Last month The Sporting News created a 10-team bracket for the greatest team in NHL history. Their final round saw the 1952 Red Wings squaring off against the 2002 Red Wings. Ultimately the 2002 team was crowned the "greatest team ever." Shortly after, Brendan Shanahan and Kirk Maltby, former players from the 2002 squad, came out and said that they thought the 1997 Cup team would have beaten the 2002 team. This made me think, why not create a bracket of our own here at WIIM and let our readers decide which Red Wings' team of the modern Mike Illitch/Ken Holland era is truly the best.
So I gathered the WIIM brain trust and we put together the following match-ups:
#1 2002 Red Wings vs. #4 1998 Red Wings
#2 1997 Red Wings vs. #3 2008 Red Wings
Today we'll take a look at our first match-up of the first round.
Stats, info, prediction, and more after the jump.
After three seasons of disappointment and early exits from the playoffs, Mike Illitch must've wanted another Stanley Cup and told Kenny Holland to go get one. In the offseason, the Red Wings traded for Dominik Hasek and signed free agents Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. Three potential hall-of-famers added to the already deep and talented roster featuring Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Add that to the roll players of Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and newcomers Pavel Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux, and this roster was one of the most talented and deepest in the history of the game.
51-17-10-4 (W-L-T-OTL), 116 points
Central Division champions
Western Conference champions
Presidents' Trophy winner
Stanley Cup champions
Won Conference Quarter-Finals (4-2) versus Vancouver Canucks
Won Conference Semi-Finals (4-1) versus St. Louis Blues
Won Conference Finals (4-3) versus Colorado Avalanche
Won Stanley Cup Finals (4-1) versus Carolina Hurricanes
This Red Wings team was down 0-2 to Todd Bertuzzi and the Canucks in the first round. It didn't look good until Lidstrom scored a goal from center ice in game three and everything seemed to click after that. The Wings won that game and never looked back in the series. The second round was highlighted by Chris Pronger (who I have no doubt knew that The Captain was hurting) taking a run at Steve Yzerman and his knee and busting up his own knee in the process. Karma is a bitch. The conference finals was a classic showdown which saw a 7-0 dismantling of the Avs in game 7. To me at least, the Cup finals always seems closer than the 4-1 series record indicated. If Igor Larionov doesn't score in triple OT in game 3, the Wings would be down 2-1 in the series and who knows what would have happened.
The defending Stanley Cup champions brought back essentially the same team from the year before. The biggest loss though was that of Vladimir Konstantinov after a tragic limo accident in the offseason. The defense was mainly made up of Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Slava Fetisov, Bob Rouse, Aaron Ward, and Anders Eriksson. The core of the offense remained in tact with the addition of Brent Gilchrist. The 1997-98 season also saw the holdout of Fedorov, who signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, only to have it matched by the Red Wings.
44-23-15 (W-L-T), 103 points
Western Conference champions
Stanley Cup champions
Won Conference Quarter-Finals (4-2) versus Phoenix Coyotes
Won Conference Semi-Finals (4-2) versus St. Louis Blues
Won Conference Finals (4-2) versus Dallas Stars
Won Stanley Cup Finals (4-0) versus Washington Capitals
From the white outs in Phoenix to beating the Blues again the '98 team was ready to defend their championship and win one for Vlady. The Dallas series was intense. I'll always remember Martin Lapointe taking a cheap shot form Psycho Eddie Belfour in the conference finals. The Cup finals saw the Wings win in a sweep for the second straight year. The first three games were all close, including a thrilling 5-4 comeback OT win thanks to Kris Draper. I don't think any Wings fan will every forget when Yzerman handed the Cup to Vlady. One of the coolest moments in Red Wings' history.
Head-to-head these teams have a lot of similar components. Both teams were led by the likes of Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, and Lidstrom. Of course, on the 2002 team they were a bit older and The Captain had a banged up knee that season. The grinders were also very similar. Both squads had McCarty, Draper, and Maltby. The 1998 team had the motivation of repeating and winning one for Vlady. The 2002 team dealt with all the pressure in the world. They were built to win the Cup that season and everyone and their mother was gunning for them. At the end of the day though, I personally believe the 2002 team would win a 7-game series. The difference would come on the back end, the pairings of Lidstrom-Olausson, Chelios-Fischer, Dandenault-Duchesne tops Lidstron-Murphy, Fetisov-Eriksson, Ward-Rouse. And as much as I love Chris Osgood, I'm still taking the Dominator in his prime. Oh, and I can't forget the depth. The top names might be the same, but Brett Hull, Pavel Datysuk and Luc Robitaille trump the likes of Gilchrist, Lapointe, and Doug Brown.
WhatIfSports.com predicts that the 2002 Red Wings would win 4-3 in OT. Yzerman, McCarty and Eriksson would score for the '98 team and lead the game 3-1. Fedorov would score 2 goals and Robitaille would tie it up for the '02 team. Shanahan would win in extra time.