A look at the Detroit Red Wings’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Detroit Red Wings (1980-81 to 1989-90)
273-410-117, .414 WIN PCT, 2,845 GF vs. 3,311 GA, -466 Diff, 5/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Man, Detroit certainly earned their “Dead Things” nickname during 1980s, didn’t they? The Wings had exactly one .500 season (’88-89, 80 points) and one above-.500 season (’87-88, 93 points) during the decade. They had four seasons of 57 points or less, including a truly awful 17-57-6 record in ’85-86. The fact that the Wings made the playoffs at all in the first half of the decade is a testament to just how bad the Maple Leafs were during this time (they made the playoffs with 69 and 66 points in ’83-84 and ’84-85 respectively, ahead of Toronto’s 61- and 48-point efforts). Despite their struggles, they did have a few decent playoff runs, making it to the Semi-Finals in 1987 and 1988 (losing to Edmonton both times). Detroit stunk at both ends of the ice. Despite the presence (and prowess) of Steve Yzerman for most of the decade, Detroit’s offense ranked 18th with 3.56 goals for per game. Their defense was slightly better, averaging 4.14 goals against per game (ranking 16th). Their awful +/- (-466 differential) ranked 18th; only Pittsburgh, Toronto and New Jersey were worse. And I can’t decide if they were tough or undisciplined: they averaged 23.33 penalty minutes per game, behind only the Rangers and Flyers during the decade. But at least things were shaping up as the 90s approached, and the presence of a true franchise player in Yzerman signaled that things were turning around.
Left Wing: John Ogrodnick (498 GP, 251-251-502, -68, 140 PIM, 21 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Gerard Gallant
Gallant had the fortune of playing on some of the better Detroit teams during the 1980s, and also had a solid mix of skill and toughness. But Ogrodnick was one of very few offensive weapons not named Yzerman for Detroit, and he played 6+ seasons with the Red Wings. He had a 55-goal, 105-point season in ’84-85, and had five other seasons where he scored between 28 and 42 goals. He cleared 70 points five times. His +/- was terrible (-68), but that was largely driven by a putrid -30 rating in ’85-86. Ogrodnick was also a major threat on the power play, with 70 PPG (including 49 in a three-year stretch from ’83-84 to ’85-86). He was a little weaker in the clutch, with only 8% of his goals coming as game-winners. But again, he played on some terrible Detroit teams, so there weren’t exactly a lot of game-winning goals to go around. He registered 250+ shots five years in a row, so he was always a threat offensively on a team that desperately needed it.
Centre: Steve Yzerman (514 GP, 291-401-692, -1, 334 PIM, 31 GWG)
To be completely transparent here, I will acknowledge that Steve Yzerman is my all-time favourite NHL player. Potential bias aside however, Yzerman was also unquestionably the greatest Red Wing of the modern era, and second all-time (in my opinion) to Gordie Howe (and just a touch ahead of Nik Lidstrom). Yzerman was decent during his first four seasons. Ignoring an injury-shortened season in ’85-86, he had three 30+ goal, 87+ point seasons. In ’87-88 though he hit another level. He scored 50 goals and 102 points in 64 games, then followed that up with 65 goals and 155 points in ’88-89 and then 62 goals and 127 points in ’89-90. He was a threat on the penalty kill, scoring 17 short-handed goals between ’86-87 and ’89-90. He also chipped in 77 powerplay goals during his seven seasons for Detroit during the 1980s. He even managed to post a -1 rating despite playing for some AWFUL teams early on, and his 31 game-winning goals represented a respectable 11% of his goal total. By far the greatest Red Wing of the decade, and one of the greatest of all time.
Right Wing: Petr Klima (293 GP, 129-93-222, -47, 154 PIM, 17 GWG)
There wasn’t exactly a wealth of talent on the right wing for Detroit during 1980s, but Petr Klima qualified. He was unquestionably a one-way talent, although his -47 rating is heavily skewed by a -39 rating in ’85-86 (he was a somewhat respectable -8 over the next 3+ seasons). He scored 30+ goals and 50+ points for three seasons, adding another 25 goals and 41 points in an injury-shortened ’88-89. He was traded to Edmonton in the Jimmy Carson deal early in the ’89-90 season, which worked out well for Klima (he won a Cup with the Oilers that year). Not a physical player, but he was incredibly quick and always a goal-scoring threat. Plus 13% of his goals were game-winners.
Defense: Rick Zombo (273 GP, 10-59-69, +40, 372 PIM, 2 GWG)
Finding defensemen with decent +/- ratings from Detroit during the 1980s is nigh-impossible, especially if they played any games in the first half of the decade. Fortunately for Zombo, he played the bulk of his games in Detroit after 1986. He was defensively responsible, posting a +59 rating over his three full seasons in Detroit (’87-88 to ’89-90), offsetting his -19 rating from his previous 59 games over three seasons. He wasn’t an offensive threat, but he was physical (as evidenced by three seasons of 95-106 penalty minutes). A reliable veteran on the blueline.
Defense: Darren Veitch (153 GP, 20-83-103, +16, 99 PIM, 3 GWG)
Veitch barely hit the three-season rule to qualify here; he played 13 games in ’85-86 and then added two more full seasons with Detroit. He scored 13 goals and 58 points in ’86-87 along with a +14 rating, and then followed that up with 7 goals and 40 points along with a +11 rating in ’87-88. Sadly, that alone qualifies him as the second-best Detroit defenseman of the decade. They really didn’t have much to work with in terms of quality defensemen with lengthy tenures until the 1990s.
Goalie: Glen Hanlon (167 GP, 61-65-23, 7 SO, 3.50 GAA, 0.883 PCT)
Hanlon was a solid-if-unspectacular goalie for Detroit. His numbers were solid in his first two seasons , but deteriorated over his tenure. Still, he had two fantastic seasons at the start with a GAA around 3.20 and a save percentage around .892. But then his numbers dropped, and in his final season they were ugly at 4.03 GAA and a .867 PCT. Still, he was close to .500 and he managed to scrape together 7 shut-outs (with four of them coming in ’87-88).