Best of the Decade: Top 5 NHL Players
Ten years ago, the Detroit Red Wings were the NHL’s dominant team. They and their fans were basking in their 2008 Stanley Cup championship, marking their fourth title in 11 years. Despite the departures of long-time stars such as Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, the Wings remained atop the NHL mountaintop as a perennial Cup contender.
Those glory days have since passed. The following season, the Wings fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Stanley Cup Final rematch, beginning a lengthy decline that saw them bottom out by missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
As the Wings rebuild their roster, here’s a look at where the notable players from their last championship team are today.
Nicklas Lidstrom. One of the greatest defensemen in hockey history, the former Wings captain retired in 2012 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. He lives in Sweden with his family where he coaches his sons. He co-owns an assets company and also works in real estate.
Henrik Zetterberg. Winner of the 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy, Zetterberg is now the captain of the Red Wings. Hampered in recent years by back injuries, his status is unclear for the 2018-19 season.
Pavel Datsyuk. Considered among the best two-way players of all time, Datsyuk retired from the NHL in 2016. Returning to Russian, he joined the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, captaining them to the Gagarin Cup championship in 2017. He signed a one-year contract extension in April.
Chris Osgood. The often under-appreciated “Ozzie” backstopped the Wings to the 2008 Stanley Cup. It was his third Cup title and his second as a starter. Osgood would play three more seasons with the Wings before retiring in 2011, becoming just the 10th goalie in NHL history to reach 400 wins. He’s gone on to work in the Red Wings organization, as well as providing analysis for Wings games on Fox Sports. He’s also part-owner of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.
Dominik Hasek. 2007-08 was the final NHL season for “The Dominator.” He was Chris Osgood’s backup during the postseason, seeing action in four games. Hasek spent 2009-10 in the Czech Extraliga and 2010-11 in the KHL before retiring. Ranked among the greatest goaltenders of all time, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014. Today, he’s an entrepreneur in the Czech Republic and also stays involved in hockey and charities.
Chris Chelios. One of the NHL’s great defensemen, Chelios returned with the Wings in 2008-09 and briefly saw action the following season with the Atlanta Thrashers before ending his 26-year NHL career. He spent several seasons with the Wings in the front office and coaching staff before joining the Chicago Blackhawks in July 2018 as a team ambassador. Chelios was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
Brian Rafalski. The skilled puck-moving defenseman played three more seasons with the Red Wings before retiring at age 37 in 2011 to spend more time with his family. They currently reside in Florida where he works with a local hockey program.
Johan Franzen. Multiple concussion injuries cut short Franzen’s playing career. Though still under contract with the Red Wings through 2019-20, he hasn’t suited up since 2015. In May 2018, Franzen’s wife revealed her husband was going through “intensive treatment” for brain injury as he continues to deal with post-concussion syndrome.
Niklas Kronwall. Since Lidstrom’s retirement, Kronwall became the linchpin of the Red Wings’ defense corps. Now 37, his physical style of play has led to injuries that in recent years limited his effectiveness.
Tomas Holmstrom. A long-time physical presence in front of opposition nets, Holmstrom spent four more seasons with the Wings before retiring prior to the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He lives with his family in Sweden and coaches youth hockey.
Jiri Hudler. After four more seasons with the Wings, including one he missed when he played in the KHL during a season-long contract dispute, Hudler spent his final five NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars, winning the Lady Byng Trophy in 2015. Last fall, he was involved in an incident aboard an international flight in which he reportedly used cocaine in the washroom and threatened a flight attendant.
Kris Draper. Following three more seasons with the Wings, Draper retired in 2011 and joined the Wings’ front-office staff. He is now a special assistant to general manager Ken Holland.
Mikael Samuelsson. After another season with the Wings, Samuelsson spent parts of four campaigns with the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers before returning to Detroit for a last hurrah in 2013. Retiring in 2015, Samuelsson is a European Development Coach with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Valtteri Filppula. Departed the Wings as a free agent in 2013 to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2017, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. He recently signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders.
Brad Stuart. Following four more seasons with the Wings, Stuart returned to the San Jose Sharks (where he began his NHL career) for two seasons and signed a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche. A back injury ended his playing career in 2016.
