Every North American professional sports league possesses franchises that stand above all the rest in respect to history and tradition. Just look at the Yankees in baseball, the Lakers in basketball, and the Cowboys in football. In hockey, though, there are six different franchises that have been around since the very formation of the NHL, and to this day, they remain atop the league in terms of loyalty and popularity. It is true that amongst the original six teams, the Montreal Canadiens are the most successful due to their record 24 championship titles, but for the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings have undeniably been one of the most successful teams in the league.
The Red Wings were founded in 1926, and in those 90 years, they have managed to win 11 Stanley Cups, which is the most amongst all the American-based NHL teams, and they have made the playoffs 25 straight years now, which is currently the longest playoff streak in all professional sports. During this streak, Detroit has managed to win 4 championships, and like all successful teams, they won by having some truly talented players on their roster, a roster which so far includes 9 Hall of Famers. Detroit may be lucky to have had great players over the past two decades, but like all other teams, they have also had players who were not all that good, and this list will focus on the 8 best players the Red Wings have had since the year 2000, as well as the 7 worst.
18 Best - Dylan Larkin
We start this list off with Dylan Larkin, a Michigan-born 20 year old centerman who this year will be playing in only his second NHL season, but despite his youth, inexperience, and very brief tenure with the team, he is still so far one of the best players Detroit has had since 2000. In 2014, the Red wings possessed the 15th overall pick, which happened to be their highest first- round pick in well over a decade, and with it they took Larkin, a move which at the time analysts and insiders believed to be a steal. As it turns out, those individuals were correct, because after only playing one full year in college, along with a handful of games with the team’s minor-league affiliate, he was brought up to the main roster. Detroit is not known for having such young and inexperienced players in their lineup, but Larkin is truly an exception, as in his rookie season last year, he led the team in goals, and was 3rd overall on the team in points.
17 Worst - Brian Lashoff
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Detroit Red Wings likely had the best group of defensmen in the entire NHL, as clearly evidenced by their 3 Stanley Cup Championships in that time, but like every successful hockey team, they do not always obtain stud blue-liners. This is the case with Brian Lashoff, who the Red Wings signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, and after spending the majority of 4 years in the minors, he was called up to the main roster during the 2012-13 season. Including that debut, Lashoff has played in 117 NHL games, where he has only 2 goals and 13 points, which is accompanied by a +/- rating of -8, which are not good enough numbers for a defenseman on a team like Detroit to have; which is why he has remained in the minors the past two seasons so far.
16 Best - Tomas Tatar
This past offseason, the Red Wings may have lost their star forward, Pavel Datsyuk, but they are hoping that Slovakian native Tomas Tatar will be able to carry the torch left behind by Datsyuk, and although he is not as skilled as Pavel, he is still pretty talented. Detroit was lucky enough to grab Tatar at the very end of the 2nd round in the 2009 draft, and although he debuted with the team in 2010, it was not until part way through the 2012-13 season that he became a permanent part of the team’s roster. In the now 5 seasons he has been with the Red Wings, Tatar has shown that he definitely has the skill to be a key member of Detroit’s offense, as he now has 75 goals and 150 points in almost 300 career games.
14 Worst - Derian Hatcher
In all sports, there are examples of good players who spent the bulk of their careers with one team, and suddenly fell off the map once they decided to go play somewhere else, and that is basically what happened with Derian Hatcher. It was the Dallas Stars (the Minnesota North Stars at the time) who brought Hatcher into the NHL after drafting him 8th overall in the 1990 draft, and he ended up spending the first 12 years of his NHL career with the franchise, where he was a very versatile defenseman who helped the team win its first ever Stanley Cup in 1999. In his time with Minnesota/Dallas, Hatcher was good for at least 20 points a season, which is why Detroit signed him in 2003 to a 5-year $30 million contract. In the first year, Hatcher sustained a knee injury which caused him to miss all but 15 games, where he had 4 assists, and his performance in that year’s playoffs was not at all impressive. Following the 2004-05 lockout, the Wings came to the realization that Hatcher was in a steep decline, and bought out the remainder of his contract in 2005.
