The NHL released its top 100 players in league history at this weekend’s All-Star festivities, commemorating the 100th year of the NHL.
The Detroit Red Wings were all over that list. There were 28 players who played at least part of their careers in Detroit on the list of 100. It is amazing to think that 28 percent of the greatest players in hockey history played in Detroit — yet another reason the Motor City is also known as Hockeytown.
The players who were predominantly Red Wings (or at least are remembered in part as a Red Wing) that made the list were Sid Abel, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Delvecchio, Sergei Federov, Dominik Hasek, Gordie Howe, Brett Hull, Red Kelly, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich, Terry Sawchuk, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman.
Of course there was a group of players that just had a year or a handful of years in Detroit and are better remembered for their work on other teams. Those players are: Andy Bathgate, Johnny Bucyk, Paul Coffey, Charlie Conacher, Marcel Dionne, Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey, Mike Modano, Adam Oates, Brad Park, Luc Robitaille, Borje Salming and Darryl Sittler.
Many of them still made a mark in Detroit. Let’s take a look at the curious case of Paul Coffey:
Coffey was a key player for the Red Wings for a short time, winning the Norris Trophy for Detroit in 1995, but was even bigger to the franchise because he was traded for Shanahan, who helped usher in the latest Red Wings dynasty.
Coffey won Stanley Cups with three different teams and reached the final with another — but never won a Cup in Detroit.
Ironically, Coffey’s biggest game came against Detroit when he was with the Edmonton Oilers in 1986. Coffey scored eight points, two goals and six assists, to tie the NHL’s record for most point in a game by a defenseman. That same season, he set an NHL record for defensemen with a point in 28 consecutive games.
Coffey is one of the rare star players to play alongside some of the biggest legends the game has ever seen.
In Edmonton, he skated with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, helping the Oilers win three Stanley Cups. Then he was traded to Pittsburgh, where he helped the Penguins win a Cup as a teammate of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis. Then he was traded to Los Angeles to reunite with Gretzky before being traded to Detroit, where he got to play with Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov and Nicklas Lidstrom.
After a brief stop in Hartford, Coffey joined the Philadelphia Flyers — a talented team that included Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Ron Hextall, Dale Hawerchuk and Rod Brind’Amour.
In another irony, as a member of the Flyers, Coffey was in the Stanley Cup finals and faced the Red Wings. But Detroit swept Philadelphia to end their Stanley Cup drought and usher in a new dynasty.
Coffey moved to Chicago to play with Chelios and the Blackhawks as two of the greatest defensemen of all time played together. It was then on to the Carolina Hurricanes, where Coffey was reunited with Francis and Brind’Amour, and yet another former Red Wing, Keith Primeau.
Coffey’s last stop was in Boston in 2001, where he was on the same team with Joe Thornton — giving the Bruins two of the greatest passers in NHL history, though at different stages of their careers.
Few players have ever had the opportunity to skate on the same side as so many of the game’s elite players — especially one who is elite himself. But Coffey had one of the most remarkable careers, making an impact at every stop in his Hall of Fame career.
He won Norris Trophies and made All-Star teams wherever he went — and his teams were frequently making deep runs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But his biggest moments came against Detroit and his departure, rather than his presence, was the key in starting the Red Wings dynasty.