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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Cup Champs aplenty and the expansion era comes of age

The 1990s represented a coming-of-age for the NHL. Expansion throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s meant these new teams had established themselves and could pose a challenge to the dominance of the more experienced franchises. To wit, from 1968 to 1989, only six different franchises won Stanley Cups: Montreal (nine), New York Islanders (four), Edmonton (four), Boston (two), Philadelphia (two) and Calgary (one).

The decade of the 1990s saw parity ushered into the NHL, with eight different franchises winning a Stanley Cup during that decade. Pittsburgh, Colorado, New Jersey and Dallas all won their first Cups, and two original six franchises ended long Cup droughts (New York Rangers and Detroit).

Let’s take a quick look at the Cup Finals matchups in the 90s. For each Cup-winning team I am going to highlight a long-standing player that won their first Cup, where appropriate.

  • 1990: Edmonton defeats Boston. Both teams had been contenders for years, with the Oilers winning their fourth Cup in six years.

  • 1991: Pittsburgh defeats Minnesota. The Penguins win their first Cup in franchise history, the North Stars make their second finals appearance and first in a decade. Pens defenceman Gordie Roberts wins his first cup after 16 pro seasons.

  • 1992: Pittsburgh defeats Chicago. The Hawks make their first finals appearance in 19 years.

  • 1993: Montreal defeats Los Angeles. The Kings make their first finals appearance and Denis Savard wins his first Cup in his 12th season.

  • 1994: New York Rangers defeat Vancouver. The Rangers first cup win in 54 years, and defenceman Jay Wells wins his first Cup in his 15th season.

  • 1995: New Jersey defeats Detroit. Devils win their first Cup, Red Wings make first finals appearance in 29 years. 35-year-old Neal Broten wins his first Cup.

  • 1996: Colorado defeats Florida. Both teams make their first Finals appearances.

  • 1997: Detroit defeats Philadelphia. Wings win their first Cup in 42 years. Slava Fetisov (38 years old), Igor Larionov (36), Doug Brown (32), Tomas Sandstrom (32) and Bob Rouse (32) all win their first Cups.

  • 1998: Detroit defeats Washington. The Caps are in their first Cup finals. Detroit defenceman Dmitri Mironov (32) wins his first Cup.

  • 1999: Dallas defeats Buffalo. The Stars win their first Cup, and the Sabres make their first finals in 24 years. Brett Hull, Dave Reid, Pat Verbeek (all 34) and Ed Belfour (33) all win their first Cups.

The players featured below all won Cups in the 1990s, and between the four of them have eight Cup victories.

Card 143 - Mike Ricci

Ricci was a highly-touted centre out of Peterborough in the OHL when he was drafted fourth overall by Philadelphia in 1990. He had put up back-to-back 50 goal seasons with the Petes, and won both the OHL and CHL player of the year in his draft season. He made his NHL debut with the Flyers immediately, scoring 21 goals and 41 points as a 19-year-old.

Ricci would only play two seasons with the Flyers, as he would be traded to Quebec in June 1992 as part of the massive package that landed the Flyers Eric Lindros. Ricci’s first two seasons with the Nords were the most productive of his career, scoring career-highs in goals (30 in 1993-94) and points (78 in 1992-93). In 1993-94 he became the fortieth player in NHL history to score five goals in a single game, in a 8-2 win Nordiques over San Jose.

Ricci would move with the team to Colorado, winning a Stanley Cup in 1996, contributing 17 points in 22 playoff games. Ricci would spend another two seasons with the Avalanche before being traded to San Jose early in the 1997-98 season for Shean Donovan and a swap of high-round draft picks (the Avs would use their pick to select Alex Tanguay).

In seven seasons with San Jose, Ricci would develop into a defense-first forward, finishing as a finalist for the Selke Trophy in 2000 and fourth in voting in 2001 and 2002. He could still chip in offensively, score 20+ goals and 40+ points three times.

