Yzerman injury puts pressure on Fedorov -
The Detroit News
By John Niyo
DETROIT--Not all pictures speak a thousand words. Not this one, at least.
This one is much more concise, yet it's the one Sergei Fedorov perhaps
cherishes most from last season -- the Red Wings' team photo taken on the
ice immediately after the clinching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the photo, if you search a bit, you'll find them: Fedorov seated
next to Steve Yzerman, arm draped around his shoulder, both men grinning,
sharing a laugh -- and a few words, too, as it turns out.
"I think it's the best compliment of my career, what he said there,"
Fedorov says now, nearly four months later. "He just told me, 'You know,
that's the best I've seen you play.'"
Yzerman's play on a gimpy knee carried the Wings early in the playoffs,
but after a first-round scare from Vancouver, it was Fedorov's all-around
game -- stellar defense and puck control -- that helped propel the Wings
to a third title in six years. Fedorov, who began centering a No. 1 line
with Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, finished tied for second on the team
with 19 points in 23 playoff games.
"But I told him it's not measured in stats but how he carried himself,"
said Yzerman, who also was, not coincidentally, Fedorov's roommate on the
road in the playoffs. "He showed a lot of enthusiasm. And with his ability,
when it's matched with enthusiasm, it's such an uplifting feeling for the
team. Guys see him going and say, 'Wow, he's playing tonight.' He was just
The impact of Yzerman's words may yet be felt, especially now as the
Wings begin a new season without their heart-and-soul captain.
"When Stevie says something like that ... first of all, he means it
-- from the heart," said Dave Lewis, the Wings' new head coach. "And secondly,
he's been with Sergei for (Fedorov's) entire career and been somebody he
looks up to, so it means a lot.
"It meant so much to Steve to see Sergei do what he did when the team
needed him most," Lewis said.
What's Fedorov worth?
Clearly, the team needs him now. And Fedorov looks -- and sounds --
as if he's ready to pick up the slack. He is also, it's worth noting, in
the final year of his six-year, $38 million contract, and Fedorov, a 32-year-old
former Hart Trophy winner, could become an unrestricted free agent next
"A big opportunity" is how Ken Holland, the Wings' general manager,
delicately phrases it. He and Fedorov's agents, Mike Liut and Brian Lawton,
have had preliminary talks -- no formal proposals are on the table yet
-- but both sides have agreed to keep negotiations out of the media.
Still, with fellow NHL star forwards Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Joe
Sakic, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik all averaging between
$9 million and $10 million per season, the league's salary scale certainly
will have an impact on any new deal. So, too, will the fact that Nicklas
Lidstrom is earning a team-high $10.5 million. But a big season from Fedorov
-- he'll likely center a line with Shanahan and Kris Draper to start --
certainly won't hurt his bargaining position.
How much is Sergei Fedorov worth? It's a question he's been asked more
than once in recent weeks.
"A lot," he replies, smiling. "Sergei Fedorov is worth a lot. How much?
That's not for me to determine, really. And I should also say that I'm
a fair man. But I've been here 12 years, and management knows me well --
better than maybe anybody else. They know what I've done, what I'm capable
of doing. So for now, I'll just leave that stuff off the ice alone and
This situation is different than it was the last time Fedorov's contract
was up, back in the summer following the Wings' 1997 championship. Fedorov
ended up sitting out as a restricted free agent until February 1998 when
he signed a front-loaded offer sheet with Carolina. The Wings matched it,
and Fedorov, who twice had asked for a trade, stayed in Detroit, where
he promptly helped the team repeat as champs.
"It's always a battle," said Fedorov, whose 31 goals and 68 points
last season ranked second on the team behind Shanahan. "In previous years,
it hasn't been smooth, that's for sure. I don't know how it's going to
be this time. I have no clue -- no freakin' clue. But I'm not focusing
on it, not worrying about it.
"As far as the strategy, I don't think it will be any different than
in previous years. I'll do my job, and the rest of the people involved
will do theirs. I'll just play hockey and hopefully -- eventually -- people
will do what they're supposed to. On both sides."
The good news for management is this: Fedorov says he's happy in Detroit,
particularly now that he sees an influx of young talent on the roster.
Talk of an inevitable rebuilding phase in the Wings' future has quieted,
thanks in large part to management's willingness to sign big-name free
agents, as well as some unheralded scouting work in Europe.
