Few punctuate the fickle relationship players have with team management and die-hard fans like Larry Aurie, the first bona-fide star in Detroit Red Wings history.
Everyone knows Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman are the true captains of the franchise. Few athletes in any sport enjoyed the heart-felt allegiance Howe and Yzerman enjoyed within the organization and local hockey community.
While the NHL was beginning to evolve into its modern form, Aurie was a fixture among scoring leaders in the 1930s. A solid two-way player, Aurie led the Red Wings to its first two Stanley Cup championships in 1936 and 1937.
Aurie also had the honor of competing in the original NHL All-Star Game and after his playing days ended, former owner Bruce Norris retired his number. Aurie’s honor was eventually joined by the next generation of stars: Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Howe, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk.
A good story, right? It should have been.
When current owner Mike Ilitch purchased the club in 1982, he ordered the retired players’ numbers to hang from the rafters at Joe Louis Arena, all five of them, sans Aurie. Ilitch claimed because Aurie was not enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it somehow disqualified the honor.
With the new hockey mecca, Little Caesars Arena, set to open next fall, no plans have been announced to show Aurie some love. As a player, he was adored by fans for his on-ice success. Too bad over time the franchise failed to return proper respect to its original superstar.
Here are eight players who loved playing for the Red Wings and seven who hated the experience:
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15 Loved: Tomas Holmstrom
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Red Wings blazed a trail in international scouting, unearthing late-round draft gems to fuel four Stanley Cup runs from 1997 to 2008. Tomas Holmstrom was one such discovery. The relatively unknown native of Pitea, Sweden, was drafted in the 10th round. It took a while for him to find his niche, scoring just 11 goals over his opening two seasons. Eventually, Holmstrom blossomed into a gritty, in-front-of-the-net presence and a popular, yet unsung player during the franchise’s recent dominant era. Holmstrom provided a power-play spark, scoring more than half of his 243 career goals with the man-advantage. He scored a career-best 30 goals in 2005-06 and fronted opposing goalies for three Stanley Cup championships and Red Wings fans grew to love him for it.
14 Hated: Carlo Colaiacovo
Six games were the extent of Carlo Colaiacovo’s opportunity with the Red Wings, who signed the free-agent defenseman to a two-year deal in 2012. A former first-round draft pick, Colaiacovo paid his dues early in his career within the Toronto Maples Leafs organization, shuffling back and forth from the NHL to the AHL for five injury-riddled seasons. With the St. Louis Blues, Colaiacovo established himself by appearing in at least 63 games over four seasons before signing with the Wings to add depth along the blueline. But Colaiacovo didn’t have much of a chance after hurting his shoulder in his second game. He returned late in the 2012-13 season but was a minus-4 in six appearances. With the league facing additional salary cap concerns during the next offseason, the Wings utilized a compliance buyout to rid themselves of the deal’s remaining year.
13 Loved: Marty Pavelich
On a squad featuring the talents of Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk, it’s easy to overlook the efforts of a player like Marty Pavelich. Make no mistake, Howe and Co. may have garnered a majority of the headlines, but it was Pavelich who garnered his teammates’ respect. The Red Wings collected four Stanley Cup championships during the 1950s and Pavelich’s defense was a key factor, as much as Howe’s brute force and Sawchuk’s acrobatic saves. Pavelich’s specialty as a defensive left winger was to help shut down the opposing team’s top line. But like modern grinders such as Kris Draper, Pavelich could also contribute key goals, averaging more than 25 points per season during his 10-year career.
12 Hated: Ray Staszak
NHL scouts salivated over Ray Staszak’s skill, skating and hockey smarts. As one of the top players in college hockey during 1984-85, Staszak collected 37 goals among 72 points for University of Illinois-Chicago. That offseason, the forward prospect figured it was time to go pro, signing a five-year, $1.4 million deal with the Red Wings. For the time, it was a big deal, especially for an undrafted free agent. But the Wings’ front office envisioned Staszak joining a young Steve Yzerman as emerging stars the franchise could build its front lines around. It took only four games for the Wings to realize they had a million-dollar bust on the roster. After dressing for four games and registering one assist and a minus-3 rating, he was sent to Adirondack of the AHL where he suffered a groin injury, which never fully healed. The Wings’ front office bought out Staszak’s contract the next summer.