13 Best - Gustav Nyquist
Earlier on this list it was mentioned that Detroit hopes that they can replace Datsyuk with Tatar, but as it turns out they are also hoping that Gustav Nyquist will be able to temporarily replace Henrik Zetterberg’s level of production when he retires. Nyquist was drafted by Detroit in 2008 at the end of the 4th round, and it did not take him long to be called up as he debuted early on in the 2011-12 season; but it was not until 2013 that his performance improved so much that he is now a permanent member of the roster. In the last 3 seasons, Nyquist has shown that he can be both a skilled playmaker and a quick-shooting scorer, as evidenced by the fact that he has 79 goals and 158 points in less than 300 games.
11 Worst - Fabian Brunnstrom
In every sport, when players are placed on waivers, both their rights and contracts are made available for all the other teams to obtain, and this move usually happens because a team wants to get rid of an unproductive player. In some cases, when a player is claimed off waivers, they become much better players with their new team, but most of the time, these players continue to play at the same sub-par level that got them placed on waivers to begin with. In the case of winger Fabian Brunnstrom, there was actually a small bidding war to obtain his services, a war that was won by Dallas who signed him in 2008; but it quickly became evident that he was not good enough to play in the NHL. For the better part of 3 seasons, Brunnstrom played in the minors, and in 2011, Detroit believed that they could turn his career around and signed him to a one-year deal; but Brunnstrom did not even get to play in 10 games before the Red Wings placed him on waivers, and when no other team took him, they sent him to the minors for the rest of the year.
10 Best - Petr Mrazek
Every hockey team needs a good goalie if they expect to win the Stanley Cup, and the Red Wings have done so with the likes of Dominik Hasek, Mike Vernon, and Chris Osgood, and it is their hope that one of their current two netminders will help them to win another championship. One of those goalies is Petr Mrazek, a native of the Czech Republic who they drafted in the 5th round in 2010, and the team knew there was something special about him after seeing him play for 3 games during the 2012-13 season. The past 2 seasons, Mrazek has competed and temporarily won the number one goalie position by outperforming teammate Jimmy Howard, where in 100 career games he has 50 wins, a 2.84 goals against average, and a .921 save percentage.
9 Worst - Mikael Samuelsson
This is a rather unfortunate entry on the list due to the fact that Mikael Samuelsson was actually a good player for the Red Wings during his first stint with the team between 2005 and 2009, which included a Stanley Cup win in 2008. In his first 4 seasons with Detroit, Samuelsson had 67 goals and 159 points in less than 300 games, and he was also able to contribute offensively in the postseason; but following the 2009 season, he signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks for 3 years. When that contract was up, he became a free-agent once again, and spent time in Florida for a year before returning to Detroit in 2012 on a new 2-year deal; but his return to the team was not a glorious one as he spent the majority of his time on the injured list. In all, Samuelsson played in a combined 30 games over two seasons, and was only able to score 4 points including just a single goal.
8 Best - Steve Yzerman
As one of the NHL’s original six teams, the Red Wings have had great, Hall of Fame players, the likes of Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, and Gordie Howe; and Steve Yzerman will be remembered as either the best or second best player in the franchise’s history. Detroit took Yzerman with the 4th pick in 1983, and put him into the lineup the very same year, and after 3 seasons, he was named the team’s captain in 1986 at only 21 years of age; a captaincy which he held onto for two decades, becoming the longest serving captain in the history of North American major league sports. Now, it is true that Yzerman’s best years came before the year 2000, but despite his diminishing speed and point totals, he was still one of the team’s most important and vital players from the year 2000 until his retirement in 2006, bringing the Red Wings a cup win in 2002. Yzerman is currently 9th all-time in goals scored, and 7th in total points, which is proof enough to justify his place on this list’s best category.
6 Worst - Jordin Tootoo
The Red Wings were able to win Stanley Cups in the late 90s by having players like Darren McCarty and Joey Kocur, who were primarily around to protect the star players and drop the gloves; and if they happened to score a goal here and there, then they were worth the roster spot. That was a different era though, and in today’s NHL, there is not really a need for a player whose main role is to be a team’s enforcer, and that was basically the player Detroit got when they signed Jordin Tootoo in 2012. Tootoo came into the NHL in 2003 when he debuted with the Nashville Predators, and in 9 seasons with the team he would score at least 5 goals and 15 points several times; but when he came to Detroit, he could not even average that level of production. In two seasons with the team, Tootoo scored only 3 goals and 9 points, and during the 2014 offseason, Detroit realized he was just taking up a roster spot and cap-space, and decided to buyout the last year of his contract.
