DETROIT – Looks like Sergei Fedorov is headed back to the club that helped launch his pro hockey career 26 years ago.
Reports out of Russia over the weekend indicate that the former Red Wings center will soon retire as a player to take over as general manager of Moscow CSKA of the Kontinental Hockey League.
The move, if true, doesn’t come as a surprise to those around Joe Louis Arena who know Fedorov best, including Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill.
“Sergei is such a big part of Russian hockey history, he was one of the first players to really defect and open the doors for a lot of people,” Nill said. “And then he kind of came full circle and came back to the federation and is making a name for himself again in Russia, which is nice to see. It’s like giving back to your community and that’s what he’s done.”
In 1986, Fedorov began his pro career as a 17-year-old player on a CSKA team that was a who’s who of elite Russian hockey talent, which included such notables as Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Dmitri Mironov, all who would eventually join Fedorov on the Wings’ roster.
Four years later, Fedorov defection to the U.S. on the eve of the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle sent shock waves through the sports community.
Already informed by then-GM Jim Lites that the Wings had selected him in the 1990 amateur draft, Fedorov had to make a quick decision following an exhibition game in Portland, Oregon on July 19.
“We decided to leave because (the Wings) said that someone else from our team might defect,” Fedorov said during a 2009 TV interview, “and if that happened everybody we would be really watched.
“We played that game out and I was the last guy with my roommate at the bus, and when everyone went up (to their hotel rooms) I told my roomie that ‘I’m going to Detroit.’ His eyes got big and I thought he was going to grab me because he’s twice as big. I said, ‘Listen, I know that you’re going to get in trouble, some kind of trouble, here is all the money that I have.’ So I gave him a thousand Swiss francs. That was my savings from all of the years that I played in the Soviet Union.”
An elite skater, Fedorov quickly established himself as one of the best two-way players in the game and finished his North American career with 483 goals and 1,179 points, which is the most among Russian-born players in NHL history.
On the 13th anniversary of his defection from the Soviet Union, Fedorov left the Wings to sign a free agency contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He is still one of the most highly-decorated players in Wings’ history and remains in the top five in virtually every offensive category.
Following 18 seasons in the NHL, including 13 with the Wings, Fedorov returned to Russia in 2009 and played the last three campaigns with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. But time has slowed Fedorov, who earned a Hart Trophy (1994) to go with two Selke Trophies (1994, ‘96) and three Stanley Cup championships with the Wings.
“I think that players like Sergei just love the game so much that you don’t want it to go away,” Nill said. “It’s your whole life, to be that good at what they do, they’ve given everything they’ve got, they’re not done giving it up yet. They still have more to give … Unfortunately the body doesn’t let you go anymore, but their mind and their drive is still there that they want to impact the game in some way.”
Fedorov joins a long list of former Wings teammates who have made the jump from the ice to the front office over the last few years, including Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Fetisov.
“I think it shows that those teams were so successful and it shows the strong leadership with guys that were driven with leadership abilities to get into the font office,” Nill said. “All of these guys have made the step and it just shows you how much character and how much leadership was on those teams.”
Until recently, elite players like Yzerman, Fedorov, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier weren’t always considered as first-choice candidates for top managerial position. But that has evolved since Yzerman led Team Canada to the Olympic gold medal in 2010 and his Tampa Bay Lightning came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup finals last spring.
“Sergei is a very smart guy and he knows the game very well and I think his presence in the front office will be a great mark for Russian hockey,” Nill said. “You’re talking about some of the best players of all-time, they’re just so passionate about the game. Look at all of these guys, they’ve all played 15 to 20-years plus in their business and to do that you have to have a great passion.”
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