Since he arrived in the NHL, the book on Fedorov has been: Knock the phlegm out of him and he'll disappear. Even though that rap "is now fiction," according to Red Wing assistant coach Barry Smith, the Russian has been taking his licks of late. On Dec. 21 Chris Chelios of the Chicago Blackhawks smacked Fedorov with a combination cross-check-high stick to the neck. Chelios was fined $500. On Jan. 4 Fedorov had one of his front teeth chipped by the stick of St. Louis Blue defenseman Jeff Brown. Before Detroit's game against the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 6, Red Wing general manager Bryan Murray told his team that it needed to do a better job of protecting the skill guys.
Cavalryman Bob Probert waited all of 14 seconds after the game began to commence trading punches with San Jose's Jeff Odgers, who had presumably looked at Fedorov the wrong way. Two minutes after the Probert-Odgers bout, Fedorov wristed a 35-foot laser past Shark goalie Arturs Irbe. The dam had burst. Coffey scored another goal 14 seconds later, and the Wings went on to a 10-3 win.
"My question is," says Coffey, who has been splendid in this, his 14th NHL season, "how did Sergei average only 70 points his first three seasons?"
First, he averaged 84 points in those seasons. Second, cut the guy some slack. In his rookie season Fedorov had a profound adjustment to make. His transition was eased by management's decision to make Shawn Burr his roommate on the road. Burr is considered the most loquacious Red Wing, and Fedorov learned some English from him. During training camp that first season, the Russian approached Burr with a serious request.
"I need love," Fedorov said.
"Uh, sorry, Sergei," replied Burr. "I can't help you."
Fedorov repeated the request to several of his teammates, who began to wonder about him. How thoroughly did we scout this guy? Finally Fedorov pointed to a word in a Russian-English dictionary. A relieved equipment manager issued Fedorov a new pair of gloves.
This is the first season Fedorov has been asked to be more than a defensive specialist. That's one reason for his gaudy numbers. Another is that he has become, after pleas from Bowman and Murray, a more selfish player. Says Murray, "He's learning the North American way: Get greedy, score goals, get paid."
Bowman thinks Fedorov's scoring is up because he's no longer trying to be "too fancy." He's stickhandling less this season, simply picking his spots and letting her rip.
Is this a conscious decision Fedorov has made? He can't rightly say. "Ziggy [team shrink Kent Osborne] tells us, 'When you think, you're screwed,' " he says.