5 Best - Henrik Zetterberg
The Detroit Red Wings are known throughout the NHL for their ability to draft incredibly skilled players very late in drafts, in fact it is mainly because of their drafting skill that they have managed to stay competitive for so many years. Henrik Zetterberg is Detroit’s current captain, and he was drafted by the team in 1999 all the way in the 7th round with the 210th pick, making him the definition of a steal, as he is still a very effective playmaker who is also great at puck possession even at the age of 36. Zetterberg made his debut in 2002, and in the 13 years since then he has gone on to play in just over 900 games where he has scored just over 300 goals and 830 points, and although his speed has diminished the last few years due to age and injuries, he is still currently one of the best leaders in the league.
4 Worst - Carlo Colaiacovo
With this entry, we return to the blue-line to meet the worst defenseman that the Red Wings have had since 2000, and that is an honor that so far belongs to the injury prone Carlo Colaiacovo, who was so bad that he did not even play 10 games with the team. Colaiacovo was a 1st round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and for the first 7 years of his career, he spent his time between the minors and main roster. During the 2008-09 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, where he played fairly well for 3-and-a-half seasons. In the 2012 offseason, Detroit signed Colaiacovo to a 2-year contract, and before the season even started, he suffered a shoulder injury which caused him to miss 33 games, which was basically the entire year, as that season consisted of only 48 games due to the lockout. He still managed to play that season however when he finally became healthy, but in the 6 games he played in, he registered only 1 assist and had a +/- of -4. That offseason, the Red Wings decided to buyout the last year of his contract.
3 Best - Pavel Datsyuk
The Red Wings have had many great forwards in their history, most of which are now in the Hall of Fame, but since the year 2000, there is one forward who truly stood above the rest in terms of pure skill, and that player is Pavel Datsyuk. Detroit managed to draft Datsyuk late in the 6th round of the 1998 draft, a move which was literally like finding a diamond in a coal mine, as the Russian centerman went on to become one of the NHL’s best two-way players for over a decade. The skills which Datsyuk possesses, earned him the nickname “The Magic Man”, and many other players from opposing teams have said that he was one of the hardest forwards to defend against due to how crafty his stick and puck-handling skills were. Datsyuk spent his entire 14 year career in Detroit before retiring from the NHL last offseason, and in the 953 games he played with the team, he had 314 goals and 918 points, making him the best forward the team has had the past decade.
2 Worst - Stephen Weiss
In every sport there are certain athletes who happen to be very talented, but who never get to have the great career they should have had because of multiple injuries, and that is precisely the case with Stephen Weiss. It was the Florida Panthers who initially drafted Weiss in 2001 at 4th overall, and his high ranking in that draft year was no mistake, as he was already an impressive player at only 18 years of age. Weiss ended up spending parts of 11 seasons with Florida, and in that time he was undeniably the team’s best forward, but he was never able to play a full season as a result of different injuries here and there, In 2013, Detroit made a gamble by signing Weiss to a 5-year contract, seeing as he was coming off a year where he practically missed the entire season due to injury; and that trend unfortunately continued in Detroit. In the 2 years he did spend in Detroit, Weiss played in just 78 games where he managed to score only 11 goals and 29 points, which was not the kind of production Detroit hoped to get from a player with such a high dollar value; which is why they bought out the remaining 3 years of his contract in 2015.
1 Best - Nicklas Lidstrom
There are Red Wings fans that may wonder why Yzerman or Datsyuk are not in the number one spot because of what they brought to the team offensively, but even they cannot argue that Nicklas Lidstrom deserves to be called the best player the team has had since the year 2000. Lidstrom was drafted by Detroit in the 3rd round of the 1989 draft, and after debuting with the team in the 1991-92 season, he went on to play for the Red Wings for 20 seasons, where he won 4 Stanley Cups (including one as team captain in 2008), and where he won the Norris Trophy for being the NHL’s best defenseman 7 times (all of which came after the year 2000). For his career, Lidstrom played in over 1,500 games, where he scored 1,142 points including 264 goals; and his expertise in defending made him the best defenseman of his generation, which is why his jersey number was rightfully retired by the franchise and why he was a first ballot Hall of Famer last year.