Puck Daddy's Most Disappointing Summer Series: Detroit Red Wings Edition
(Ed. Note: There’s entirely too much sunshine in the summer. So your friends at Puck Daddy are offering a month of thrown shade and perpetual gloom. Behold, our Summer of Disappointment series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to recall the biggest bummer moments, teams and players in franchise history! Please wade into their misery like a freezing resort pool, and add your own choices in the comments!)
Written by Graham Hathway of Winging It In Motown
Most Disappointing Team: 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings
To call the 1995-96 Wings a regular season juggernaut doesn’t do them justice. Their record of 62-13-7 set the record for most wins in a single season, and they were one point away from tying the NHL record. They finished in the top 3 in GF, GA, PP% and PK%. After starting 5-5-2, they finished the season 57-8-5. No team came within 25 points of them. They were an unstoppable force that was so good that even their goalie could contribute offensively.
Then the playoffs began, and the ferocious lions of the regular season became paper tigers. First they needed six games to eliminate the Phoenix-bound Winnipeg Jets. Then they played a 7 game series against the Blues that gave us this amazing-yet-should-have-been-unnecessary moment.
The Conference Finals saw the Wings play the Avalanche, and it’s possible that Patrick Roy may have still been a little upset about this:
The Wings’ potent offense was held to under 3 goals in 4 of the 6 games and were upset by the Avs, failing to reach the Stanley Cup Final. To literally add insult to injury, Game 6 of that series saw Claude Lemieux earn the hatred of every Wing fan in the universe with a dirty hit on Kris Draper, sparking the Wings-Avalanche rivalry that would dominate the Western Conference for nearly a decade.
Most Disappointing Red Wing: Uwe Krupp
The Red Wings were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups, and since there wasn’t a salary cap, they had the ability to spend whatever they wanted to try and complete the three-peat.
Uwe Krupp was supposed to be another addition to what was already a very good defense corps. Never known as an offensive star, Krupp’s abilities as a defenseman were still well-regarded, and he had the distinction of scoring the Cup-winning goal for Colorado in 1996.
The Wings signed him to a 4 year/$16.4M contract in the summer of 1998, and what transpired was nothing short of a disaster.
He played in the first 22 games of the 1998-99 season, then left the lineup due to a back injury. While rehabbing for a herniated disc in his back, it was discovered that he was dog sled racing. This led to a long battle between Krupp and the Wings as Detroit first suspended Krupp without pay and then tried to void his contract. Krupp in turn filed a grievance for the $8.2M he was supposed to make from 1999-2001, when he was completely out of hockey. Eventually Krupp returned to play 8 games for the Wings in 2001-02, but failed to contribute in any meaningful way and ended up being a spectator for the majority of the playoffs. He would sign with Atlanta following the 2002 season and then retired, probably to spend more time devoted to his favorite hobby: earning money for doing absolutely nothing.
Most Disappointing Moment in Red Wings History: Chris Osgood Coughs Up Game 7
The 1993-94 Red Wings weren’t the best team in the NHL, but they were the best team in the West, finishing 2 points ahead of the Leafs. The got to face the San Jose Sharks in the first round, a team that had existed for a grand total of 3 seasons and who were making their first ever appearance in the playoffs.
The series was surprisingly hard-fought, with the Sharks having a 3-2 lead and chance to finish off the Wings at Joe Louis Arena in Game 6. The Wings destroyed the Sharks in Game 6, and looked to take that momentum into Game 7.
With the game tied late in the third period, Chris Osgood ventured out of his net (where was that damn trapezoid rule then?) and flung the puck up the boards. Unfortunately, it went right to Jamie Baker, who did this:
The Sharks would hang on to win the game and the series, and the Red Wings would be booed off the ice. It was a crushing defeat for a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender, and was the first of many memorable playoff moments for the Sharks and their fans. If there was a saving grace, it’s that Chris Osgood would bounce back to have a Hall of Fame career.
Most Disappointing Red Wings Transaction: Trading Away Adam Oates
After the 1989 season, the Red Wings, fresh off finishing first in the division and losing in the first round (or as Wing fans call it, “a standard playoff run”) were looking to make a deal that would give the young Wings some veteran leadership and make them a little tougher to play against.
The Wings made a trade with the St. Louis Blues to acquire Tony McKegney and Bernie Federko. Federko was one of the better players in the NHL at that time, and McKegney had a reputation as a decent goal scorer who could also play with some physicality. To get them, all the Wings had to do was send the Blues Paul MacLean and Adam Oates, a guy they had signed as an undrafted free agent out of college.
McKegney was a complete bust, getting traded before the 1989-90 season was barely a few months old, and Federko played one more season and then retired. Oates would team up with Brett Hull to form the NHL’s most potent 1-2 punch since Gretzky/Kurri.
It’s tough to know that the Wings gave up a player like Oates so early in his career for practically nothing. To think what he could have accomplished with the players the Wings had coming up in the next few years boggles the mind. When Oates was elected to the Hall of Fame, Jimmy Devellano, the Wings’ GM at the time, stated that it was “the worst trade I made”.
Most Disappointing Red Wings Coach/Executive: Ned Harkness
For this we need to look further back, to a man who was such a bad fit with the Wings that he has his own era named after him. Ned Harkness was a dominant college coach at RPI who was hired to coach the Wings in 1970. His no-nonsense approach didn’t sit well with the players, who asked GM Sid Abel to have him fired. Instead, Abel was fired and Harkness became the GM.
Harkness responded to his new role by promptly making a series of terrible trades that set the franchise back years. First he sent Frank Mahovlich to Montreal, then moved Bruce MacGregor and Larry Brown to the Rangers. Finally, he sent Garry Unger, who was a star for the Wings at the time, to St. Louis. The Wings promptly fell so low that they were able to get Marcel Dionne in the following draft, but the Wings never finished higher than 5th in their division over the next three years, and Harkness was eventually let go.
By that point the losing was too much for Dionne to take, and the Wings traded him to Los Angeles. The “Darkness With Harkness” was over, but the “Dead Wings” era was about to begin in earnest.
Most Disappointing Red Wings Fashion Choice: No Stars, Just Stripes.
The Wings’ jersey has remained relatively constant throughout the years, and the two Winter Classic jerseys have been nothing short of phenomenal. However, for this author, one jersey still looks awful every time I see it: the 75th NHL anniversary jersey.
In 1991-92, the NHL celebrated their 75th anniversary by having the Original 6 teams wear vintage jerseys. In Detroit’s case, that meant a lot of red and white stripes and little else. There’s no actual logo anywhere on the original jersey, just “DETROIT” in capital letters across the front. And the back had the name of the player and number in white against a white background, making it virtually impossible to know who it was you were supposed to be screaming at to shoot on the power play.
Much like their playoff performance that year, this jersey was a good idea, but ultimately not anything to be proud of.
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Other disappointments (in order of appearance): New York Rangers • Calgary Flames • St. Louis Blues • New York Islanders • Dallas Stars • Boston Bruins • Colorado Avalanche • Washington Capitals • Ottawa Senators • Arizona Coyotes • Minnesota Wild • Edmonton Oilers • San Jose Sharks • Winnipeg Jets • New Jersey Devils • Los Angeles Kings • Florida Panthers • Carolina Hurricanes • Buffalo Sabres • Montreal Canadiens • Tampa Bay Lightning • Chicago Blackhawks • Columbus Blue Jackets • Nashville Predators • Anaheim Ducks • Philadelphia Flyers • Pittsburgh Penguins • Vancouver Canucks • Toronto Maple Leafs