The case for Fedorov

As we are all fully aware, on June 29, 2015, former NHL-er and Russian great Sergei Fedorov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after an illustrious career spanning from 1990 to 2009. His  483 career goals were the most by a Russian-born player until Alex Ovechkin matched and bested the mark in the 2015-16 season.

With the induction to the HHOF, his first NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings were rumored to be considering sending his number 91 to the pantheon of Red Wings greats. If Mike Illitch and company approve the notion to officially take 91 out of Detroit’s circulation (even though no player has worn the number since Fedorov’s departure in 2003), he will join the likeness of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuck, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not so fast, say the fans.

It is no secret that in 1997-98 — the season Detroit repeated as Stanley Cup Champions — Fedorov underwent a contract holdout that forced him to miss 60 games. Illitch, general manager Ken Holland, and Fedorov were able to come to terms on a $38 million dollar contract toward the end of the regular season. In his return, he played in 21 games, scoring six goals, leaving many scratching their heads if $38m was worth it. The holdout was only the beginning of the downward spiral of the fan favorite, despite him leading the NHL during the playoffs with 10 goals en route to Detroit’s repeat.

It was his departure to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in July 2003 that left a sour taste in many Wings’ fans mouths, myself included. He rejected Detroit’s offers of 5yr/$50m and 4yr/$40m and accepted Anaheim’s 5yr/$40m terms. He became one of the highest-paid players in the NHL at the time in the deal, and his return to Detroit (a 7-2 Wings’ rout) was met with a downpour of boos every time he touched the puck.

It was great to stick it to him after the way he thumbed his nose at Detroit.

After his stint with the Ducks spanning from 2003-06 (including the ’04-05 lockout), he went on to play for Columbus and Washington before retiring from the NHL and returning to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He played an additional three seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk before becoming the GM of CSKA Moscow.

But now, 13 years later something doesn’t feel quite right to me. I see photos of all the retired numbers in Joe Louis Arena and I can’t help but feel that one (or two) is absent (Larry Aurie…but that’s another post for another time). With all the off-ice and contract drama aside, it is my opinion that Fedorov truly is worthy of having his number retired. And according to Illitch and Jim Devellano, a player must either be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, or must be a candidate of the HHOF to have their number retired. [This is the reason provided by Devellano in 1997 as to why Aurie’s #6 was unretired and placed back into circulation by Illitch in the 1980s. Still, no player has worn #6 since Aurie’s cousin Cumming Burton in the late 1950s. But again, I’m not delving into that right now.]

Lidstrom’s #5 was retired March 6, 2014

Nicklas Lidstrom, who was inducted alongside Fedorov on June 29, already has his number retired by the Wings after helping Detroit to four Stanley Cups, and becoming the first European-born player to Captain a Stanley Cup team, as well as being the first European-born player to reach the 1,500 game milestone. By comparison, Fedorov became the first Russian-born to reach the 1,000 point plateau after becoming one of the first Soviets to defect to America.

If the retirement honors were based solely on character, not many teams would have jersey banners hanging from their rafters, but since the honors bestowed on the greats of the game are based on their on-ice performance, why else would you not retire 91?

Fedorov’s stats:

Regular Season Playoffs
Season Team GP G A P GP G A P
1990-91 Detroit Red Wings 77 31 48 79 7 1 5 13
1991-92 Red Wings 80 32 54 86 11 5 5 21
1992-93 Red Wings 73 34 53 87 7 3 6 16
1993-94 Red Wings 82 56 64 120 7 1 7 15
1994-95 Red Wings 42 20 30 50 17 7 17 41
1995-96 Red Wings 78 39 68 107 19 2 18 39
1996-97 Red Wings 74 30 33 63 20 8 12 40
1997-98 Red Wings
21 6 11 17 22 10 10 42
1998-99 Red Wings 77 26 37 63 10 1 8 19
1999-00 Red Wings 68 27 35 62 9 4 4 17
2000-01 Red Wings 75 32 37 69 6 2 5 13
2001-02 Red Wings 81 31 37 68 23 5 14 42
2002-03 Red Wings 80 36 47 83 4 1 2 7
RED WINGS TOTALS 908 400 554 954 162 50 113 325
2003-04 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 80 31 34 65
2004-05 NHL LOCKOUT
2005-06 Ducks 5 0 1 1
DUCKS TOTALS 85 31 35 66
2005-06 Columbus Blue Jackets 62 12 31 43
2006-07 Blue Jackets 73 18 24 42
2007-08 Blue Jackets 50 9 19 28
BLUE JACKETS TOTALS 185 39 74 113
2007-08 Washington Capitals 18 2 11 13 7 1 4 5
2008-09 Capitals 52 11 22 33 14 1 7 8
CAPITALS TOTALS 70 13 33 46 21 2 11 13
NHL TOTALS 1,248 483 696 1,179 183 52 124 176
Denotes Stanley Cup season

Having grown up watching Fedorov play, I can tell you he is still one of my all-time favorite players to ever wear the Wheel. He is every bit as worthy of joining the ranks of retired numbers in Detroit. He helped pave the way for the Russian 5 and three Stanley Cup banners. His “greed” (in the words of many Wings fans) is what is holding him back from having his number honored.

I have seen a few fans say “He didn’t retire with Detroit,” but going off of that logic, only Delvecchio, Yzerman, and Lidstrom would deserve to have their numbers retired due to the fact that Howe, Lindsay, Sawchuck, nor Abel did not retire with Red Wings.

Can you imagine a Red Wings arena without 9, 7, 1,  or12 hanging from the rafters? How about a Wings team where someone wore Vladimir Konstantinov’s 16? Ever since his accident in 1997, no Wing has ever worn 16, and needless to say, Vladdy isn’t exactly HHOF material. Still, out of respect for Konstantinov, Aurie, and Fedorov, no player has requested any of their numbers upon their arrival to Detroit.

So while the Red Wings’ front office seemingly drags their feet on the possibility of retiring Fedorov’s jersey, I say it’s time to let bygones be bygones and do it. He’s the only player to ever wear 91 in Detroit, so why not make it official and put him up next to his teammates Yzerman and Lidstrom?

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