Robitaille: 2002 Red Wings Greatest Team Ever

Detroit, with 10 future Hall of Famers, cruised to a Stanley Cup championship

Tiki and Tierney
May 17, 2018 - 9:51 am

USA Today Images

In 2002, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, beating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. It was the Red Wings’ third title in six years, and it was perhaps their best team.

In fact, it may have been the greatest team of all time.

“I would think talent-wise for one year – because a lot of guys were in their mid-30s – but for one year, to put a team together, (it’s) probably the greatest team ever put together because there’s 10 Hall of Famers,” former Red Wing and current Kings President Luc Robitaille said in studio on Tiki and Tierney. “The Montreal Canadiens in the ’70s, I would be curious to see how many guys are in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure if it was 10. Maybe the Oilers in the early ’80s, I think there was maybe seven or eight of those guys in the Hall of Fame. So for one year, when you literally knew – except for Pavel Datsyuk – everybody else, you knew they were going in the Hall of Fame.”

Detroit won 22 of its first 27 games that season and finished with the league’s best record, as the roster was stacked with future Hall of Famers: Robitaille, Datsyuk, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Dominik Hasek, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, and Igor Larionov.

The Red Wings became the first team in NHL history to roster three players – Robitaille, Hull, and Yzerman – with at least 500 goals, all of whom surpassed the 600-goal threshold in their careers.

And yet, there were no egos.

“It was Stevey Yzerman’s team,” Robitaille said. “We all knew that coming in. But I think, too, we all had had our career. We were all towards the end, so every one of us was willing to sacrifice to win the big prize. We all understood that. Sometimes when you got guys fighting for contracts and so forth, it’s a little bit different. But everybody was rewarded.”

Detroit actually lost its first two playoff games that year to Vancouver before beating the Canucks in four straight. The Red Wings then made short work of St. Louis, beating the Blues in five to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they met a familiar foe in Colorado – the defending Stanley Cup champion. Detroit fell behind 3-2 in that series but won Game 6 in Denver and embarrassed the Avalanche, 7-0, in Game 7.

The rest is history.

“Mr. Ilitch, the owner, treated everybody real good,” Robitaille said of the late Detroit icon. “Everybody understood at that time that you got to put aside your ego a little bit, give in a little bit, give your stats a little bit for the greater cause for the team – and it worked. It’s an amazing feeling when it happened.”