Reign Men By winning their third title in six years, the Red Wings have become the Yankees of hockey, the team to beat every season

June 23, 2002

Scotty Bowman had been dropping hints like bread crumbs for
anyone willing to follow the trail. In a press conference before
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals on June 8, Bowman, the
68-year-old Detroit Red Wings coach, said he had made a decision
about his future (but refused to elaborate). When the
possibility of a labor stoppage in 2004-05 was raised later in
the week, he said a lockout would be somebody else's problem. In
fact, it was after the Olympic break in February that Bowman
decided to retire, but he told only a handful of friends,
including New York Yankees manager Joe Torre. On the morning of
Game 5, last Thursday, he broke the news to his summertime
neighbor in suburban Buffalo, Canadian Broadcasting Company
analyst and former coach Harry Neale.

"I'm retiring," Bowman told him. "All the other times I
considered it, I thought I knew I was ready. Now I know I know
it."

"So what now?" Neale asked.

"Consultant," said Bowman, who has a three-year deal with
Detroit as a paid second-guesser. "Now I can go to the games and
I don't have to win them."

The Red Wings had to win the 2002 Cup, because they were
constructed to do no less. They defeated the dogged but
overmatched Carolina Hurricanes, but their third Cup in six
years was not so much pursued as it was orchestrated--much like
the celebration after the 3-1 clinching win in Game 5. After
going wire-to-wire following a 22-3-1-1 start, surviving losses
in Games 1 and 2 of the first-round matchup against the
Vancouver Canucks and outlasting the defending champion Colorado
Avalanche in the superb seven-game Western Conference finals,
Detroit staged an on-ice celebration that was much smoother than
its power play.

As red and white confetti rained from the rafters of Joe Louis
Arena, captain Steve Yzerman, who only moments earlier had been
told by Bowman of his imminent departure, accepted the Cup from
commissioner Gary Bettman and handed it to his coach. Having
donned his skates with 20 seconds left to play, he took one
final spin with the 35-pound chalice he had been chasing for 46
NHL seasons. Then, one by one, the players who never had lifted
the trophy--goalie Dominik Hasek, 37; sniper Luc Robitaille, 36;
and jack-o'-lantern defenseman Steve Duchesne, 36, who had lost
six of his front teeth in Game 3--were given their moment in the
spotlight with the Cup.

Bowman, meanwhile, continued to spread the news. As he hugged
general manager Ken Holland at center ice, he said, "This was my
last game." For someone who sets the standard for prolixity, the
sentence was sweet and succinct. Bowman has been known to
ramble: In reply to a question before Game 5 on the common
traits of great coaches, he gave a 668-word discourse that
contained references to trips to Florida and a journeyman goalie
named Cesare Maniago, whose career ended 24 years ago.

The ultimate contrarian, Bowman is the best coach in pro sports
history because he's an old-school leader who kept up with the
times, an inflexible man who made adjustments in dealing with
today's players. Bowman had the right to overshadow the
celebration with his retirement announcement because his career
has been more memorable than the final series was. Bowman's
legacy, which includes nine Cups (breaking the record he shared
since 1998 with mentor Toe Blake), is secure--just like the Red
Wings' future.

Detroit has surpassed its status as a mere hockey powerhouse and
become the pinstriped dynasty of the ice. Like the Horace Clarke
days of the Yankees, the franchise had to endure the era of the
late 1970s and early '80s, when the untalented, ineptly managed
Red Wings were known as the Dead Things. Like the splendidly
professional Yankees of recent years, these Red Wings, who play
an up-tempo, crowd-pleasing game, are hard to hate. Like the
Yankees, the Red Wings spend top dollar to get premium talent.
And, finally, like the Yankees, the Red Wings routinely get the
players they want, because the club's talent is a siren's call
that attracts more talent.

"We are like the Yankees," agrees Brett Hull, the right wing who
scored the pivotal goal in Game 3, on a deflection with 74
seconds left in regulation. That tally extended the match into
overtime--Detroit then won 3-2--and effectively derailed
Carolina. After that goal by Hull, who led playoff scorers with
10, the Hurricanes had only one goal in the remaining 176
minutes and one second of the series. "Year in and year out,"
says Hull, "this team will be there. They'll always be at the
top."

The question now is whether Hasek, who agreed to a trade from
Buffalo to Detroit last June, will quit after his magical,
mercenary season. A giddy Detroit would have been shaken by a
second postgame retirement, but to read Hasek's body language,
he's outta here, back to the Czech Republic with his family. (On
Monday, when the Red Wings paraded the Cup through downtown
Detroit, Hasek said he would decide later in the week.) If Hasek
departs--he was the third goalie to backstop the Red Wings'
three Cups in the last six years--it will create a Dominik
Effect, as Holland retools a team whose number of future Hall of
Fame players could shrink from nine to as few as five.

The payroll will remain around $65 million--like the Yankees,
among the highest in the sport--but without Hasek and his $8
million salary plus $1 million Cup bonus, Detroit could position
itself to sign two big-ticket unrestricted free agents. If
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph doesn't re-sign, the
Red Wings will try to entice him the same way they did Hasek:
with the chance to validate an outstanding career with his first
championship. If Joseph stays in Toronto, Ed Belfour, a
free-agent-to-be who won the Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999,
is a possible second choice. Detroit is also expected to bid for
elite free-agent forwards Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik. With the
emergence of 23-year-old rookie center Pavel Datsyuk and the
anticipated arrival of 21-year-old phenom Henrik Zetterberg, the
best player in the Swedish Elite League, the Red Wings will have
a surfeit of forwards, some of whom will be dealt.

