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Michael Farber
June 24, 2002
By winning their third title in six years, the Red Wings have become the Yankees of hockey, the team to beat every season
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June 24, 2002

Reign Men

By winning their third title in six years, the Red Wings have become the Yankees of hockey, the team to beat every season

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The question now is whether Hasek, who agreed to a trade from Buffalo to Detroit last June, will quit after his magical, mercenary season. A giddy Detroit would have been shaken by a second postgame retirement, but to read Hasek's body language, he's outta here, back to the Czech Republic with his family. (On Monday, when the Red Wings paraded the Cup through downtown Detroit, Hasek said he would decide later in the week.) If Hasek departs—he was the third goalie to backstop the Red Wings' three Cups in the last six years—it will create a Dominik Effect, as Holland retools a team whose number of future Hall of Fame players could shrink from nine to as few as five.

The payroll will remain around $65 million—like the Yankees, among the highest in the sport—but without Hasek and his $8 million salary plus $1 million Cup bonus, Detroit could position itself to sign two big-ticket unrestricted free agents. If Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph doesn't re-sign, the Red Wings will try to entice him the same way they did Hasek: with the chance to validate an outstanding career with his first championship. If Joseph stays in Toronto, Ed Belfour, a free-agent-to-be who won the Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, is a possible second choice. Detroit is also expected to bid for elite free-agent forwards Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik. With the emergence of 23-year-old rookie center Pavel Datsyuk and the anticipated arrival of 21-year-old phenom Henrik Zetterberg, the best player in the Swedish Elite League, the Red Wings will have a surfeit of forwards, some of whom will be dealt.

Brendan Shanahan, 33, would be reluctant to waive his no-trade clause, but Robitaille, who scored 30 goals despite averaging only 14:51 minutes per game, could be moved after one season in Detroit. The Red Wings will try to keep Chris Chelios, a 40-year-old free-agent defenseman who was one of three Norris Trophy finalists, unless he asks for the kind of deal that the New Jersey Devils' Scott Stevens and the St. Louis Blues' Al MacInnis have (at about $7 million per). Holland also hopes 41-year-old center Igor Larionov does not retire.

"We try to have not only good players but also good role models," Holland says. "You see how far [21-year-old defenseman Jiri] Fischer progressed this season playing with Chelios. Zetterberg has told me Larionov is his favorite player, and it would be great for Henrik if Igor was around. Players have to learn how to go about the business of being a pro. Yzerman, [Sergei] Fedorov and [Conn Smythe Trophy winner Nicklas] Lidstrom had to do it on their own through the early and mid-'90s, which is why we lost so many times in the playoffs. I hope that our young players will learn from Chelios and Larionov."

Holland is unconcerned about not having a coach in place when the free-agent signing period begins on July 1—the team's success, not the man behind the bench, speaks for the Red Wings. Bowman's associate coaches, 48-year-old Dave Lewis, who has been with the franchise since 1987-88, and 51-year-old Barry Smith, a sterling tactician and Bowman acolyte the past 11 seasons, would be worthy successors. Either, however, would face the problem of transforming himself from nurturing assistant into hard-edged boss. Holland most likely will expand the search beyond those two, but whomever Detroit hires, two things are certain: The new coach will have the most talented team in the league, and he will have the biggest shoes in coaching history to fill.

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