(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
When Puck Daddy asked us to come up with the United Nations of Red Wings Hockey, we jumped at the chance to be the site that left the guy you really thought should have won off their list purely out of spite. We had some spirited discussion, but came to an agreement in the end. In setting the rules for this, we made only one:
1. He has to be alive
If you're looking for the United Zombie Nations, check with Boston and their stupid goal song.
Canada: Gordie Howe
Let's get the toughest one out of the way. The Wings have six Canadian numbers retired and four of them are still living. Among them we have a guy who has an NHL award named after him thanks to his courage in standing up for the players; we have a guy who can still be colloquially referred to as "THE Captain" in conversations with fellow Wings fans; and we have the guy whose very nickname is the embodiment of the sport itself. When guys like Paul Coffey and Luc Robitaille are laughable suggestions, you've got a tough call on your hands.
With that, it really only came down to two people and in the end, Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey himself is going to be our representative for Canada. With a playing career full of records that reads like a Tolstoy novel to his follow-up work as a diplomat for the sport, Howe will own this honor until he's ready to pass it to Steve Yzerman, who could just as easily hold it now.
This one is an ultra-compelling race between Valtteri Filppula and Ville Leino. Filppula is the easy choice; let's move on.
USA: Chris Chelios
In part of our arguments about Gordie vs. Stevie, we seriously considered using Yzerman's American citizenship to anger the hockey gods by naming him the greatest American to ever play for the Red Wings.
Seeing as how none of us wanted to actually make that claim in public, the choice to name Chris Chelios as the U.S. representative was relatively easy. While Brett Hull and Mike Modano are excellent choices for other teams, the way they twilighted their careers in Detroit pales in comparison to how the 37-year old Chelios came to the organization and stayed for 9 more seasons, winning himself two more Stanley Cups in the process.
Besides, we already know he knows how to behave himself in international situations.
Sweden: Nicklas Lidstrom
You'd think that with all the Swedes the Wings have employed over the years (like Daniel Alfredsson), that this would be a tougher call, but when only one of them is a generational talent who was the first European-born captain to win the Stanley Cup, it would be insulting to give the title to anybody but Nicklas Lidstrom. The guy is The Perfect Human. Hell, we could send him to the ACTUAL U.N. and see world peace realized in relatively short order.
Russia: Sergei Fedorov
Oh boy, here we go.
While Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, and Vladimir Konstantinov deserve to be mentioned here, the best player designation is always going to come down between two players and the way they're viewed among Red Wings fans could not be more divided. One had more raw talent, the other worked harder to hone his natural gifts. One was flashier, the other better-grounded. One is the prototypical great teammate, the other left the minute he was free to go.
This debate will likely rage on forever. Still, for my money, if you put Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Fedorov in each of their primes up against one another with all of their teammates being equal, I think Datsyuk slows Fedorov down, but Sergei gets the better of the matchup; therefore, Sergei Fedorov will be our Best Russian Player delegate to the United Nations of Hockey, joining what should have been other Best Russian Player delegates like Sergei Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Sergei Fedorov from the Anaheim Ducks.
The saving grace is that there's a decent possibility Fedorov wouldn't go to represent Detroit and the well-deserving Datsyuk would happily step into his spot to be adored by everybody.
Slovakia: Marian Hossa
This is my least-favorite country. We've got four players to choose from. One guy played one game for the Wings total. One guy is just now getting a full-time chance to play for the club. One guy is Tomas Kopecky (hahaha...no), and the last one only played one season in Detroit and then left to sign with a division rival.
Awww, I can't stay mad at you, Marian Hossa. You can be our Slovak anytime.
Czech Republic: Dominik Hasek
This one is a no-brainer on skill, as Dominik Hasek is one of the best goalies to ever play the game while none of the other contenders can claim that honor at their position. Still, I feel like I'd be doing a disservice to not at least mention Vaclav Nedomansky, who played 5 seasons with Detroit between 1977-1982. Nedomansky was the first player to defect from behind the Iron Curtain to play in North America and helped pave the way for everybody to come after him, despite great personal cost. When we're doing profiles in courage, Nedomansky deserves the recognition.
REST OF THE WORLD CATEGORY
Slovenia: The Red Wings are happy to have enjoyed the services of the second-best Slovenian NHLer of all-time, one Mr. Jan Mursak. He's coming for you, Anze Kopitar.
France: Did you know Paul MacLean was born in France? Now you do.
Italy: Nelson Debenedet. His middle name is Flavio. Fantastic.
Norway: Anders Myrvold isn't as cool a name as Bjørn Skaare, the first Norwegian to play in the NHL, but sadly Mr. Skaare isn't with us anymore.
South Africa: Willie Coetzee will earn this title if he ever actually plays in a game for the Red Wings.
Denmark: Poul "Poucket Fisherman" Popiel earns the honors for Denmark.
Germany: Uwe Krupp dogsleds into our hearts because who cares at this point? Are you even still reading this?
Lebanon: The great Ed Hatoum gets the call here.
Kazakhstan: True story - the only reason I remember Maxim Kuznetsov is that I was once watching a game where he was one of two healthy scratches and I thought I heard the announcer say "Holmstrom scratched his nuts off" and it made me laugh and laugh and laugh.
Let's stop there.