11 Loved: Brett Hull
Here’s a trivia question. After Gordie Howe established the milestone, who was the next Red Wing to score 700 career goals? A. Steve Yzerman. B. Alex Delvecchio. C. Brett Hull. D. None of the above. Answer: Hull. Yes, Hull was an admired figure in the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars organizations. Yes, Red Wings cringed whenever the puck was on Hull’s stick as an opponent. But when he joined the Wings organization in 2001, he served as a bridge between the Steve Yzerman-Sergei Fedorov generation to the Pavel Datysuk-Henrik Zetterberg era. Hull famously tagged his union with Datysuk and Boyd Devereaux as the “Two Kids and a Goat” line. During his three years in Detroit, Hull missed only one regular-season start and, at times, looked more like a Mustang, scoring 97 goals. It may have taken most of the first season together for Wings fans to begin warming up to Hull, but they fully embraced the former rival when he collected 10 postseason goals, propelling the Wings to the 2002 Stanley Cup championship.
10 Hated: Curtis Joseph
Curtis Joseph started slowly after signing on to replace the retired Dominik Hasek following the 2001-02 Stanley Cup-winning campaign. He never caught up. Red Wings management invested $24 million over three years to lure Joseph to Detroit and maintain its top-tier goaltending. The proven backstop struggled to open the season and despite rebounding to guide the Wings to a regular-season division title, the defending Cup champions faltered offensively and Joseph shouldered the blame for the team’s first-round exit. Then the internal drama commenced during the offseason when Hasek came out of retirement. Joseph made too much money to trade and he spent most of the next season as a No. 3 goalie or in the minors. He received another chance late in the season when Hasek suffered an injury and backup Manny Legace faltered in the early stages of a first-round playoff series versus Nashville. Joseph entered in relief and pushed the Wings into the second round. But, again, the Wings’ offense disappeared and while Joseph registered a 1.39 postseason goals-against average, he shouldered the blame. A 4-8 postseason record over two seasons simply did not cut it in Detroit.
9 Loved: The Grind Line
Pick any of the four players who made up The Grind Line: Joe Kocur, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Each were admired individually by the Red Wings’ faithful, but together they were beloved. They crashed the net, buried opponents into the boards, harassed defenders attempting to break out of their zone, dropping the gloves and pummeling the opposition. They chipped in a few goals, too. Kocur enjoyed two stints with the Wings, suiting up for the franchise for 10 seasons. A fierce forechecker, Maltby retired having played in the eighth most games in team history. Draper helped patrol the locker room and provided a defensive presence on the ice, claiming the 2004 Selke Award. McCarty will forever be remembered for scoring his highlight goal during the 1997 Stanley Cup finals and making a turtle of Claude Lemieux during a fight in 1997.
8 Hated: Uwe Krupp
At six-foot-six, Uwe Krupp was signed to bolster the Red Wings’ defensive corps, to harass opponents and wear down opposing forwards during the grueling playoff series' (a place where the Red Wings have been on a consistent basis for the past two and a half decades). Krupp signed for $16.4 million, but injuries and trouble plagued him throughout his tenure. While sidelined, team brass discovered Krupp participated in a dogsled race. Hard feelings followed. The Wings claimed the Stanley Cup in 2002 and Krupp took his victory lap and was awarded a championship ring. Wings management got the last laugh, however. Krupp was noticeably absent when his teammates’ engraved names were immortalized on the Cup. This player-team combination was a toxic relationship from the start.
7 Loved: Luc Robitaille
“Lucky” Luc Robitaille had a brief, yet memorable two-season stint with the Red Wings. His grit and scoring knack made him an instant fan favorite during the 2001-02 season, culminating in a Stanley Cup title. A prolific scorer who netted 668 career goals, Robitaille was seeking an opportunity to return to the Cup finals in the summer of 2001 and the left winger was courted by Wings management. Robitaille agreed to a two-year, $9 million proposal and enjoyed an extended honeymoon, collecting 30 regular-season goals and four goals among nine points during the 2002 Cup run. One of the game’s all-time top personalities, Robitaille returned to the Los Angeles Kings after fulfilling his contract. Wings fans, for the most part, were not bitter. They understand his roots were on the West Coast and they practically blew him kisses on his way out of town.
