Red Wings: It’s Time to Retire Sergei Fedorov’s Number in 2022

7 Jun 1997: Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov holds up his arms as he walks into the locker room at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won the game 2-1.
7 Jun 1997: Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov holds up his arms as he walks into the locker room at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won the game 2-1. /

Readying for the Stanley Cup Final last night, I found myself going through old videos on Youtube of Detroit Red Wings glory. It’s incredible that next season will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1997 Stanley Cup win.

This of course got me to watch highlights from 1998. And then again from 2002. And obviously 2008 followed as well.

But the takeaway from those first three was #91–Sergei Fedorov. There’s certainly a range of opinions on this so what’s one more?

It’s long overdue for #91 to be hanging in the rafters.

Fedorov was one of the Red Wings’ Biggest Stars

I remember my uncle telling me sometime in the mid-90s that Fedorov and Barry Sanders were the two Detroit athletes that could get fans out of their seats at a moment’s notice. No game sums that up more than his five goal performance in 1996 against Washington.

Fedorov 5, Capitals 4.

Every time he had the puck, you got closer to the TV (no HD then, so we sat pretty close) and waited for something to happen.

It felt like most games were like that with him.

But beyond that, without Fedorov, there are no Stanley Cup parades. Remember, Scotty Bowman put him on defense at one point because he was that versatile. He had a prominent Nike commercial during prime time games, and there was another series by Nike where Fedorov lives rent free in the minds of NHL goalies everywhere. The commercials transitioned from goalies exacting vengeance in comical ways or just all out ranting about him as now unemployed netminders in new jobs.

He was a legend in Detroit and a household name nationwide.

But it all changed after Detroit won its first Cup since 1955.

A Messy Split

What started the current predicament was the holdout of 1997-98, something that polarized the fan base and rankled management. I remember the boos then, but I especially remember them after he left in 2003.

This article from the New York Times written after his first game in Detroit as a member of the (then) Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. To sum it up, here’s what he said following the game in regards to the fans:

"When someone asked what fans had yelled along with the booing, Fedorov replied: ”I heard some words, but not the full phrases. They were negative. The cold war’s over, you can tell them.”"

Fedorov would spend time with Columbus and then Washington before hanging his skates up, but the damage was done. Things cooled a bit when he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but the Athletic’s Craig Custance captured the essence of the rift when he wrote this following the press conference for Red Kelly’s number retirement when speaking to Jimmy Devellano:

"“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”Perhaps to prevent himself from saying something he might regret, Devellano headed for the door. Any doubt that wounds of Fedorov’s career decisions were still felt within the organization were removed."

Custance goes on to write that the Ilitches “valued loyalty” above all else. I get it–especially since they bankrolled what would be four championships and the offer sheet they ultimately matched to keep him in Detroit.

It’s their organization and we simply root for it.

But time marches on, and grudges should have no place there.

Perfect Opportunity at 25 Years

It’s been a quarter of a century (!) since Steve Yzerman grinned with a missing tooth and raised the Stanley Cup over his head–washing away the playoff frustrations and fans angst in one full swoop.

It’s time to do the same here.

If there’s anything that’s been learned in the last fifteen months, nothing is certain. Watching sporting events without fans seemed something from a Hollywood movie, but there it was from the middle of the summer through just recently. Lives were upended.

When things began opening up again, albeit slowly, it was a sense of renewal, a chance to maybe learn from the lessons from the shutdowns. Be kinder. Show gratitude. Love harder.

A pretty significant milestone is coming this upcoming season. Perhaps it’s time to apply that lesson here: Fixing a frayed relationship while honoring the past. There’s a simple way to do that.

19 is back running the show.

So it only makes sense to put 91 where it rightly belongs–in the rafters.

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