Despite his quirks, Fedorov’s No. 91 should be retired
As a player, Sergei Fedorov was so much more than his outstanding numbers. And that’s both a positive and a negative.
The question has been debated for a few years now.
Should Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91 be retired and hang in the rafters at Little Caesars Arena?
If you look at the numbers and Fedorov’s accomplishments, it seems to be a slam dunk that his number should be retired.
In his 13 seasons with the Red Wings Fedorov had 400 goals, 554 assists and 954 points in 908 games, was a key cog in winning three Stanley Cups; he won a Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, two Frank J. Selke Trophies as the league’s best defensive forward and a Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay) Award as the NHL Players Association most outstanding player, and he played in six All-Star Games.
Fedorov was also the center on the First Team All-Star Team in 1993-94 – when won the Hart, his first Selke and the Lester B. Pearson Award – becoming the first player not named Gretzky, Lemieux or Messier to be the NHL’s First Team center since 1979-80.
He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Fedorov is one of only four players to reach 400 goals while wearing the winged wheel and one of seven with 900 points.
The other three with 400 goals are Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Alex Delvecchio, and they are joined by Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – along with Fedorov – in the 900-point club. Howe’s No. 9, Yzerman’s No. 19, Delvecchio’s No. 10 and Lidstrom’s No. 5 all hang in the rafters, and there’s no question that Datsyuk’s No. 13 and Zetterberg’s No. 40 will be beside them at some point.
But Fedorov, as a player, was so much more than his numbers. And that’s both a positive and a negative.
Fedorov was the perfect combination of speed, skill, strength and power on the ice. He was spectacular to watch and dominated games when he was at his best.
Two examples are when he scored all four of the Red Wings’ goals in a 4-4 nationally televised tie with the Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena in the lockout-shortened 1995 season, and the night after Christmas in 1996 when he scored all five Detroit goals, including the overtime winner, in a 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals.
But he was also fairly criticized for not being at his absolute best all the time.
When he was motivated, Fedorov was the best player on the ice. But there were also times when it seemed that he had more to give than he gave.
That vexed and infuriated then-coach Scotty Bowman, who was an old-school taskmaster who demanded everything a player had to give every time he was on the ice.
But Fedorov wasn’t alone in drawing Bowman’s ire for that reason. Brendan Shanahan did also.
So, as great as he was, Fedorov could probably have been an even better player.
He also had an uneasy relationship with Yzerman, who had long owned the hearts of Red Wings fans when Fedorov arrived, after defecting from Russia, for his rookie season in 1990-91.
While their 1-2 center combination was the key to the Stanley Cups the Wings won in 1997, 1998 and 2002, it was clear to most around the team in those days that Yzerman and Fedorov never really clicked personally.
Many thought that Yzerman felt threatened as the captain and face of the team by Fedorov’s sheer physical talent . Also, like Bowman, he was not happy about the fact that Fedorov’s mind was not always focused on hockey – think of his much-publicized and dissected relationship with Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova, who was a teenager for much of their time together.
Also, after the Red Wings had won the 1997 Stanley Cup, Fedorov – whose contract had expired at the end of the season – held out until the final 21 games of the 1997-98 regular season, finally signing a six-year deal worth $38 million. But when he returned, Fedorov was outstanding in the playoffs, helping the Wings to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Fedorov felt alienated by the team’s captain and feared that, as long as Yzerman was his teammate, he would never get the attention that he deserved.
That’s the reason Fedorov turned down more money from the Red Wings to sign as a free agent with the Anaheim Ducks after the 2002-03 season.
That decision not only greatly angered many Red Wings fans – Fedorov was booed every time he touched the puck at JLA after leaving the Wings – but also some in management.
“I’m not going to discuss it,” said Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano recently when asked about the organization’s stance on retiring Fedorov’s number.
Devellano was the team’s general manager when Detroit drafted Fedorov and is usually one of the most willing and candid interviewees in the National Hockey League.
There’s clearly still some unhappiness with Fedorov in the organization. And, while I think his jersey should be retired, Devellano’s response is a clear indication that it won’t happen any time soon.