I'm taking some personal time off from writing a regular column for DSN this week. Though in light of Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios being elected to the Hockey Hall Of Fame this week, I have decided to repost a retrospective on the 2001-02 Red Wings from November 2009.
With the election of Shanahan and Chelios, that awesome collection of talent now has six players in the Hall Of Fame (Yzerman, Robitaille, Hull, Larionov, Shanahan, Chelios) and with Lidstrom, Fedorov, Hasek and Datsyuk all soon to join them in Toronto. We cannot forget that the immortal Scotty Bowman--who was elected in 1991--coached them in his final season.
Last night, Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. While around town, we have only heard about Yzerman's induction, remember all three played on one incredible hockey team. I understand the fawning of Yzerman in light of this moment. Yzerman rejuvenated a franchise with his two hands and a bionic knee.
But it was that 2001-02 season where four inductees in the past two classes, were grouped together and he was the one who stood out. His riveting performance on one leg, in visible pain, carrying the Wings back from an imminent first round upset at the hands of Vancouver. He finished the playoffs with 23 points in 21 games. Yzerman was largely ineffective after the second round series against St.Louis, but he carried the weight of nine other Hall of Famers through the first two rounds.
Yes, nine other Hall of Famers: Larionov, Hull, Robitaille, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Hasek, Chelios, Fedorov and likely Datsyuk, so lets say ten. Yet, this seems to be the forgotten team. I suppose it was for lack of longevity. Really the 2008 Cup winning team has already seemed to suffer a fade in luster and will likely suffer the same relative obscurity.
Nineteen-Ninety-Seven was the first Stanley Cup in 42 years; they won back to back, there was emotion and adversity with the Fedorov hold-out and Konstinov accident. All seems to point towards the back-to-back Cups as being the forever titles. But the bottom line is an assembly of such supreme talent is rare. We didn’t see such an assembly in any other team than 2002. The 2001-02 Red Wings would smoke the back-to-back cup teams, trust me, I know, I have played out this match-up on NHL 2K9 several times.
I am just asking for talent to be appreciated. They finished the regular season 51-17-10; a dominating total of 116 points. But they did not make it boring. Of course there was the aforementioned hiccup against Vancouver in the first round; Detroit fell behind in the series 0-2 and it took a freak center ice goal from Lidstrom (or rather the ineptitude of Dan Cloutier) for Detroit to save themselves.
They played back to back hard fought series against St. Louis and Colorado, both fine teams that season. The series against the Blues seen Chris Pronger injure himself, trying to take out the wounded Yzerman, which is still one of my all-time favorite hockey moments.
The first six games of the 2002 Western Conference was the best display of playoff hockey I had ever seen. The two teams went toe to toe, trading what looked like knock out blow after knock out blow. It wasn’t until a surprise Yzerman goal in game six, paired with another oddly effective Darren McCarty performance, that got the Wings game six in Colorado while facing elimination. Game 7 ended the Avalanche run as a contender and Patrick Roy’s career. Completing the circle of the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry, that for a time, was the best in sports.
Then how about in the Stanley Cup finals? So many people pass that series off as forgettable, but if you don’t remember some key moments of that series, then you simply weren’t paying attention in the first place.
Game 3 of that series was simply put, one of the best Stanley Cup finals games EVER. It sea-sawed back and forth. Hull scored with 1:14 left in the third, on a controversial power play to send it into overtime. Following a couple hit posts and tremendous saves from Irbe and Hasek, it eventually went into a sixth period. Larionov got a great break on a pick set by Dandendault and floated a backhand up over Irbe to end it. This game seems lost in time. Despite had the Wings lost, they would had been down two games to one, with two more games to play in Carolina. It was a beautiful, clutch goal, in a gut-wrenchingly important game, yet it seems overshadowed by Kris Drapper scoring in early overtime of game two in the ‘98 Finals.
Who got the Conn Smythe? It somehow was not Yzerman who lead the team in points on one leg. It somehow wasn’t Hull who lead the team in goals. It somehow wasn’t Hasek who set a record for playoff shut outs with seven. It was Lidstrom who lead the team in ice time, plus-minus, while adding 16 points and only taking one penalty. This was a largely debatable decision rooted in the depth of this team.
So my plea is to take this time and remember not just Yzerman, but that entire 2001-2002 team. Every player, from Sean Avery and Jiri Slegr to Sergei Fedorov and Uwe Krupp. They were an interesting roster, just aside from the all the Hall of Fame talent.
It was for all intents-and-purposes, a rented team. There was a core from ’98 there but the big guns were brought in to make sure the deed would be done. Maybe that is why this team has been swept under the bed. This is a “blue collar town” and that was a “white collar team”. The Red Wings were doing their best Yankees impersonation that season, and like for the Yankees this season, it worked then.
As I was impressed with this seasons Yankees team, I will forever be impressed with the 01-02 Red Wings and will hold them in high reverie. Three players from one Hall of Fame class playing on the same team, was a true privilege to watch. Just hope you knew what you were watching.
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer