The topic of jersey retirement is one of great controversy. The recent jersey retirement of Red Kelly turned the gears and had me thinking of other players whose number deserves to be enshrined in Red Wings history. Many fans sit back and wonder why certain jerseys haven’t been retired yet. I’m not a big fan of using this term, but these ten players are well deserving of having their jerseys hung in the rafters. Many on this list are long overdue, so let’s dive in and find out who should join the best of the best.
Special thanks goes to Mark Phillips for his contributions to this article.
10. Pavel Datsyuk
Before I’m chased down by everyone in the city of Detroit with torches and pitchforks, hear me out on this pick. Pavel Datsyuk is deserving of a higher spot on this list. His resume alone is enough to earn him a top-five mention on this list. The only reason he’s ranked in the tenth position is because he and his agent have yet to rule out an NHL return.
Datsyuk is currently retired in the NHL, but is still an active member of the KHL and teased an NHL return in early 2019. So while a return to the Red Wings would be widely accepted across the city, coming out of retirement puts a hold on Datysuk’s jersey retirement. The number 13 will be in the rafters of Little Caesars Arena someday, but not until the Magic Man has officially retired from hockey all together.
Originally, Datsyuk was an honorable mention on this list for that reason, but as stated before, his resume was too good to keep him off the list. Datsyuk’s career in Detroit spanned 14 years, where he skated in 953 games, which ranks 9th all-time amongst all Wings skaters. Throughout his career repping the winged wheel, Datsyuk totalled 314 goals (ranked 8th in Wings history), 604 assists (ranked 6th in Wings history) for 918 career points (7th in Wings history).
Along with these historic stats amongst the greats in Red Wings history, he also has two Stanley Cups under his belt, one from 2002 and the other from 2008. He’s also a three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner and a four-time Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner. The “Magic Man” is best known for his elite defensive play as a forward and his spectacular offensive prowess, that many credit as a massive game-changer in terms of the type of forwards seen now in the NHL. A fan favorite, Datsyuk remains to be a top candidate to have his jersey retired by Detroit’s historic franchise.
9. Bob Probert
The late Bob Probert was a troubled soul. He suffered from addiction to both alcohol and cocaine. He was famously arrested at the U.S./Canadian border and was jailed for a short time.
On the ice he was the ultimate enforcer. Steve Yzerman could simply have not been Yzerman without Probert. No one dared to hit Stevie too hard because they knew that Probert was right around the corner.
Yet, at his best, he wasn’t just a brawler on skates. Probert could actually play a little bit too. During the ’87-’88 season, he scored 29 goals and 33 assists for 62 points. Enforcers are from a bygone era and their contributions are easily overlooked, but Probert is a special case. He gave everything he had to the Red Wings. With Probert, it was always more about what he could do for the team and less about his ego. That kind of selflessness should be rewarded.
8. Darren McCarty
McCarty turned Lemieux into a turtle. Do I really need to say any more? After Claude Lemieux destroyed Kris Draper’s face with a cheap shot the Wings were looking for revenge. It would have to wait almost an entire year, but on March 26th, 1997, the Wings got their revenge. McCarty went looking for Lemieux and he got that coward on the ice covering up while McCarty reigned blows on him.
Oh, he was also a pretty good hockey player. Offense was never really his game, but McCarty could shoot the puck on occasion. He scored the Cup clinching goal against the Flyers in 1997 on a beautiful inside-out move.
For the majority of his career, McCarty was part of the “grind line,” which was always matched up against the opposing team’s best forwards. It was this process as a defensive forward that really allowed McCarty to stand out.
McCarty shut down the best scorers on the other side. He deserves this honor.
7. Brendan Shanahan
The trade that made the Red Wings champions.
When the Red Wings were swept in the Cup Finals by New Jersey, it was clear they were missing something. They had Yzerman (the heart of the team), they had Fedorov (the most dynamic player in the NHL), and they had a strong defensive front. What they lacked was toughness. Keith Primeau was supposed to be that toughness, but he failed to push anyone around.
Shanahan was the last piece of the puzzle. A power-forward who could score, fight, and intimidate. Playing left-wing alongside Yzerman, the two made an excellent pairing. When Fedorov joined them, there wasn’t a better line in the NHL.
