Welcome to part one of my special series, 25 Seasons of Red Wing Playoffs. For anyone who is a hockey fan, and especially for those who are Red Wings fans, you know by now that the Red Wings 25-season playoff streak, the longest in any of the four major pro sports leagues, will come to an end this season. This will be the first season in which the Wings will not experience playoff hockey since 1990. I was eight years old that year. Sinead O’Connor was a pop sensation. Debbie Gibson was still relevant. East and West Germany had just reunified. Hulkamania was running wild. Home Alone was everyone’s favorite movie that Christmas season. Yes, that was some time ago. After that, the Red Wings would only begin a playoff streak that would last a quarter century. This series will take a look back at each season during that streak beginning with the 1990-91 season.
Now, keep in mind, that I was not yet really a hockey fan, and wasn’t even aware that fighting went on in games. In fact, I believe the only game I even saw part of that season was between the Wings and Blues. Everything I know about this season came from research.
The Red Wings were picking up the pieces of a disappointing 89-90 season which led to head coach, Jaques Demers losing his job after four seasons. The Adam Oates trade before that season didn’t work out as an aging Bernie Ferderko was a shell of his former self and Tony McKegney didn’t last the whole season in Detroit.
Now looking ahead, Bryan Murray was hired as the new head coach and general manager. Steve Yzerman was one of the best players in the league, even if he wasn’t getting properly recognized for it. Now Murray needed to get a proper supporting cast around the Captain, players who could score. No one else on the roster could really do that except Gerard Gallant, Jimmy Carson (sometimes), and maybe Shawn Burr to an extent, though he was more of a grinder.
That’s what made Sergei Fedorov’s arrival so important. Part of the 1989 draft class that’s now become so celebrated in Red Wing’s history, Fedorov would defect from the Soviet Red Army team to sign with the Red Wings in time for the 90-91 season. Fedorov would finish that season trailing only Yzerman on the team in goals, assists, and points.
Yzerman 51-G 57-A 108-P Fedorov 31-G 48-A 79-P
Defenseman Yves Racine had 47 points, a respectable total for a blueliner and Tim Cheveldae emerged as the top goalie.
Two of the major trades that season were the Paul Ysebaert and Joey Kocur trades. The Ysebaert trade would really pay off for the Wings during the next two seasons. That turned out to be a real steal getting him from New Jersey for Lee Norwood. Trading Kocur to the Rangers I’m sure hurt, as he had made up half of the “Bruise Brothers” with Bob Probert. That trade may had affected the team’s overall toughness the next few season. Sure, one of the players the Wings received back in the trade, Jim Cummins, was also an enforcer, but he wouldn’t have the same impact and wouldn’t last that long in Detroit.
The Red Wings made the playoffs as the third seed in the Norris Division, but took the Blues, a team with 105 points, to seven games; even leading the series 3-1 at one point. Though at the time, this season didn’t look like anything special, it would nonetheless mark the beginning of an epic playoff streak which would lead to four Stanley Cups.
Now if only Murray would had drafted Jaromir Jagr instead of Keith Primeau.