After the 2004-05 lockout he would sign with Phoenix, playing 2005-06 in the desert and seven games in 2006-07 before being forced to retire due to a series of injuries, including a serious neck injury.

In 16 NHL seasons, Ricci played 1,099 games, scoring 243 goals and 605 points. He also served as an assistant captain at various times for each franchise for which he played. In 2008 he was hired as a development coach for San Jose, a role he still holds today.

YouTube clip: scoring a hat trick on free hat day in San Jose.

Card 144 - Sergei Fedorov

The highly-touted Russian centre was drafted 74th overall in the 1989 draft. He had become a household name in North America due to his exploits in the World Juniors, and had been playing pro hockey for Central Red Army since he was 17. Fedorov made his NHL debut in 1990-91, after defecting from the Soviet Union while attending the Goodwill Games in Portland. He would score 31 goals and 79 points, be named to the all-rookie team and finish as runner up to Ed Belfour for the Calder Trophy.

Over his next two seasons he would score at a point-per-game pace, including 30+ goals, and finish second and fourth in Selke Trophy voting. 1993-94 was Fedorov’s breakout season: he would score 56 goals (third overall) and 120 points (second), and led the league with 39 even strength goals. He was named a first-time all-star and won the Hart, Pearson and Selke Trophies while finishing fourth in Byng Trophy voting.

Fedorov would finally experience team success in 1997, with the Wings winning their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. The following season would take some of the shine off that win, as Fedorov would miss most of the season in a contract dispute. He eventually signed a $38 million offer sheet contract with Carolina, which Detroit matched. The contract was controversial as it contained $29 million in bonuses, including a $14 million signing bonus and $12 million bonus for making the conference finals. Fedorov would play 21 games that season, and cash in an extra $12 million as the Wings would win their second Cup.

Over the next five seasons in Motown, Fedorov would round out his game completely, occasionally filling in on defence. He could still put the puck in the net, scoring 30+ goals three times, and winning a third Cup in 2002.

In summer of 2003 he would sign as a free agent with Anaheim, and rack up 65 points that season. Early in the 2005-06 season he would be traded to Columbus for Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin. In two-and-a-half seasons with Columbus he would score 40+ points each season. In February 2008 he would be traded to Washington for a prospect named Ted Ruth; this trade would put him on a Caps that had the latest Russian superstar, Alex Ovechkin. Fedorov would score 46 points in 70 games that season before returning to Russia to play in the KHL, playing three seasons with Magnitogorsk before retiring in 2012.

In 18 seasons and 1248 games, Fedorov scored 483 goals and 1176 points. He retired as the all-time leader in goals, assists and points by a Russian-born NHLer, but has now been surpassed for goals and points by his former teammate Ovechkin. From 2012 to 2017 he was the general manager of the team of his youth, CSKA Moscow. Fedorov is a member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and IIHF Hall of Fame.

YouTube clip: his highlight video from being named one of the NHL's 100 greatest players.

Card 145 - Luc Robitaille

Robitaille was a left winger drafted 171st overall by Los Angeles in 1984. He would play three seasons with Hull in the QMJHL, scoring 68 goals and 191 points in 1985-86, winning CHL player of the year honours.

Lucky Luc would make his NHL debut in 1986-87, scoring 45 goals and 84 points, being named to the all-rookie team and second all-star team. Over his next seven seasons as a King he would score 44 + goals each season, including seasons of 52, 53 and 63 goals. During that period he would score 100+ points four times and be named a first team all-star five times. 1992-93 would see the Kings make the Cup finals against Montreal, with Robitaille finishing second on the team in playoff scoring (9 goals and 22 points) to Wayne Gretzky.

In the summer of 1994 Robitaille would be traded to Pittsburgh for Rick Tocchet. He would play one season with the Pens before being traded to the New York Rangers with Ulf Samuelsson for Petr Nedved and Sergei Zubov. Robitaille’s time on Broadway would see him post the lowest goal and points total of his career.

A trade back to Los Angeles for Kevin Stevens in advance of the 1997-98 season would revitalize Robitaille’s career. Starting in 1998-99 he would rattle off three straight 30+ goal seasons and be named a second team all-star in 2000-01.

Like any veteran chasing a Cup victory in the late 90s/early 2000s, Robitaille would sign with Detroit, playing two seasons with the Wings and winning a Stanley Cup in 2002 in his 15th NHL season. He would return to LA for a third stint beginning in 2003, playing two final seasons as a King before retiring at the end of 2005-06 season.

In a 19 season career spanning 1431 games, Robitaille scored 668 goals (13th all-time), 1394 points (22nd all-time) and ranks fifth all-time in power play goals. He is the leading point scorer for left wingers in NHL history, and second in goals (behind Alex Ovechkin). Finally, Robitaille played in eight all-star games (1988-1993, 1999, 2001) and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

He spent one season as president of Omaha in the USHL, before in 2007 accepting the role of president with the LA Kings, a position he holds to this day.

YouTube clip: his highlight video from being named one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history.

Card 146 - Steve Yzerman

Yzerman was drafted fourth overall by Detroit in the 1984 draft. The highly-touted centre immediately jumped to the NHL as an 18-year-old, scoring 39 goals and 87 points in his rookie season. He would be named to the all-rookie team and finish as runner up to Tom Barrasso for the Calder Trophy.

In spite of putting up good individual numbers during his first three seasons with Detroit, a fan base long suffering through the ‘Dead Things’ era began to take the lack of team success out on Yzerman, questioning if he was the player to elevate the team. In 1986-87, Stevie Y put up a scoring line of 31-59-90 and guided the Wings to the Campbell Conference Finals, losing in five games to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. That season was the first time Detroit has won a playoff series since 1965-66. The following season the Wings would again make the conference finals, again losing to Edmonton; Yzerman would eclipse 50 goals and 100 points for the first time that season.

1988-89 would be a career best year for Yzerman, scoring 65 goals and 155 points, finishing third overall in scoring and leading the league in even-strength goals with 45. He would also win the Pearson Award and finish third in Hart Trophy voting. Post-season success would remain elusive, as the Wings would lose to Chicago in six games in the division semi-finals.

Yzerman’s leadership would again come into question, as from 1989-90 to 1993-94 the Red Wings would win only a single playoff round. Yzerman would score 45+ goals and 100+ points each season, however. The lockout shortened 1994-95 season would see Yzerman guide the Wings to their first Stanley Cup final since 1966; unfortunately they would be swept by the New Jersey Devils that postseason. It would take 14 seasons, but Yzerman would bring the Red Wings their first Cup since 1955 when they would defeat Philadelphia in four games in 1997. Eager to avoid another long Cup-winning dry spell, the Wings would go back-to-back in 1998, with Yzerman winning the Conn Smythe and leading the league in playoff scoring with 24 points.

1999-2000 would see Yzerman win the Selke Trophy and be named a first-team all-star for the first and only time in his career. In the 2000s Yzerman would begin missing a significant number of games due to injury; in 2002 he would win his third Cup, scoring 23 points in 23 games. Off-season knee surgery would cost him the majority of the following season, but he would come back to play 16 games and win the Masterton Trophy.

Upon retirement at the end of the 2005-06 season, Yzerman had played 22 seasons, all with Detroit. He played in 1564 games (21st all-time), scoring 692 goals (10th) and 1755 points (7th). He ranks seventh all-time for most games played with a single franchise, and was captain of the Wings for 20 seasons. Not surprisingly, Yzerman was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009 and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2013.

Since retiring, Yzerman has been the general manager for Team Canada for two world championships (2007, 2008) and two Olympics (2010, 2014). From 2006-2010 he was the vice-president of hockey operations for the Wings, leaving in 2010 to become the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stevie Y returned home in 2019, becoming the GM for the Wings.

YouTube clip: naturally it's Yzerman's highlight video from the NHL's 100 greatest players tribute.

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