Shanny was instrumental to the three cup runs, and his brand of hockey was something that the Red Wings simply didn’t have. He deserves to see his number retired.
6. Vladimir Konstantinov
Sometimes life isn’t fair.
Vladimir Konstantinov should have played for several more years with the Wings. He should have been part of more than one cup run. After the Stanley Cup victory in 1997, Konstantinov went to a party with Fetisov and a Russian trainer for the team. They made the responsible decision to hire a limousine to drive them. Unfortunately, the driver (who had a suspended license for drinking and driving) was not responsible, and he crashed the car onto a median on Woodward Ave.
That spot was a memorial for a long time after. People would put flowers and ribbons there.
That same spirit infected the team.
Konstantinov laid in a coma for several weeks after the crash. No one knew if he was going to live or die, or what the extent of his injuries would be.
Luckily, he lived, but he would never play hockey again.
The team rallied around him and during the playoffs they promoted a one-word rallying cry: believe. When the Wings won their second championship, they brought Konstantinov out onto the ice in his wheelchair so he could hoist the cup. His inspiration was just as important as any player that skated. The team petitioned the NHL commissioner to allow them to etch Vladdie’s name onto the cup.
Konstantinov was a great player. He was vicious and tough and the Wings indeed never found a suitable replacement for him on the blueline. But that’s not the biggest part of the reason his number should be retired. The biggest reason is because of the inspiration he provided to the team and this city. He might be the most deserving Wing of them all.
5. Chris Chelios
Do you think of Chelios as a Blackhawk? Would it surprise you to find out that Chelios played more years in Detroit than anywhere else? Sure, Chicago was where Chelios made his name but Detroit was where he made his home.
Chelios served as a bridge between two eras of Red Wings hockey. He was part of the amazing team which won the Stanley Cup in 2002 and he was also part of the new guard which won it in 2008.
Longevity was never a problem for Chelios. Only Gordie Howe (who played until he was 52) was older when he retired. Chelios provided the right mix of toughness and finesse to a Red Wings team that needed both. His veteran leadership was vital to their win in 2008.
Plus he won the Bud Light award. Come on, retire the jersey already!
4. Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood was anointed early on as the savior. After the Wings traded Tim Cheveldae to the Jets, Osgood was named starting goaltender for the playoffs. At just 22-years of age, he performed well at times, but nerves were clearly an issue. In game seven, with the score tied at two in the third period, Osgood went behind the goal to clear the puck. Jamie Baker intercepted it and scored the game-winning goal. Distraught, Osgood wept after the game.
That off-season, Detroit traded Steve Chiasson to the Flames for Mike Vernon.
Vernon and Osgood split time during the regular season, but it was Vernon who played the majority of the minutes in the playoffs and led the team to it’s first Stanely Cup title in forty-two years.
And that’s what people remember. People don’t remember that Osgood took over after Vernon was traded in ’98 and was a huge reason they won the cup that year. They don’t remember that he took over for a struggling Hasek in 2008 and led the team to nine straight playoff wins.
If they remember any good, it’s game seven in 1996 vs. the St. Louis Blues. A tense, defensive battle where both goaltenders played their hearts out until Steve Yzerman hit the game-winning goal in overtime.
Osgood was never a superstar. He didn’t capture the fans’ hearts like Vernon, and he wasn’t a “name” like Hasek. All he did was lead the Red Wings to two of their three championships while he was here, win two Jennings trophies, rank tenth in wins amongst all goalies in history, eight in playoff wins, and fourth in playoff shutouts.
He’s not a sexy pick, but his number deserves to be retired.
3. Norm Ullman
Norm Ullman is an often forgotten piece of Detroit Red Wings history.
Ullman played alongside the likes of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in just his second season with the team. The lesser known #7 of the Detroit Red Wings, Ullman’s game helped pave the way for many after him. His renowned stick handling and scoring abilities led him to be called by some as one of the most paramount forecheckers to ever play the sport of hockey.
During his 20-year career, Ullman tallied 490 regular season goals and 739 assists for 1229 points, which ranks him amongst some of the greatest centers to ever play the game. Ullman led Detroit in goals in 1961, 1965, and 1966 and led the league in 1964–65 with 42 goals. While a Stanley Cup victory escaped him during his tenure with the Red Wings, Ullman went on to have a great 13-year career in Detroit.
