Niyo: Fedorov makes the Hall, but not the rafters

John Niyo
The Detroit News
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Detroit — He said thanks, and expressed his genuine appreciation. But he offered no public apologies.

And whether that will be enough, no one — and certainly not Sergei Fedorov — can say for sure.

But if this was it, well, then it should go without saying that No. 91 deserved more.

Fedorov was back at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night, honored before the Red Wings game against the Capitals, barely 24 hours after he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Arguably the most talented and dynamic player in Detroit’s championship run from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, Fedorov received a standing ovation from the crowd as he dropped the ceremonial first puck.

He got another rousing cheer during a first-period stoppage of play as fellow Hall of Famers Ted Lindsay and Dino Ciccarelli presented him with the framed original of a collectible print handed out to fans Tuesday.

But beyond that, there wasn’t much else. The fans in the arena finally got a video montage of Fedorov’s highlights midway through the third period. But those at home didn’t even see the pregame ceremony live on TV.

Fedorov on No. 91 retirement: 'great honor if it happens'

And though he was careful not to ask for anything more Tuesday, a weary Fedorov — he’d barely slept since Monday’s festivities capped a memorable weekend in Toronto — admitted there’s still one ovation left he’d love to hear.

There’s that long-awaited, oft-debated jersey retirement ceremony that hasn’t happened yet, and maybe — probably? — never will.

“I don’t want to put any pressure,” Fedorov said. “It’s gonna be a great honor, if it happens. If not, it’s still, to be a part of it for 13 seasons here, three Cups and celebrations, one million (fans at) victory rallies, what else could you wish for?”

Well, you could wish for a full reconciliation, and the ultimate honor, which really shouldn’t be asking too much. Not for a player who’d risked everything to come here, and who’d sacrificed plenty in his 13 remarkable seasons with the Red Wings.

Asked again later if, in his heart of hearts, he thought he’d ever get his wish, though, Fedorov shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe. Possibly. But like I said — I’ve got to be careful what I’m saying — if it happens, it’s great. When it happens, I don’t know.”

The only one who does, I suppose, was up in the owners’ suite Tuesday.

Mike Ilitch was in attendance, just as he and his wife, Marian, were a night earlier in Toronto, as Fedorov joined Nick Lidstrom as a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.

“I got so lucky, and I’d like to thank the Ilitch family for giving me the opportunity to be a Red Wing,” Fedorov said in his acceptance speech Monday. “I’m a Red Wing at heart. I spent the best days of my life in this organization.”

Plenty of acrimony

He didn’t spend the last years of his career here, though, as everyone knows. After another protracted contract negotiation — the first one in 1998 ended with Ilitch matching an offer sheet from rival owner Peter Karmanos in Carolina — Fedorov signed a free-agent deal with Anaheim in 2003.

He was offered more money to stay before that, but depending on which side you believed — then and now — a take-it-or-leave-it offer left both sides feeling a bit betrayed.

Fedorov was asked Tuesday if he’d do it differently if given the chance to turn back the clock.

“It’s not that simple an answer,” he replied. “Of course, I said numerous times, I would like to be a Red Wing for the rest of my career.”

But then he smiled, and laughed, “So I’m gonna blame the agents for their advice.”

“I think there were misunderstandings or business moves or business decisions, right or wrong, everybody made,” Fedorov added.

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Right or wrong, it shouldn’t be this hard. I mean, Fedorov returned to play and work for the late Viktor Tikhonov, the legendary coach he’d embarrassed with his defection, after all.

The ice here has thawed some over time, and Fedorov’s return for the Winter Classic alumni game a couple years ago was a hopeful sign.

So was the sight of him in the owner’s suite in the third period Tuesday night, following the brief encounter he had with the Ilitches on the red carpet Monday.

“Mrs. Ilitch was as warm as usual,” Fedorov said, smiling.

And Mike Ilitch was full of “energy,” he said, “which was wonderful to see.”

And in case you didn’t hear, Fedorov offered “a small token of appreciation” his speech, as he thanked the Ilitches, who helped orchestrate his defection from the Soviet Union back in 1990, for everything they’d done for him.

“They believed in me, they drafted me, they accepted me and gave me an opportunity to play,” he said, “Like I said, my best years of my life were here.”

Worthy numbers

There were growing pains throughout, of course. And Fedorov’s immaturity manifested itself in many ways. But he was also largely misunderstood — by the fans, the media and even his teammates.

Still, even for those that questioned his intentions, there’s no mistaking his accomplishments.

Fedorov, the last Red Wings player to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP (in 1994), was an integral part of three Stanley Cup-winning teams here. And statistically speaking, his credentials merit a spot in the rafters alongside those other jersey numbers.

Fedorov ranks fifth on Detroit’s all-time scoring list with 954 points — fourth in goals (400) and sixth in assists (554) — while playing in 908 games. (That’s eighth-best in franchise history.)

He’s second in winning goals — only Steve Yzerman had more. He’s also second in career plus-minus rating (plus-276), behind only Lidstrom.

And for all the talk about his motivation, he’s one of only two players in Red Wings history who played more than 50 playoff games and averaged better than a point per game. The other? Gordie Howe.

Fedorov’s not Mr. Hockey. He’s not the Captain, or even the Perfect Human, as Lidstrom — his former roommate — came to be known.

But he’s a Hall of Famer, and No. 91 wouldn’t look out of place up there.

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