The Detroit Red Wings are nearly halfway through their third season of play at the new Little Caesars Arena, but the venue isn’t complete.
Sergei Fedorov’s famous number 91 needs to be raised to the rafters.
The Red Wings seemingly adopted Fedorov when they helped him secretly defect from the Soviet Union in 1990. For the better part of a decade, Fedorov went on to become among the most dynamic, explosive, and exciting players not only to don the Winged Wheel but in the entire National Hockey League.
He won the 1994 Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player as well as the Selke Trophy in 1994 and 1996 as the NHL’s best defensive forward. During his entire Red Wings career, he scored 400 goals – many of which will forever remain on NHL highlight reels. Fedorov also received praise from figures such as Wayne Gretzky, who stated: “I have never seen a player dominate the game the way Sergei did.”
Of course, Fedorov was also an integral part of three Stanley Cup champion winning teams in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
The alleged theories as to why his number isn’t officially and permanently enshrined in team history are well known. The first instance goes back to Fedorov’s infamous signing of a heavy front-loaded offer sheet from the Carolina Hurricanes, who are run by Peter Karmanos – a bitter business adversary of the late Mike Ilitch. What better way to stick it to your rival by poaching one of his best players?
The Red Wings reluctantly matched Carolina’s offer, and were forced to pay Fedorov a total of $28 million (most of which were bonuses) for the 1997-98 season alone.
Secondly was the well-publicized ultimate divorce from the Red Wings, leaving to sign a free-agent deal with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the summer of 2003 (who had just swept Detroit from the playoffs months earlier) for less money than he was offered by Detroit. The bolt left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans, and they mercilessly booed Fedorov upon his return to Detroit with the Mighty Ducks in December of 2003.
All of this, however, occurred well over a decade ago. Fans seemed to have softened their stance on Fedorov, whom they adored and then viewed as a modern-day Benedict Arnold.
Fedorov was warmly received by the fans during the 2014 Winter Classic Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park that preceded the Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Additionally, he was given a standing ovation when he dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff in November of 2015 at Joe Louis Arena shortly after his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He also admitted that while he’d feel honored to have his number retired, he’s still going to look back fondly at his memories with the team no matter what.
“I don’t want to put any pressure. It’s going to be a great honor if it happens,” Fedorov said. “If it’s not, it’s still (an honor) to be a part of it for 13 seasons here, three Cups and celebrations, rallies, victory rallies. What else can you wish for?”
The Detroit Pistons did the right thing and looked past the bitter departure of defensive star Ben Wallace to the Chicago Bulls in 2006, retiring his No. 3 permanently in 2003. There’s absolutely no reason why the Red Wings can’t do the same with Fedorov, whose accolades far outweigh what Wallace brought to Detroit.
When you think of all-time Red Wings greats, Sergei Fedorov is right there with Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Gordie Howe, and Ted Lindsay amongst others. Number 91 needs to be right next to numbers 1 (Terry Sawchuck), 5 (Lidstrom), 7 (Lindsay), 9 (Howe), 10 (Alex Delvecchio) 12 (Sid Abel), and 19 (Yzerman).
It’s time to let bygones be bygones. It’s impossible to ignore the legacy of Fedorov and the undeniable accomplishments that were as much a part of the Red Wings success as anyone’s.
Little Caesars Arena won’t be fully finished without the extra detail of another retired number taking its rightful place in the rafters.