6 Hated: Derian Hatcher
This was one of the worse free-agent signings in franchise history. What Derian Hatcher once was (a strong defenseman), it didn’t show up in Detroit. Once a rugged defender, Hatcher earned a five-year, $30 million contract prior to the 2003-04 campaign. Early in the campaign, he injured his ACL and was lost for much of the season, appearing in just 15 regular-season games. Already known for his lumbering skating style, team officials believed Hatcher would have been lost following the year-long lockout and with the NHL expected to emerge with more emphasis on speed and skill. Plugging the financial wound, the front office had enough foresight to buyout his contract after the lockout. Latching on with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hatcher had a minus-24 rating during 2006-07.
5 Loved: Chris Osgood
Coming up through the Red Wings’ farm system, Osgood was both seen as savior and scapegoat through his initial eight-year stint with the Red Wings. Critics claimed he succeeded only because he had all-world teammates in front of him. During his second stint, however, he validated his career and enhanced his image with endearing fans. After returning from three seasons split between the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues, Osgood unseated starter Dominik Hasek and guided the Wings to the 2008 Stanley Cup after posting a 14-4 record, 1.55 GAA and .930 save percentage in playoffs. The next season, Osgood led the Wings back to the Cup finals, but fell to the Sidney Crosby-fueled Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
4 Hated: Jordin Tootoo
The Red Wings needed muscle to toughen up its roster and police the ice for aging stars such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Jordin Tootoo was available and signed a signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal in 2012. A noted enforcer, Tootoo earned his teammates’ trust early in his career and became a Nashville Predators’ fan-favorite for his ability to police the ice. In Detroit, however, coach Mike Babcock was not a big fan. A frequent healthy scratch, Tootoo dressed for just 53 over two seasons, collecting three goals and six assists (lackluster number for sure). Tootoo collected a good-riddance compliance buyout during the summer of 2014. Tootoo and Detroit simply did not mesh well together which is evident by the playing times and stats.
3 Loved: Brendan Shanahan
It was love at first fight for Brendan “Shanny” Shanahan and the Red Wings’ then title-starved faithful. On his first shift after being acquired from the Hartford Whalers, Shanahan engaged Edmonton’s Greg de Vries and the fans at Joe Louis Arena initially displayed their affection. The deal for Shanny was a match made for playoff success. His presence helped propel the Wings from Cup contender to three-time champion. During the Cup runs of 1997, 1998 and 2002, Shanny collected 22 goals, including six game-winners, and 23 assists. Shanahan’s time in Detroit will long be remembered by fans for his double-overtime winners versus Anaheim in 1997 and St. Louis in 1998 and for his empty-net goal to seal the 2002 Cup title. Shananhan will forever hold a place in the hearts of Wings fans.
2 Hated: Stephen Weiss
A quick skater with playmaking abilities, Stephen Weiss was signed to a five-year, $24.5 million deal in 2013 and was expected to center the second line and provide offensive depth after it became apparent free agent Valtteri Filppula would not re-sign with the club. In the three seasons before joining the Wings, he scored a combined 69 goals. But Weiss never made an impact in his new atmosphere after suffering a sports hernia, scoring just two goals in 26 outings during his debut in Detroit. Following another disappointing season in 2014-15, Weiss scored just nine goals in 52 appearances. During that offseason, club brass bought out the underachiever for two-thirds of the remaining $16 million deal and sent Weiss on his way from the Motor City.
1 Loved: Nicklas Lidstrom
What more can be said of defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom? He was the first European captain to lead an NHL team to a Stanley Cup championship. He was part of the nearly mythical 1989 draft class, including Sergei Fedorov, Dallas Drake, Mike Sillinger, Vladimir Konstantinov and Robert Boughner. Lidstrom ultimately played a near-flawless role in defending the Red Wings’ four Stanley Cup runs in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. He captured seven Norris Trophies and placed second three times. He netted the game-winner as Team Sweden clinched the Gold Medal during the 2006 Turin Games. He compiled 1,142 career regular-season points, sixth all-time among defensemen. He was introduced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. What more needs to be said of Lindstrom’s love-affair with the Red Wings’ organization?
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