Dallas Drake. The 2007-08 season was Drake’s last, retiring after 15 NHL seasons. He lives with his family in Michigan and coaches youth hockey.
Darren Helm. The 31-year-old winger is entering his 12th season with the Red Wings.
Dan Cleary. Following seven more seasons with the Wings and one with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Cleary retired in 2017. He’s now the Red Wings’ co-director of player development.
Darren McCarty. After one more season with the Wings, McCarty retired in 2009. He published his autobiography in 2013 detailing his free-wheeling lifestyle and battles with addictions. He lives in Detroit where he works for a real-estate company and is also trying his hand at stand-up comedy.
Kirk Maltby. The long-time Red Wings checking-line forward played two more seasons before retiring in 2010. He soon joined the Wings as a pro scout and remains in that role today.
Andreas Lilja. The Swedish defenseman spent two more seasons with the Wings. After spending three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers, Lilja spent two years playing in Sweden before retiring as a player. Next season, he’ll be an assistant coach for Kristianstad.
“If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded.”
That phrase is regularly trotted out whenever a National Hockey League superstar surfaces in trade rumors. Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion recently used it when discussing the future of defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Gretzky was traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1988. During the 1995-96 season, the Kings shipped the Great One to the St. Louis Blues.
The trade everyone remembers, of course, was the first one. At the time, Gretzky and the Oilers were at the peak of their powers. It was a stunning move that forever changed the NHL, paving the way for new hockey markets in the southern United States.
In the nearly 30 years since the first Gretzky trade, notable superstars such as Patrick Roy, Raymond Bourque, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and P.K. Subban have been traded.
Why would a team deal away its best player, especially when they’re usually unlikely to get equal value in return?
In most cases, it’s because he’s approaching the end of his contract. That’s the scenario the Senators face with Karlsson. With unrestricted free agency beckoning next year, he could seek more than the Sens can afford. Rather than risk losing him for nothing to free agency, they could put him on the trade block.
Sometimes it can be a personality issue. A player can clash with ownership, management, the coaching staff or sometimes some of his teammates, reaching the point where a trade is the only resolution.
If a team is floundering in the standings and management is considering a roster rebuild, a superstar might prefer moving on to a club that has a better chance of competing for the Stanley Cup in the near future.
Following the “If Gretzky can be traded…” logic, it’s easy to assume that today’s biggest stars, such as Karlsson, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews, could one day be dealt to other clubs.
However, not every NHL superstar is certain to be traded during their careers.
Mario Lemieux spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Granted, he was in an ownership role with the club when he emerged from retirement in 2000. Still, for a Penguins front office heading toward financial difficulties by the mid-’90s, dealing their biggest draw simply to cut costs wasn’t an option.
Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic began his NHL career when that franchise was still the Quebec Nordiques. The Avs were so determined to retain Sakic that, in 1997, they matched a three-year, $21-million offer sheet he signed with the New York Rangers. After that, they made sure they paid him whatever he wanted.
Steve Yzerman and Niklas Lidstrom spent their entire Hall of Fame careers with the Detroit Red Wings. In 1995, Detroit management entertained the notion of trading Yzerman to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin. However, they wisely reconsidered and Yzerman went on to lead the Wings to three Stanley Cup championships.
In today’s NHL, trading a superstar isn’t easy. Most of them usually carry expensive long-term contracts containing ironclad no-trade/no-movement clauses, giving them full control over their trade status.
That’s one reason why, after 16 seasons, Daniel and Henrik Sedin remain with the Vancouver Canucks. While still putting up respectable numbers, they’re no longer capable of playing at the level that established them as the greatest players in Canucks history. The twins, however, have full no-trade protection on their current contracts (which expire in July) and no interest in playing elsewhere.
It’s also not uncommon for a club to retain its best player even when his career is on the downside. They’re still the face of the franchise and the guy the fans come to see. Sometimes there’s a loyalty toward the player born out of respect for all he’s done for the team throughout his career.
The day could come when the Penguins ask Crosby to accept a trade, or the Capitals place Alex Ovechkin on the trade block. Down the road, perhaps the Oilers part ways with McDavid or the Maple Leafs peddle Matthews.
After all, if Gretzky can be traded, so could they. But don’t be too sure they’ll face the same fate.
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