Brendan Shanahan, 33, would be reluctant to waive his no-trade
clause, but Robitaille, who scored 30 goals despite averaging
only 14:51 minutes per game, could be moved after one season in
Detroit. The Red Wings will try to keep Chris Chelios, a
40-year-old free-agent defenseman who was one of three Norris
Trophy finalists, unless he asks for the kind of deal that the
New Jersey Devils' Scott Stevens and the St. Louis Blues' Al
MacInnis have (at about $7 million per). Holland also hopes
41-year-old center Igor Larionov does not retire.

"We try to have not only good players but also good role
models," Holland says. "You see how far [21-year-old defenseman
Jiri] Fischer progressed this season playing with Chelios.
Zetterberg has told me Larionov is his favorite player, and it
would be great for Henrik if Igor was around. Players have to
learn how to go about the business of being a pro. Yzerman,
[Sergei] Fedorov and [Conn Smythe Trophy winner Nicklas]
Lidstrom had to do it on their own through the early and
mid-'90s, which is why we lost so many times in the playoffs. I
hope that our young players will learn from Chelios and Larionov."

Holland is unconcerned about not having a coach in place when
the free-agent signing period begins on July 1--the team's
success, not the man behind the bench, speaks for the Red Wings.
Bowman's associate coaches, 48-year-old Dave Lewis, who has been
with the franchise since 1987-88, and 51-year-old Barry Smith, a
sterling tactician and Bowman acolyte the past 11 seasons, would
be worthy successors. Either, however, would face the problem of
transforming himself from nurturing assistant into hard-edged
boss. Holland most likely will expand the search beyond those
two, but whomever Detroit hires, two things are certain: The new
coach will have the most talented team in the league, and he
will have the biggest shoes in coaching history to fill.

Want to rank the top 25 NHL teams of all time? Go to
cnnsi.com/hockey/2002/playoffs.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PASCAL GUYOT/AFP COVER STANLEY CUP RED WINGS RULE COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA [T of C] BACK NEXT SEASON? The Red Wings hope $8 million will entice Dominik Hasek to return for another run at the Stanley Cup (page 42). COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY LOU CAPOZZOLA UP AND DOWN As Chelios led the joyful charge toward Hasek (39) after Game 5, the Hurricanes had the look of a beaten team. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [See caption above] THREE COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID E. KLUTHO (3) SCOTTY'S SWAN SONG Kris Draper split the Carolina D (left) and Darren McCarty took an uplifting check (right) en route to the ninth and last Cup for Bowman. B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN FLYING FRENCHMEN Beliveau was one of 10 future Hall of Famers on the powerful '55-56 Canadiens.

The Best Team in History Is...

The 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings are not the greatest NHL team
ever. They are not even the greatest Red Wings team ever, taking
a back seat to the '51-52 Stanley Cup champions, who won all
eight of their playoff games. The '01-02 Red Wings could match
hockey IQs with any club, but this team was neither especially
physical nor explosive, and that keeps it out of the top five.
Here are SI's picks for the best teams in history.

1. 1955-56 CANADIENS The first of five straight Cup-winning
Montreal teams had 10 future Hall of Famers, including forwards
Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Jean Beliveau, defenseman Doug
Harvey and goalie Jacques Plante. The Canadiens had three of the
NHL's top four scorers that season (Beliveau, Richard and Bert
Olmstead) and two impact rookies (Henri Richard, who would win a
record 11 Cups, and coach Toe Blake, who would win the chalice
eight times).

2. 1975-76 CANADIENS The '76-77 edition is widely hailed as the
best of the mid-'70s Montreal teams, losing only eight times in
the regular season and twice in the playoffs. But we give the
nod to the previous incarnation, which lost 11 times during the
season and dropped one playoff match, because it performed a
public service by sweeping the two-time champion Flyers in the
Cup finals to end the reign of the Broad Street Bullies.

3. 1976-77 CANADIENS Both this Montreal team and the '75-76
version featured Guy Lafleur at the pinnacle of his career; the
Big Three of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe on
defense; the goaltending of Ken Dryden; and exceptional role
players such as Bob Gainey.

4. 1986-87 OILERS The 119-point team of '83-84, which ended the
four-year championship run of the Islanders, can make a stronger
case statistically than this group (106 points). But Edmonton
general manager Kevin Lowe, who was a defenseman on both teams,
says the addition of high-scoring forward Kent Nilsson and
mobile defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen to the core of Wayne
Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri
and Esa Tikkanen made the '86-87 team more dangerous.

5. 1981-82 ISLANDERS After a 118-point season New York squeezed
past the Penguins in the first round but then cruised through
the next three rounds, sweeping the Canucks for the Cup. The
team was built around the trio of forwards Bryan Trottier, Mike
Bossy and Clark Gillies, but second-liners such as John Tonelli
helped turn the club into a powerhouse. These Islanders, with
the ability to play tough or win with skill, were the most
versatile of the franchise's great teams. Denis Potvin, among
the top five defensemen in history, was brilliant, and Billy
Smith was a money goalie.

The ultimate contrarian, Bowman is the best coach in pro sports
history, an inflexible man who made adjustments.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)