Last week, it was announced that former pariah Sergei Fedorov was going to be part of the Winter Classic Alumni Showdown, reuniting with three of the other four members of the famed "Russian Five". It's a decision that has sparked renewed debate among Red Wing fans about Fedorov's place in Red Wing history.
Fedorov was easily the most polarizing of Wing players. He was probably the most talented player in the NHL through the 1990s, but with that talent came off-ice issues and contract hold-outs that did not endear him to the fans. His rejecting the Wings after the 2002-03 season was the final straw for a lot of fans, especially after he held out through the first half of the 1997-98 season.
If there's one thing that Wing fans value, it's dedication. We have been spoiled to have many key members of this team remain in Detroit for well over 10 years, and saw 2 of the greatest players of all time spend 20 years each wearing the Winged Wheel. Fedorov, for all his raw talent, never approached the level of Steve Yzerman or Nicklas Lidstrom in terms of pure adoration.
The question that has been asked of everyone has been whether Fedorov will be (or in some cases, should be) booed when he takes the ice at the Winter Classic Alumni game. If you feel the urge to boo when you see Fedorov, stop, think, take a drink, and then sit down. Booing Fedorov only shows you to be petty and bitter over something that happened 10 years ago.
There are two reasons why booing Fedorov should not be tolerated by any self-respecting Wing fan: his contributions to 3 Stanley Cups, and the scope of the event.
Think about what Fedorov did in Detroit: 954 points in 908 regular season games, 163 points in 162 playoff games, the 1994 Hart, Selke and Pearson Trophies, another Selke in 1996, 4 straight playoff seasons with at least 20 points, at least 25 goals in every full season he played as a Red Wing. Combine those stats with his moves, his skating, his defense, and you may have the most talented Red Wing of all time.
Yet many people can't and won't forget the holdout in 1998 or his leaving the team despite being offered a ton of money in 2003. But the time to boo Fedorov was when he came to the Joe as a Duck in 2003, not at the Alumni Game. This event is to showcase and celebrate the players that made the Wings the dominant franchise they have become, not to re-live past slights. If the Red Wings can forgive Fedorov and allow him to be a part of the festivities, then there's no reason that we as fans can't do the same.
However, the return of Fedorov has got me thinking about what his place is in Red Wing history and how best to celebrate him. Despite the circumstances of how he left town, the fact remains that without him, the Wings would not have been nearly as good as they were throughout the '90s and early '00s.
Still, I can't help but remember the holdout in 1998. The Wings were the Cup champs and there was Fedorov, not reporting to camp and sitting out the first half of the season. A massive contract offer by the Hurricanes was matched by the Wings, and Fedorov came back to help lead the Wings to their second straight Cup. Can you imagine how bad it would have been for him had the Wings lost in the first or second round? Then 5 years later, he bolts for Anaheim after the Ducks swept the Wings in the first round. Many fans still have not forgiven him for that, and sports fans are notorious for holding grudges.
So what do you do for a guy like that? Someone who had all the talent in the world but wasn't necessarily the best representative of the franchise?
The ultimate honor is number retirement. A banner in the rafters is the best way for a franchise to show a player exactly how much he meant to the team. This is reserved for the best of the best; the legends and once-in-a-generation players who are ambassadors for the team on and off the ice. This is where you'll find your Yzermans, Lidstroms, and Howes. This is not a place for a guy who spurned a huge contract to go be "the guy" somewhere else, particularly the team that just swept you out of the playoffs.
Fedorov, for all his greatness on the ice, has too many black marks on his resume to warrant getting 91 retired. But isn't it time for the Wings to do something to thank him for all he did for the team?
I propose a "Ring of Honor" or something similar. Players like Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, and Chris Osgood deserve to be celebrated in a permanent fashion without having their numbers retired. For as good as these players were as Red Wings, their accomplishments and/or their tenure with the team were not enough to prevent someone else from wearing their jersey in the future.
Sergei Fedorov's return to Detroit as a member of the Red Wings is something to be celebrated. It's time to bury the hatchet, remember that we were privileged to witness the careers of one of the most talented players of all time, and honor him for his contributions. And if your first instinct is to boo him, then perhaps you should give your ticket to someone who can actually appreciate greatness.