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But despite his preferences, Devellano trusted his scouts. He signed off on Lidstrom, whom Detroit took in the third round, and leaped into the abyss with Fedorov in the fourth. Teams had previously played the Soviet lottery with what-the-hell late-round picks (in 1983 Montreal tossed away No. 138 on goalie Vladislav Tretiak), without success. But the 74th pick in 1989 had intrinsic worth. Fedorov, who would defect just before the Goodwill Games in 1990 and play superbly for 13 years in Detroit, is now a key member of the Capitals—and the leading Russian scorer in NHL history.
Just as it served as a dacha for the renowned Russian Five in the late 1990s, Detroit's Joe Louis Arena is now a distant suburb of Stockholm that houses eight Swedish players. The Red Wings lured high-end Europeans—consider Slovakian free-agent forward Marian Hossa, who took less money and a one-year contract to join Detroit this season—with the promise of playing alongside world-class talent in a supportive organization. For the same reason Holland has been able to re-sign current Swedish stars such as Johan Franzen (10 playoff goals this season and 23 in his last 31 playoff games) and Henrik Zetterberg (who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season) to long-term deals for less than market value. "For me it was a no-brainer," says Zetterberg, who's in his sixth season with the Red Wings. "They've adapted a European-type game. And [Ilitch] always will have a winning team."
As surely as Wayne Gretzky opened the unused space behind the net, the Wings pioneered virgin territory with that draft—and others followed. Twenty years later all three Hart Trophy finalists, including Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, were Russian, and four of the NHL's seven leading scorers were European. "Nobody believed you could win with the European puck-possession style, and nobody believed you could win with Russians," says Holland. "We killed both myths."
Holland has long vowed to retire the same day as Lidstrom, a wan half joke that underscores the significance of the defenseman. Lidstrom had scored 13 points this postseason and had sent the boyish Kane to his room (no points, four shots in the first three games) before missing Sunday's Game 4 with a lower body injury. In 2009 you can't find a player like Lidstrom; in 1989 you could barely find him at all. He was the NHL's version of the young Lana Turner, except with a better agent. Rather than at a Hollywood soda fountain, he was "discovered" in the Swedish city of Vasteras by Detroit's European scout Christer Rockstrom. Today, with information so abundant and scouting so sophisticated, Rockstrom would be taking a number deli-style to look at Lidstrom instead of having a once-in-a-generation player essentially to himself.
A Vasteras forward named Jorgen Holmberg had called Rockstrom about a young blueliner Holmberg couldn't beat in practice. "Every scout gets tips," Rockstrom says. "Most of the time the person calling has no idea of the qualifications to play in the NHL, but you still have to go and check them out." Because Lidstrom played so infrequently—he would have two assists in just 19 games with the Vasteras senior team as an 18-year-old—Rockstrom would make the 80-minute drive from Stockholm to Vasteras to watch practice. Smith later went to catch a glimpse of the defenseman and quickly became a believer.
"I'd been telling Jimmy D that Lidstrom would be available in the third round, and we couldn't pick him after that [because of his age]," Smith says. "People didn't know him, and [the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau] had him way down. [I knew] he'd be seen the next year and be a sure first-rounder."
But Lidstrom already was in the crosshairs, not of a team but of an agent: Toronto-based Don Meehan, with whom Rockstrom was friendly. When Meehan went to Sweden, Rockstrom would let him tag along on scouting trips. One night the scout brought him to Vasteras, which had Patrik Juhlin, a forward who would go to Philadelphia with the 34th pick in 1989. "After the first period, I said to Christer, 'That number 9 [Lidstrom] looks like a helluva player,'" Meehan says. "He says, 'No, you watch number 7. That number 9, you wouldn't be interested.' He said he didn't know much about number 9, and that maybe he'd just had a good period. After the second, I said, 'That's more than a good period. That's a helluva game.' I asked him to introduce me after the game, and I presented my credentials."
When Meehan returned to Toronto, he phoned Smith, also a friend. "What do you think about Lidstrom?" Meehan asked.
"Lidster?" Smith replied. Doug Lidster was a veteran defenseman with the Canucks.