The question will always be asked what Detroit Red Wings team was the best of all time. Is it the era of the “production line” with Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsey, and Sid Abel? How about the 1995-1996 team that still holds the record for most points in a season for the entire NHL? Alternatively, the 1996-97 team that featured the “Russian Five”? What generation you were born into may end up being the determining factor as to why one of these teams sticks out more than the others. Each had their own milestones, their own iconic plays, famous line mates and D-pairings but from this writer’s opinion there is one team that exceeds all others.
I think we can all agree Detroit has produced some of the most iconic teams and players in NHL History. From “Mr. Hockey” to the “Grind Line” Detroit has had some of the best players in the world go through their organization. The debate will rage on for years and years on which team is truly the best of the best. If you compare Hall of Fame players from each roster, you will see each generational team had somewhere between seven and nine HOF on the roster at one time. Often players like Harry Lumley, Johnny Wilson or even Larry Murphy and Dutch Reibel can be forgotten when comparing them to other great superstars they played alongside. The game of hockey itself has changed drastically in the last 60 years going from a raw, aggressive game to a fast-paced fluent game, which makes comparing teams all that much more difficult. With that in mind, in this writer’s opinion the best Detroit Red Wings team in league history was the 2002 Detroit Red Wings and here is why.
The 2002 Detroit Red Wings had an amazing 9 Hall of Fame players on it. Players like Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Dominic Hasek all joined the Wings organization prior to the start of the 2001-02 season. This team already had players like Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and my personal favorite Sergei Fedorov. This team of course dominated the NHL that season, going 51-17-10-4 for a grand total of 116 points. The team faced a minor hiccup in the first round of the playoffs dropping the first two games at home to the Vancouver Canucks. However, the series flipped when Nick Lindstrom was able to score on a half ice shot against goaltender Dan Cloutier and Detroit never looked back, winning the series in 6 games. The team went on to steamroll the St. Louis Blues in 5 games setting up a meeting for the ages against the Colorado Avalanche. Detroit would end up winning the series in seven games after throttling the Avalanche in game seven with a final score of 7-0. Six of the goals were against Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy. The team went into the Stanley Cup Finals as heavy favorites against the Carolina Hurricanes who were led by Rod Brind’Amour and Ron Francis. The Wings would lose game one in overtime to the Hurricanes however would bounce back and win four straight on their way to the teams 10th Stanley Cup.
The 2002 Detroit Red Wings team may be the reason why the salary cap was introduced to the NHL as the team’s payroll was north of 66 million dollars. I know in today’s salary cap world that does not seem like that much, however if you compare it to teams like the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres that same year, the two teams combined for a payroll of 58.8 million. The Red Wings and the city of Detroit wanted a champion and owner Mike Ilitch was happy to provide the capital to make that happen. Each generation of Red Wings fans will always have “their” team when it comes to the best of the best. Either way, It just goes to prove that great talent has been a big part of Detroit’s past. I hope for the next generation of fans to have “their” team as well in the coming years.Embed from Getty Images