Sunday, April 3, 2011

Glory Days: Remembering NHL Legends

This is the first of many retrospective looks on former NHL players of the modern age of hockey, which I define as the 1979-1980 to present. The purpose of doing this is to remind people that beyond the Gretzkys, Messiers, Lemieuxs, and Yzermans, there were other players who gave franchises outstanding performances over their careers.

Sergei Fedorov: Сергей Викторович Фёдоров (1990-2009)

Very few NHLers were as dynamic and exciting to watch during the 1990s than Sergei Fedorov. Born in the Russian town of Pskov just 20 km away from the Estonian border, Fedorov defected from the Soviet Union during the Goodwill Games in Seattle in 1990. After playing with CSKA Moscow, better known as the Red Army Team, Fedorov was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round (74th overall) in the 1989 entry draft. The Goodwill Games gave Fedorov the opening he needed to join the Red Wings to play in North America.

As a result of this change of scenery, Sergei Fedorov joined a Detroit Red Wings organization that exploded onto the NHL scene and starting scoring more goals and winning championships for the first time in four decades. Particularly notable for Fedorov was the 1993-1994 campaign that saw him win the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL most valuable player), the Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward), and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award, NHLPA most valuable player) all in one season. Fedorov was the best player on the ice, scoring 56 goals and 120 points, but also playing extraordinary defensive minded hockey with blistering speed. Fedorov continued to be a phenomenal player during Detroit's first Stanley Cup in over 40 years. Perhaps the biggest stain on his time with the Red Wings was his lengthy holdout for an expensive contract in the 1997-98 season. Despite his holding out, Fedorov proved to be "worth every penny" as the above video describes, as the Red Wings repeated as champions.

In an act that was quite contradictory to the incident of 1998, Fedorov announced in the 1998-99 season that he would dedicate all $2 million of his base salary towards the Sergei Fedorov Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that sought to assist underprivileged children in the Detroit area. The foundation still exists today and continues to provide assistance.

After the Red Wings were swept by Anaheim during the 2003 playoffs, Fedorov did what many Red Wings fans thought unthinkable by signing with the Mighty Ducks after rejecting contracts that would have paid him $10 million dollars per year. While playing in Anaheim he scored his 1,000th point, becoming the first Russian born player to do so.

After a few moderately successful seasons with Anaheim, Fedorov was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with whom he played his 1000th NHL game. During the 2007-08 season, he was once again traded to the Washington Capitals where Alexander Ovechkin continued the legacy of dynamic and explosive Russian born players. After a season and second playoffs with Washington, Fedorov returned to Russia play with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Whether Fedorov will ever return to the NHL is unknown; his contribution to the league's popularity, on the other hand, is quite certain. Bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame whenever he decides to retire, Fedorov holds an incredible number of accolades:

  • 1994 Hart Trophy
  • 1994 Lester B. Pearson Award (Now called the Ted Lindsay Award)
  • 1994 Frank J. Selke Trophy
  • 1996 Frank J. Selke Trophy
  • 2000 Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award
  • 2003 Kharlamov Trophy (NHL award for best Russian player)
  • One of only three NHL players to score 20 points in four consecutive playoff seasons
  • Three time Stanley Cup Champion in 1997, 1998, 2002
  • 1998 Olympic Silver Medal with Russia
  • 2002 Olympic Bronze Medal with Russia
  • 1988 World Junior Hockey Championship Silver Medal
  • 1989 World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal
  • 1989 World Ice Hockey Championship Gold Medal
  • 1990 World Ice Hockey Championship Gold Medal
  • 2008 World Ice Hockey Championship Gold Medal
  • 2010 World Ice Hockey Championship Silver Medal
  • Most Regular Season Overtime goals (15) (tied with 3 other players)
  • Most Overtime Points (27)
  • 1st Russian to score 1000 points
  • Most Goals by a Russian Born Player
Not least of all of these accomplishments was his five goal night against the Washington Capitals on Boxing Day 1996:

You'll have to excuse the Russian broadcaster and just relish in the outstanding passing and impressive release of Fedorov's goals.

Rather than clutter this look back at Fedorov's career with his statistics I will direct you over to Internet Hockey Database for statistical goodness. It might be most appropriate to end on a note which I believe best signifies how talented Sergei Fedorov truly was and continues to be in the KHL. At multiple points in his career, Fedorov has actually played not only center, but has sometimes played as a winger and even a defenseman. Longtime Red Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano once said regarding Fedorov as a D-man "I'm convinced if we left him there, he'd have won a Norris Trophy." It's impressive enough that Fedorov dominated the center position throughout the 1990s as an explosive goal scorer; to be commended as a defenseman as well is indicative of just how dominating a player he was in his prime. Despite the sting that was felt when he left Detroit for another team, Sergei Fedorov remains a central figure of the Red Wings team that won three Stanley Cups.

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