Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 1/30/15
The challenge was simple: Build an all-time Detroit Red Wings starting lineup … on a strict budget. The Detroit Free Press issued the task on Twitter (a few days after BallisLife.com asked hoops fans to craft a five-man roster). The Freep set a cap of $18, then assigned a salary of between $1 and $5 to Wings legends at each position. Fans: Construct your all-time #RedWings starting lineup. Who is in your six? pic.twitter.com/gNRFq8Zw2y — Freep Sports (@freepsports) June 2, 2014 Our staff took a crack at the game. Here’s what we came up with … Andrew Tomlinson LW: Henrik Zetterberg ($3) C: Steve Yzerman ($5) RW: Darren McCarty ($1) D1: Nicklas Lidstrom ($5) D2: Brian Rafalski ($1) G: Chris Osgood ($3) It sound so easy on the surface: $18 dollars, pick your team … but in reality, this thing was hard to figure out. As someone barely born in the ’80s (1989 was a great year), my team most likely reflects a combination of my childhood and what I think makes up a good roster. From a pure hockey perspective, I took the route of building from the defense out and kept a pair that helped the Wings win a Cup and make it back to Game 7 of the finals the next year. Lidstrom is a consummate Red Wings player so his selection was a no-brainer. Up front, Yzerman is “The Captain” and was so good in Detroit for so many years. He should just be an automatic insert — no one should be allowed to select a team without him. While he was almost traded for Alexei Yashin at one point, Yzerman was a cornerstone of the franchise for parts of three decades and won three Cups. Flanking him on either side is some scoring touch in current captain Henrik Zetterberg and some grit with Darren McCarty. It makes a perfect playoff line. Finally, that leaves me with Chris Osgood in goal. Ozzie is probably one of the most underrated players in the history of the Red Wings. The winner of multiple cups and a storied over decade long career, Osgood was so good in the last two Cup Finals runs he is a steal at only $2. That said, the regular season could be rough with this team, but he will be a rock in the postseason. Rob Starrs LW: Henrik Zetterberg ($3) C: Pavel Datsyuk ($2) RW: Gordie Howe ($5) D1: Nicklas Lidstrom ($5) D2: Reed Larson ($1) G: Mike Vernon ($2) Wow, much more difficult than I imagined it being — if only we were allowed $20! (Although, I am sure I would still be laboring.) There is no right answer here; I tried to get all the greats in the mix, but in the end I had to leave out a lot of personal favorites. As much as I hated to do it, I had to leave The Captain off the team in order to honor quite possibly the greatest all around player ever: Mr. Gordie Howe. Howe and Lidstrom were the only 2 I felt I had to have in the lineup. Imagine this line: Gordie as the protector and the net-front presence, while Hank and Datsyuk are doing their thing. Sounds very pleasing. This D combo is something that I have pondered in the past — Reed Larson with an incredible shot and offensive skills, along with Nicklas Lidstrom’s all-around abilities. A pairing I would have loved to have seen. As far as goaltending goes, with these Hall of Fame lineups we can put together, just give me some experience and tenacity, Mike Vernon fits that mold perfectly. Max Demara LW: Ted Lindsay ($5) C: Pavel Datsyuk ($2) RW: Gordie Howe ($5) D1: Brian Rafalski ($1) D2: Larry Murphy ($2) G: Mike Vernon ($2) Up front, it might not be the fastest, best, most popular Red Wings roster in history, but every player included gets the job done. Imagine pairing Lindsay and Howe, a couple of old-school finishers with likely the best passer and playmaker of his generation in Datsyuk. Not only would Datsyuk get his physical protection, but it would be fun to watch all three play together and light up the nets. It could be the highest-scoring, toughest Detroit line in history, considering Datsyuk has also gotten into his share of dust-ups over the years. On defense, Rafalski and Murphy were two of the most underrated blue-liners in recent Red Wings’ history considering each played with Nick Lidstrom, and both complemented him in ideal fashion. Each have enough speed and defensive smarts to make a major difference, with the offensive punch to help out the power play and chip in a key goal in an important moment. There’s not much more you could ask for. In net, it’s hard not to go with everyone’s favorite, most-maligned goaltender in Detroit history. When the chips were down, the Red Wings could always count on Vernon to come up huge, as he backstopped them to the 1997 Stanley Cup, arguably the most exciting cup win throughout Detroit’s recent dynasty. He also played well through the record-breaking 1996 year. With these lines and defense in front of him, Vernon would once again surprise. Chris Burke LW: Brendan Shanahan ($4) C: Pavel Datsyuk ($2) RW: Gordie Howe ($5) D1: Vladimir Konstantinov ($3) D2: Brian Rafalski ($2) G: Mike Vernon ($2) This is version No. 2 of my team. The original had Stevie Y. at center, with Tomas Holmstrom for a buck at left wing. A late adjustment trades in Yzerman and Homer for Datsyuk and Shanahan — what I’d argue is a step up across the board, even if taking Yzerman off the squad was tough to do. Imagining Shanahan teeing up one-timers off Datsyuk passes made the decision sit a little easier. Howe’s credentials for inclusion are obvious. Konstantinov for $3 is a steal. When he was in his prime, right about the time that awful accident robbed him of his career (among other, more important things), no defenseman in the league played a more aggressive, intelligent game. He was Niklas Kronwall kicked up a notch or two: a brilliant defender with a bit of an offensive edge, always willing to lay the body on someone. Pairing him with Rafalski, a brilliant puck-moving defenseman would leave this lineup with speed and agility all over the place. Clearly, I’m not alone in jumping on the Vernon bandwagon. Everyone in Hockeytown saw what he could do during that thrilling 1997 Cup run.
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