"Sure, I've thought about it -- 'What will it be like in a year or
two?' -- but it was just a casual thought," Fedorov said. "The way management
here (continues to) build things, it's all positive. We've got a good goalie
again. We've got some different players, a new coach. This is a good franchise
that still will have a chance to win."
"Yes, absolutely," Fedorov said. "Very happy, especially right now.
The coaches have told me many times in the last two months that I will
play quite a few extra minutes, and that really lifts me up. It's another
opportunity, but it's also a responsibility -- and I'm willing to take
advantage of it."
Fedorov interrupts the conversation a moment later.
"Wait," he said, "not 'willing' -- I will take advantage of it."
He'll be expected to, of course.
Said Lewis: "I think he can rise to the occasion -- he thrives on that.
He likes the ice time, he likes special situations. What I've told him
is, 'We're just looking for you to be yourself -- nothing more than that.'"
Fedorov, for his part, appears more comfortable just being himself
He said he feels refreshed and, he admits, reawakened after a summer
of travel that took him back home again -- to Pskov, Russia, his hometown
near St. Petersburg -- for the first time since he was a teenager. He traveled
with his father and a pal from Detroit, rediscovering long-lost childhood
memories and even visiting for the first time the cemetery where his grandparents,
who passed away several years ago, are buried. He says he's eager to return
home again next July to help celebrate his hometown's 1,100th anniversary.
While in Russia, Fedorov also mended a few fences. He spent a weekend
with ex-teammate Slava Fetisov and his family, then joined Wings' teammate
Igor Larionov -- and the Stanley Cup -- for a charity hockey game near
Moscow. In 1997, Fedorov was a no-show when the Cup traveled to Russia
with the Wings' legendary former Soviet stars.
"It was a great reception," Fedorov said. "I never knew how many young
kids over there -- little hockey players -- knew who I was, what I do,
everything. All of us. Every time I was in public, I was signing autographs
-- for hours. It was unbelievable."
Life without Anna
The typically affable Fedorov had grown more reserved in recent years,
a subtle shift he attributes in part to all the public discussion of his
private life, most notably his relationship with pro tennis player Anna
Kournikova. The two were engaged in the summer of 1999, and later reportedly
married, but neither Fedorov nor Kournikova would ever publicly confirm
anything more than a friendship, despite persistent tabloid reports to
Further complicating matters were reports linking Kournikova with another
NHL star, Pavel Bure, who announced his engagement to her in February 2000.
Then, less than 18 months later, Fedorov and Kournikova -- back together
again -- were busy denying reports they'd wed in Moscow.
Yet now there's no denying the two have split: Kournikova is with pop
singer Enrique Iglesias -- though still playing coy with the media -- and
Fedorov is, well, feeling a bit reflective.
"It was just a part of our lives," Fedorov said, when asked about all
the guessing games. "Her approach was, no matter what she said the press
was going to do whatever they wanted with it. For me, people mostly left
me alone and I would just say, 'Everything's fine. We're friends. Whatever.'
"To be honest with you, I think, at least in my case, it could have
been a little simpler. But I was not alone in it, and I was willing to
do whatever I could for both of us. I couldn't just think about myself.
I always treated it like a very, very personal issue."
Still, over time, that became more and more of a chore, even for Fedorov's
teammates in Detroit. They, too, tired of the questions about Kournikova,
a frequent visitor at games.
At times, it became almost comical. When asked about Fedorov's strong
play during the Stanley Cup Finals in June, Larionov talked seriously of
the changes he'd seen.
"He's more of a team guy," Larionov said. "I think it's age, a lot
of it. Maybe marriage, too. It's a lot of things, but he's just more mature,
When a reporter pointed out his slip of the tongue -- Marriage? --
Larionov simply laughed and shrugged.
You'll get little more from Fedorov, even now.
"All I'll say is that we're not seeing each other anymore," Fedorov
said. "I'll always support her in her career and her life. I'll always
be there for her. But that's all I can really say."
Yet when asked whether the on-again, off-again relationship had taken
its toll -- both on and off the ice -- Fedorov readily admits it did.
"Of course it did," Fedorov said. "It was not easy. But it was a learning
experience. And I finally feel like I'm standing on two feet right now.
I'm grounded, and I feel comfortable with who I am and what I do."
Then, with a laugh, Fedorov adds: "I've definitely grown up in the
last 12 years here. I've learned a lot, and I'm very happy -- I'm a happy
person. I'm very stable now: I know where I'm coming from and where I want