Stats aside, he was electrifying to watch. He was fast as hell, but such a smooth skater his speed seemed effortless — and deceptive, right up to the point where he’d break easily away from opponents at the visible limits of their exertion. “He could do things at a higher speed than anyone else,” Nick Lidstrom said. “He was so much fun to play with.”
In 1996, teammate Steve Yzerman said Sergei was “the most talented player I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think there’s any reason why he shouldn’t dominate every night.” High praise from the captain — but also loaded with an implicit, familiar criticism of Fedorov’s game. His detractors said he was inconsistent. Commentators with an axe to grind about European players said he lacked heart in the playoffs. (Fedorov is fifth among all Red Wings in playoff goals, third in assists, and third in points.) This appraisal, that Fedorov could be dazzling whenever he wanted, he just didn’t always want, seems unfair in retrospect. Has it kept his jersey out of the rafters?
Or maybe it’s just down to residual ill will from the end of Fedorov’s tenure in Detroit? He only played 21 games of the 1997-98 season holding out over his contract. When that deal expired, he left the Wings to play in Anaheim for a reduced salary. Is the front office still nursing a grudge?
In 2018, owner Chris Ilitch said “these are things that take time, a lot of consideration, a lot of discussion… Our staff, our team is very deliberate in that conversation, we’ll continue to be that way. It’s an Original Six franchise, it’s been around for a long time and I think when the franchise makes these types of moves, we want it to be right. We will certainly do that for all the Red Wings legends that played for our franchise, including 91 and [Henrik Zetterberg’s number] 40.”
In almost a century of existence, Detroit has only retired the numbers of eight players: Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, Sid Abel, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Red Kelly. Among Original Six teams, only Chicago has retired fewer (seven). The Canadian teams have retired the most — nineteen in Toronto and eighteen in Montreal — but you have to factor in the exchange rate, right?
While you ponder the mystery of #91’s absence from the honor roll at Little Caesars Arena, enjoy this awesome moment from Fedorov’s career. It’s 1996, early in what’s shaping up to be a thrilling season for Wings fans, and Sergei scores all five Detroit goals in a 5-4 overtime win against the Capitals. He’s the first Red Wing to score five goals in a game, and the first player on any NHL team to be his team’s lone goal scorer with that many. It’s an awesome display by Fedorov, but also an incredible demonstration of the skill of the Russian Five, their vision and passing opening up the ice in an era known for smothering defensive play: