Well, 26 years later and here we are.
For the first time in my life, I'm writing about the Detroit Red Wings failing to reach the postseason. The Motor City hosted playoff hockey every year from the 1990-91 to the 2015-16 season. Over that time, Detroit became the NHL's model organization, winning six Presidents' Trophies, reaching six Stanley Cup Finals and winning four of them.
The Red Wings were the class of the NHL for a quarter of a century. They found ways to replace legends with other legends and kept winning games just when you thought they were all but finished.
But now, the streak is over. Think about that. Leonardo DiCaprio was still in high school, Braveheart was five years from being released and George H.W. Bush was president when Detroit last missed the postseason.
Well, it's time to honour the streak in some way, because it truly was something else. Here's a look at the eight best Red Wings that made the streak possible, and the seven worst players during the improbable run.
15 Best: Igor Larionov
Igor Larionov was a standout with both the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in the '90s, but he was never quite able to take his game to the level with those teams. The Sharks traded Larionov and a draft pick to the Red Wings during the 1995-96 season in exchange for former 50-goal man, Ray Sheppard.
And with that, the Russian star finally revealed all of the talent he had inside of him. In 69 games with them during that 1995-96 campaign, Larionov scored 21 goals and 71 points -- the best year of his career.
Larionov was a force during the 1997 playoffs, scoring 12 points in 20 games while helping Detroit win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. He continued his heroics by scoring 13 points in 22 playoff games in 1998, as Detroit defended its championship with ease.
Larionov had 11 goals and 43 points in 2001-02, helping the Red Wings win their third Stanley Cup in five years. No doubt, the Russian icon was a key part of their streak and dominance.
14 Worst: Uwe Krupp
Uwe Krupp was a reliable stay-at-home defenceman and could ship in with a little bit of offence from time-to-time. He's best remembered for scoring the Stanley Cup clinching goal for the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the 1996 Finals against the Florida Panthers. That cemented the legacy of Krupp in the Mile High City.
As Colorado's rivalry with Detroit heightened, the Wings signed him to a four-year deal worth $16.4 million. This move seemed like a double whammy, as Detroit added depth on defence while weakening their arch rivals.
But Krupp was never able to find his ground in Hockeytown. He played in just 22 games during the 1998-99 season, scoring five points. Krupp suffered from multiple injuries and missed the following two seasons. He won another Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002, but was never worth the money they handed to him.
13 Best: Chris Osgood
The Red Wings were one of the best teams in the early and mid '90s, but they often had troubles finding the right fits. Tim Cheveldae unraveled in the postseason, and Mike Vernon didn't stay on after winning the Stanley Cup with them in 1997. But they were fortunate in having Chris Osgood, one of the greatest money goalies in playoff history.
Osgood registered 30-win seasons with Detroit in 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-2000. His performance in the 1998 playoffs was one for the ages, going 16-6 with a 2.12 goals against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts.
Osgood played for two other teams before returning to Detroit for the 2005-06 season. His 27 wins in 2007-08 were key in helping Detroit win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in 11 years. Osgood won 67 playoff games for Detroit and is second all-time in franchise wins with 317.
The Wizard of Oz was quite (Os)good during his time in The Motor City.
12 Worst: Jakub Kindl
The Red Wings front office, namely general manager Ken Holland, have always received great praise for being able to draft exceptionally well most years during the streak. But 2005 was a rather different case, as the team used its 19th-overall selection on big defenceman, Jakub Kindl.
He came in with a lot of talent as a stay-at-home defenceman, listed at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds. But Kindl never developed the way Detroit had hoped, playing no more than 68 games in a season with them. He played 273 games with them and had just 16 goals and 68 points in bits of seven seasons.
In 2016, the Red Wings cut ties with Kindl by trading him to the Florida Panthers for nothing more than a sixth-round pick. Kindl undoubtedly was one of the biggest draft busts in Red Wings history.
11 Best: Henrik Zetterberg
Henrik Zetterberg was a seventh-round draft choice (210th-overall), in 1999 of the Red Wings. Obviously, he was not expected to ever develop into a franchise star. But he turned heads in his rookie 2002-03 season, scoring 22 goals and 44 points. But it appeared to be a rather lucky season, as Zetterberg scored just 15 goals and 43 points the following season.
But after the lockout, Zetterberg emerged as one of hockey's flashiest superstars. He broke out with 39 goals and 85 points. He had a career year in 2007-08, scoring 43 goals and 92 points as he led Detroit to the Stanley Cup and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy.
As of this writing, Zetterberg has 325 goals and 899 points in 994 games with the Red Wings. With all of his clutch goals and all-around ability, Zetterberg will go down as one of the greatest players in Red Wings history.
10 Worst: Brad May
Don't let Rick Jeanneret's infamous "MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY" call give you the wrong impression. Sure, Brad May scored a clutch goal for the Buffalo Sabres that allowed Jeanneret to deliver a catchphrase for the ages, but May was not that effective of an NHLER.
Yeah, the man could fight -- he did rack up 2,248 career penalty minutes, but he only had 127 goals and 289 points in 1,041 career games. May played 40 games for Detroit in 2009-10, scoring zero goals and picking up two assists while racking up 66 penalty minutes. That's not really being an effective player, is it?
The Red Wings and May were never a fit, and he unsurprisingly didn't return to Detroit after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign.
9 Best: Pavel Datsyuk
Like Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk wasn't supposed to become much of anything in the NHL. He was a sixth-round draft choice (171st-overall), in 1998. He didn't bring much size with him either, at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds. His defensive wizardry, insane puck-handling skills and filthy dangles were ignored by scouts from every NHL team, until the Red Wings took a low risk on him.
All they got from Datsyuk was a new face of the franchise when Steve Yzerman retired in 2006. The three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner led the Red Wings to Stanley Cup championships in 2002 and 2008. Datsyuk scored 20-plus goals in eight different seasons and had a pair of 97-point seasons.
The Datsyukian One finished with 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games. From a sixth-round choice to a shoe-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was quite a journey in the NHL for Datsyuk.
8 Worst: Tim Cheveldae
It doesn't feel right putting a guy here who had a trio of 30-win seasons for the Detroit Red Wings, but we are talking about a man who registered a 3.49 goals against average and .883 save percentage in his career. I'm going to guess that the stacked Red Wings powerhouse teams of the '90s had something to do with Tim Cheveldae's wins?
Any who, his record in the postseason brought out the true colours of Cheveldae. He was Detroit's starter for the 1991, 1992 and 1993 playoffs. He posted a very porous 9-15 playoff record with a 3.00 goals against average and .896 save percentage.
And once the Red Wings turned to the tandem of Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood, they became Stanley Cup champions. So as it turns out, Cheveldae wasn't all that great for Detroit.
7 Best: Brendan Shanahan
The Red Wings were consistently the team to beat in the Western Conference in the early and mid '90s, but they just kept falling apart in the postseason -- unable to get over the hump. They were one missing piece away from winning titles, and that missing piece turned out to be Brendan Shanahan (Pictured Right).
Early in the 1996 season, Detroit sent a first-round pick and stars Keith Primeau and Paul Coffey to the Hartford Whalers for Shanahan and Brian Glynn. Shanahan scored 46 goals and 87 points in 1996-97. His nine goals and 17 points in the playoffs were crucial in helping Detroit win the Stanley Cup.
Shanahan was a cornerstone for their 1998 and 2002 Stanley Cup teams as well. He is 10th all-time in franchise scoring with 309 goals and 1,037 points. That's a Red Wings legend if we've ever seen one.
6 Worst: Jonathan Ericsson
Jonathan Ericsson showed flashes of being a nice find for the Red Wings as the 291st selection in 2002. He had a nice showing in the playoffs as a bottom-four defenceman, scoring four goals and eight points in 22 games -- even scoring the team's only goal in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final!
Ericsson wasn't much of a scorer, but he became fairly reliable in his own end and could play effectively on the special teams. But when general manager Ken Holland extended Ericsson for six years at $25.5 million during the 2013-14 season, it left many scratching their heads.
His play has regressed significantly ever since. Ericsson has never scored more than 15 points in a season. As of this writing, he has just 21 goals and 107 points in 529 games. That's not a guy who should be making that much money, let alone over a six-year term.
5 Best: Sergei Fedorov
Another late-round gem for the Red Wings, Sergei Fedorov (Pictured Center) defied expectations as the 74th-overall selection in 1989. One of the first Russian superstars in the NHL, Fedorov had an outstanding career and was a vital part of Detroit's turnaround in the '90s. In six of his first seven NHL seasons, Fedorov reached the 30-goal mark (he had 20 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95) season, and had a pair of 100-point seasons.
In 1996-97, Fedorov scored 30 goals and 63 points in the regular season. He was their unsung hero of the playoffs, scoring 20 points in as many playoff games -- including the series-deciding goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the Colorado Avalanche.
Fedorov also had 22 points in 20 playoff games in 1998, helping Detroit repeat. A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Fedorov ranks fifth-all time in Red Wings scoring with 400 goals and 954 points.
4 Worst: Sean Avery
Hands down the biggest best of his generation -- and maybe of all-time -- Sean Avery really knew how to provoke other players into fighting him. Avery spent very little time with the Red Wings, playing just 75 games over the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. In the Motor City, Avery racked up a mere seven goals and 15 points, along with 188 penalty minutes.
Avery spent time up-and-down between the NHL and the minors. He didn't play in the required 41 games in 2001-02, so his name is not on the Stanley Cup (don't think many NHL players have sympathy for him).
Avery didn't do a lot of scoring and didn't do a whole lot other than put his team on the penalty kill. An easy choice to be this high on our list.
3 Best: Nicklas Lidstrom
Drafted 53rd-overall in 1989 by the Red Wings, there's no way this team could have expected that Nicklas Lidstrom would have been a top-five all time defenceman -- and perhaps the greatest blueliner in hockey history.
A 12-time NHL All Star, Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies (all in the 21st century), and was a key part of Detroit's four Stanley Cups -- in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. He consistently shut down the opposition's best players every night and had zero problem chipping in on offence.
Lidstrom finished with 264 career goals and 1,142 points and took home the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy. He played at a top-notch level for two decades and gave the city of Detroit everything. Without a doubt, he's the greatest Red Wings blueliner ever. That streak would not have happened without him.
2 Worst: Stephen Weiss
Stephen Weiss was one of the lone standouts on a series of porous Florida teams after the lockout. He was a four-time 20 goal scorer and had a pair of 60-point seasons. The Red Wings took notice, and Ken Holland signed him to a five-year contract worth $24.5 million in the summer of 2013. At first glance, it looked like the Wings had found an ideal number two centre.
But hernia surgery limited Weiss to just 26 games in 2013-14, where he put up just two goals and a pair of assists. Weiss played in 52 games during the 2014-15 season, scoring just nine goals and 25 points.
Frustrated by his inability to live up to the contract, Detroit bought out Weiss just two seasons into his five-year pact. He definitely had no part in them narrowly reaching the playoffs in 2014 and 2015.
1 Best: Steve Yzerman
The Red Wings struggled throughout much of the '80s, but the hockey landscape changed forever when they drafted Steve Yzerman fourth-overall in 1983. This franchise needed a player to build around after a dismal performance in the '70s and early '80s. Yzerman was up for the task right away, scoring 39 goals and 87 points in his rookie year.
Yzerman was a five-time 50-goal scorer, including a ludicrous 65-goal and 155-point campaign in 1988-89. He became the Red Wings heart-and-soul leader and their captain, and took them to new heights in the '90s.
There was a time when Yzerman was nearly traded to Ottawa when his captaincy/leadership was being questioned by pundits. All he did soon after was lead Detroit to Stanley Cup victories in 1997 and 1998. 'Stevie Y' is second all-time in scoring with 692 goals and 1,755 points.
Oh, and how money was he in crunch time? Yzerman had 70 goals and 185 points in 196 career playoff games. So please try to understand why we placed him number one without much of a problem second guessing ourselves.
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