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Hall of Fame roster nothing new

| Sunday, June 16, 2002

They are to be applauded because they deserve it and respected because they've earned it. The Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings talked the talk and they walked the walk. And in the end, they weren't too old or too tired or too selfish, after all.

The only thing these guys were was too tough to beat, first in the regular season and again in a seven-game series.

That's what all teams strive to be.

That's what few teams manage to become.

You can't take that away from these Red Wings. Not from Scotty Bowman, not from Brett Hull, not Sergei Fedorov, not from any of them.

Because their names will be engraved on the Stanley Cup forever, their place in history secure.

But already, the Cup the Red Wings captured by virtue of their 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night is being blown out of proportion. Way out of proportion.

That began to take place on Friday morning, when Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom assessed the Red Wings as being comprised of "The Greatest Hockey Roster Ever Assembled." It continued on Friday afternoon, when ESPN Radio host Dan Patrick mulled the concept over with ESPN hockey broadcaster Steve Levy. For all I know, Albom was planning to make the same ridiculous claim this morning on "The Sports Reporters."

The sticks and pucks cannot be put away for the summer in good conscious before this theory is kicked aside as quickly and as skillfully as Dominik Hasek denied Bates Battaglia on Thursday night in Game 5.

The point is, the Red Wings are comprised of approximately 10 Hall of Famers, depending on who you talk to, and that we've never before seen the likes of such historical grandeur on one club. Bowman, Hull and Fedorov are included in that group. So are Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille and Hasek. So are Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom. So are Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov.

"The Greatest Hockey Roster Ever Assembled."

The claim is as presumptuous as it is inaccurate.

Never mind picking apart the former dynasties in Montreal, Edmonton and on Long Island player by player to prove that such a boast can't hold frozen water.

Penguins fans need only to recall the outset of the previous decade, when Craig Patrick assembled a team with every bit the legendary resume of this year's Red Wings.

The 1990-91 Penguins won a Stanley Cup, the first for a franchise many had believed could never achieve such a thing, and they did it with eight players who are likely to have "Hall of Fame" associated with their names someday. For the 1990-91 Penguins featured in their arsenal the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Joe Mullen, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy and Tom Barrasso. And since we're including management in the case of this season's Wings, it must also be pointed out that the 1990-91 Penguins had the off-ice genius of Bowman (director of development) and general manager Craig Patrick at their disposal.

The 1990-91 Penguins also had Kevin Stevens, who was just a year away from setting an NHL record for points by a left winger. Stevens may well have done enough to be included in such "Hall of Fame" discussions had his face not been rearranged in the 1993 playoffs and had he not succumbed to substance abuse problems.

The 1990-91 Penguins aren't remembered on a national scale, let alone revered.

They ought to be.

This was a team built as the season progressed rather than constructed for greatness at the outset, but that doesn't make what the 1990-91 Penguins achieved any less special.

This was a team that went 9-3-2 in its final 14 regular-season games (after Patrick's final trade had landed Francis and Ulf Samuelsson), one that overcame adversity early in the playoffs and then reacted in subsequent rounds the way a shark does when it smells blood.

They have much in common with the 2001-02 Red Wings, the 1990-91 Penguins.

They should be appreciated with equal zeal, even as the 2001-02 Red Wings continue to be deified.

Mike Prisuta is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review .

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