Red Wings vs. Avalanche: A Rivalry Renewed

Growing up in the 90’s few rivalries in the NHL came anywhere close to matching the Red Wings and Avalanche. It was hockey. They were talented, fast, physical, and most importantly, couldn’t stand the sight of each other. From the infamous Claude Lemieux hit on Chris Draper to Patrick Roy losing the puck after showboating on a save against Steve Yzerman, only to drop it and allow Detroit score, helping to force Game 7, their playoff match ups were the stuff of legend, leaving no shortage of memorable moments.

From 1995 to 2002 they won 5 of 8 Stanley Cups, with Detroit losing in the ’95 finals. In fact only New Jersey (who beat Detroit in 95 and won again in 2000) and Dallas (99) stood in their way…aside from one another.

Two of the most dominant teams of the pre-salary cap era, (particularly impressive given Detroit’s travel schedule) both had rosters littered with future Hall of Famers. This was hockey at its finest. So which was the better squad? For ease of comparison we’ll look at the back to back winners in 2001 (Colorado) and 2002 (Detroit) to see how they stacked up.

Embed from Getty Images

Both these teams won the President’s Trophy, Colorado with 118 points in 2001, and Detroit with 116 in 2002 (Without the aide of shootouts…). The team with the next best record in the Western Conference those respective seasons was, well, you can probably guess where I’m going here…

Remember, this is all in good fun, so the criteria will be as rigid as Brett Hull’s off season training program.

Forwards

We’ll start in Denver where I’m pretty sure one can’t legally discuss the Avalanche without mentioning Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Two of the most dominant players of their era, they were clearly the straw that stirred the drink up front for the Avs. Skilled, with the ability to play a two hundred foot game, they dominated all over the ice. Sakic was legendary for his release and coming up huge in the biggest moments. Forsberg controlled the puck like few ever had and gave it up only when he saw fit. His vision was second to none and he had the physical strength to ward off even the strongest of defenders as he controlled play down low.

That’s not to say they were bereft of help. They Avs had key secondary forwards like Adam Deadmarsh, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk and Chris Drury to round out their group, but the big guys did much of the heavy lifting (Sakic had 118 points in the 2001 season). This was definitely a skilled group who, like Detroit, could play well in both ends of the rink. Guys like Shjon Podein, Ville Nieminen, Stephan Yelle and Dave Reid provided depth while Scott Parker provided toughness.

Embed from Getty Images

In Detroit, it was an embarrassment of riches. After a shocking upset at the hands of the Kings the year before, GM Ken Holland pilled on the reinforcements adding Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille to an already loaded roster that now boasted 10 future Hall of Famers, something virtually unheard of, and likely never replicated, in today’s game. (Unless of course Brendan Shanahan can get all those Leafs to play for $3 million…)

The forward lines were littered with incredible depth and could easily play different styles. They had the two way skill of Steve Yzerman, and Sergei Federov, the puck wizardry and vision of Pavel Datsuk and Igor Larionov. They boasted physical yet skilled guys like Shanahan and Tomas Holmstrom. Goal scorers like Robitallie and Hull and a shut-down line of Chris Draper and Kirk Maltby. Add in the likes of Boyd Devereaux and Darren McCarty and you have the kind of balance gymnasts dream of.

While both groups were deep and talented, the edge has to go to the Red Wings for the sheer number of weapons and versatility of their stars.

Edge: Detroit

Defense

The Avs boasted a pair of hall of famers on their blue line in Ray Bourque and Rob Blake. Bourque was the Nicklas Lidstrom of his day before Nick Lidstrom. One of the best ever, he was a dominant force in Boston for years before heading to Colorado where he won his lone Stanley Cup. Joe Sakic handing him the cup first (the only time a non-captain has hoisted it) so he could ride off into the sunset a winner is still one of the great moments in NHL history.

Along with these two stall wards they had Adam Foote who was a gritty, shut down first guy with some offensive ability. Their depth was rounded out by Greg DeVries, Martin Skoula, Jon Klemm and Aaron Miller. All in all a versatile group who certainly held their own against any other around the league.

Embed from Getty Images

The conversation around defence in Detroit begins and ends with Nick Lidstrom. The best of his generation, he made the game look easy. Effortless skating and incredible vision meant he was never in the wrong spot and rarely needed to worry about getting hit. He moved the puck as well as anyone and had had a fantastic shot from the point.

Chris Chelios was their second star on the point and a 3 time Norris winner in his own right. The Red Wings D core was supplemented with a mix of young and veteran guys: Steve Duchene, Matt Dandineault, Jiri Fischer, Maxim Kuznetsov, Fredrik Olausson and Jesse Wallin, Jiri Sleger and former Avalanche playoff hero Uwe Krupp.

Embed from Getty Images

While both groups are solid, I like the Avs depth after the top two on each side, so I’ll wave my Canadian flag and give the edge to the Colorado.

Edge: Colorado

Goaltending

Leave it to the section with Patrick Roy to cause the biggest fight…St. Patrick vs. The Dominator. Two of the greatest goaltenders of all time. What the hell have we got ourselves into…

Roy dominates in number of career wins with 551 to Hasek’s 389. If we look at win % Hasek trails Roy again (slightly) with 52.9% to 53.5%. Hasek has a healthy edge in shut outs with 81 to Roy’s 66 in significantly less starts. Hasek again leads in save % with .921 to .912 for their careers as well as GAA: 2.20 to 2.54.

Embed from Getty Images

We can see how the 80’s affected the early part of this for Roy as he, like many, put up better numbers as the high flying era (we’ll call it the New Jersey effect) started to slow down in the mid 90’s, roughly around the time Hasek became a full time starter in the league (93-94). By this juncture Roy already had two Stanley Cup rings ‘plugging his ears’ from his day with the Canadiens. He’d go on to add two more with Colorado. Hasek won with Detroit in 2002 and 2008. He split time in net with Chris Osgood in the ’08 season, and was pulled after a few games in the playoffs by Mike Babcock in favour of the Osgood who carried the Red wings the rest of the way.

In their respective post season careers Roy started 247 games winning 151, both the most ever by any goaltender. Hasek started 119 and won 65. Hasek holds the edge in save % .925 to .918 and GAA. 2.02 to 2.30.

Roy’s first Stanley Cup run stands out as one of the greatest displays of goaltending the league has ever seen. In his rookie year no less, (coming off a Calder Cup win with Sherbrooke in 85) he lead a middling Habs team (5th place in the east out of 11) to Stanley Cup glory almost singlehandedly, going 15-5 with an almost mind boggling 1.93 GAA. In the mid 80’s. Think about that for a second. During the 1985-86 regular season teams averaged 3.97 goals, per game. A piece. The average GAA was 3.56. He didn’t so much win the cup as steal it. As a rookie.

Embed from Getty Images

For an encore he set a record for overtime wins in a single playoff season (with 10) in the 1993 playoffs on route to leading a decent, (4th place in the East) Habs squad to the promised-land.

While in 1998-99 Hasek got the 7th place Sabres within (ironically) a Brett Hull skate blade of a Stanley Cup, he only ever crossed the finished line with a stacked Red Wings squad.

Hasek does hold the edge head to head against Roy in prime time match ups as the Red Wings went through the Avalanche in a 7 game Western Conference Final on route to the 2002 Stanley Cup, and of course on this side of the 49, the less said about Nagano (and Mark Crawford’s decision making) the better…

Hasek has two Hart Trophies as league MVP, the only goalie to ever win more than once. Roy has three Conn Smyth trophies as playoff MVP, the most by any player, ever.

So who do we give the edge to? As Herm Edwards famously said, you play to win the game…

Edge: Roy means King.

1 Comment

  1. Great article Brod. It never ceases to amaze me all those stats running around in your head!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *