We’re counting down our list of former Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland‘s best free-agent signings during his time in the Motor City. For anyone who may have missed a few names prior to our final entry on the list, here are the first four:
And with that, we’re down to his best free-agent signing. And while the Red Wings didn’t have to look too far to (re)gain his services, this decision prevented what could have been a startling change. And it absolutely was the right call.
No. 1 – Matching the Carolina Hurricanes offer sheet for Sergei Fedorov
Sergei Fedorov continues to be one of the more polarizing figures in Detroit sports history. An absolute dominating presence in the Winged Wheel from the moment he risked everything by defecting from the former Soviet Union, Fedorov provided Red Wings fans with some of the most dazzling highlights they’d ever seen. He earned the 1994 Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, and played an instramental role in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Detroit in 1997 for the first time in 42 years.
But that’s when things hit a snag. Fedorov wanted a new deal and sat out the first half of the 1997-98 season, even going as far as saying that he didn’t want to play for the team anymore.
And that’s when Peter Karmanos and the Carolina Hurricanes came calling. Karmanos and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch were bitter business rivals, and there would be no better way for Karmanos to metaphorically stick his thumb in Ilitch’s eye than to poach one of the key superstars away to North Carolina. Fedorov was offered a jaw dropping offer sheet. Per
Just $12 million of the $38 million is Fedorov’s base salary, which will be paid at $2 million per year. He will receive a $14 million signing bonus, which will bump him to $16 million this year, leaving a final $12 million.
But that’s the kicker, a scare tactic the Hurricanes hope discourages Detroit owner Mike Ilitch from matching the offer. The $12 million will be paid to Fedorov over the next four years unless the team reaches the conference finals. Then the bonus must be paid in one lump sum. – Michael Russo, 1998
Fedorov signed the offer sheet, which meant that if the Red Wings decided not to match it, they’d receive Carolina’s five first-round draft picks as compensation.
However, the call was made to retain Fedorov. Detroit matched the offer sheet and subsequently paid the Russian star a cool $28 million for playing in half of the season – a record that still stands to this day. Of course, that bitter pill was made a bit easier to swallow after Fedorov led the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals scored and helped the Red Wings repeat as Cup champions.
The next contract stalemate didn’t go as well, however. Fedorov would reject multiple offers from the team in 2003 and would bolt for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who had just swept the Red Wings in the playoffs just months earlier.
Despite the messy divorce, Holland and Co. absolutely made the correct call in bringing Fedorov back to Detroit, even if it took a while for teammates and fans to warm up to him again.