During his thirteenth season with Detroit, Ullman and the rest of the hockey world were shocked to hear that he was involved in a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ullman, Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie were shipped to Toronto in exchange for Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer.
While he didn’t finish his career in Detroit, Ullman is still a piece of Red Wings history. Unfortunately, it’s a piece of history that not many remember. Ullman shares a number with the legendary Ted Lindsay, who was traded to Chicago not too long after Ullman joined the team. Ullman donned the famous ‘7’ after Lindsay departed, wearing it for his entire career in Detroit. This obviously sparks debate amongst how his jersey will be retired. After being traded to Toronto, he wore number 9, so to avoid any confusion with both the late Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe you could retire 79 in his honor.
(Special note: The final paragraph of this entry was changed to clarify the number the organization could use to honor Norm Ullman)
2. Henrik Zetterberg
This entry may still be a fresh wound for some fans.
Zetterberg is the most recent retirement on this list so far. Due to a lingering back condition, Zetterberg was forced to hang up his skates before the start of the 2018-19 season. Zetterberg still has three years left on his 12-year, $73 million contract that he signed back in 2008. This technically means he isn’t officially retired, so his jersey can’t be retired just yet. Regardless, his career with the Red Wings was one for the history books.
Through fifteen seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, #40 racked up 337 goals and 623 assists for 960 points. Zetterberg helped the Red Wings to their 11th and most recent Stanley Cup victory in 2008 and was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. His 13 playoff goals tied with teammate Johan Franzen for the Red Wings record for most in a single postseason.
After these accolades, Hank’s health headed on a downward spiral. In 2014, he left the Sochi Winter Olympic games on a stretcher, and would later have surgery on herniated disks. After surgery, he attempted to skate for the first time in Bloomfield Hills. During his first stride, Zetterberg said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, when he attempted to push off with a skate, he felt nothing and fell down. He remembers preparing to give the Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer a hard time for bad skate sharpening.
But unfortunately for the Captain, the blade was not the issue.
Zetterberg had suffered nerve damage from his back injury that he would never truly recover from. Zetterberg skated a full four seasons before his back finally gave out on him. His fifteen year legacy will be long remembered by Detroit hockey fans alike for not only his skill on the ice, but his perseverance. Zetterberg will soon be remembered for generations more once his jersey is enshrined in the rafters.
1. Sergei Fedorov
No Red Wing has been as polarizing in team history. Sergei Fedorov was a dominating force at times. People (including Yzerman and Gretzky) often said that the only players who could dominate a game like Fedorov were Mario LeMuix and Wayne Gretzky.
However, there was a widespread perception in Detroit that Fedorov didn’t give maximum effort every game. It was thought that Europeans didn’t have the heart and the drive to lead a Stanely Cup championship team. The European-style of play was soft and defensive. Canadians played the game aggressively and pressed more.
This, of course, is ridiculous. While there is a definite difference in the style of play. European players have just as much drive as their Canadian counterparts. But, did Sergei play as hard as he could every game?
There is evidence for both cases. Fedorov was an emotional player, and he took disappointment hard. When the fans criticized him, he felt it.
Fedorov had the skill to dominate a game like no one else. He had the strongest legs in the NHL and combined speed, power, and agility, unlike any other player. Fedorov was the backbone of not just the regular season, but of the three Stanley Cup runs he was a part of. During his career with the Wings, Fedorov had 50 goals and 113 assists in 162 playoff games.
Offense wasn’t the only aspect of his game. He twice won (1994, 1996) the Selke trophy for best defensive forward. In 1994 he won the Hart trophy as the MVP of the NHL. He scored 56 goals that season, adding 64 assists and a stellar +48.
When Fedorov left for Anaheim, it left a bad taste in the mouths of the fans. That only deepened some of the resentment that had built up over the years.
Still, without him, the Wings probably don’t win three cups. It’s debatable if they win any. Along with Yzerman and Shanahan, he was one of the three most essential forwards for the Wings during their glory days.
Fedorov was the most dynamic forward of his generation and a hall of famer. He absolutely deserves to have his jersey hung from the rafters.