Every Detroit Red Wings fan knows their names. Some fill us with dread, and others awaken an anger we haven’t felt in years. Whether they’ve backstopped opposing nets or agitated the Red Wings for years, these players are infamous and vilified by just about every fan in Detroit. For better or worse, these five villains have brought some of the most memorable bouts in Red Wings history. From Cup champions to royal pests, these players have cemented their legacies as the biggest rivals, villains, and arch-enemies of all time for the Detroit Red Wings.
5 – Sidney Crosby
The 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs featured a neck-and-neck rivalry of two stacked teams: the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins. Led by Crosby, the Penguins were a force to be reckoned with. After a season when captain Henrik Zetterberg unleashed an against-all-odds Conn Smythe performance, Crosby and the Penguins were looking for payback. In the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, tensions rose as the games raged on, culminating in a dirty hit by Crosby on the Red Wings’ Kirk Maltby. This hit, along with a cross check on Zetterberg, left fans feeling resentful towards the Penguins’ superstar center.
The resentment turned to sorrow when the Penguins lifted the Cup at the end of the series. The reason Red Wings fans hate Crosby goes beyond the loss of that second Cup. Fans and players spoke of Crosby’s demeanor towards his opponents on the ice and the leniency of the officials during some of his most questionable plays. While the loss of Cup number 12 for the Red Wings may still leave a bitter taste, the thought of Crosby going on to lift another two Cups in the next decade filled more fans with dread than they’d like to admit.
“I think [shaking hands], that’s one thing you should do. I don’t know why he didn’t do it, it’s disrespectful.”Henrik Zetterberg on Sidney Crosby’s refusal to shake hands at the end of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
4 – Chris Pronger
Chris Pronger was the type of player that every team wanted to have but hated to play against. He was tall, tough, and treated with apprehension due to his merciless hits on the ice. On one hand, Pronger was lauded for his Norris-caliber play; on the other, he was hated because of questionable hits like this one on Tomas Holmstrom. Pronger, notably, attempted to injure an already-injured Steve Yzerman in 1998 with a hit from behind. Luckily, Yzerman noticed in time and narrowly avoided the hit, which, in turn, caused Pronger to tear his own ACL.
Pronger played the majority of his career with the Red Wings’ divisional rivals, jumping between the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, and Edmonton Oilers. The Red Wings always had trouble playing against Pronger due to his sizable frame and mean streak on the ice. While he never caused any long-term injury to any Red Wings, he was still regarded as one of the most frustrating players to go up against. His rough-around-the-edges play coupled with his ability to get into the opposition’s head, earns him high marks on the list of Red Wings villains.
3 – Tie Domi
Where the Red Wings had Bob Probert, the opposition had the one and only Tie Domi. Serving as a counterpart to Probert’s take-no-prisoners style of play, the two would often seek each other out for great on-ice battles. Domi had over 3,500 penalty minutes during his NHL career; his long-term rivalry against Probert alone spanned nine fights and countless penalty minutes between the two of them. Domi spent the majority of his career bouncing between the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets, but frequently found himself on the bad side of many Red Wings players, especially Probert. Despite this, Probert and Domi, surprisingly, maintained a very good friendship.
“Everyone obviously wants to know about the battles we had, but I got to know the guy as a father and husband. That’s what I admire about Bob Probert. He stands out as just a great guy. A funny guy. A big lovable teddy bear.”Tie Domi
During the late 1980s, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs found themselves engulfed in a divisional rivalry. Games were hard-hitting and high-energy, frequently involving battles between Probert and Domi. Domi earned the title of a pest when he played against the Red Wings, frequently agitating the team into giving up good scoring chances against hard-to-beat teams. While the Probert-Domi rivalry is looked at fondly now in the history of the Red Wings, Domi was once one of the most hated players by the team and fans alike.
2 – Patrick Roy
Roy will go down in Red Wings history as one of the toughest challenges the team had to face. Roy hated the Red Wings and for good reason. On Dec. 6, 1995, while playing for the Montreal Canadiens, the Red Wings shelled Roy, potting 11 goals in a relentless assault on the net. The rage spurned from this embarrassment caused Roy to demand a trade from ‘Roy Traded to Colorado, New York Times, 12/7/95). Before he knew it, he was backstopping the Colorado Avalanche, a team that rivaled the Red Wings in talent and depth. In a few short years, the rivalry between the Red Wings and the Avalanche begun, and the league would never be the same after that.
Roy is often regarded as one of the greatest goalies of all time. He was able to shut down a stacked Red Wings franchise more times than the team would like to admit. Countless attempts (and failures) to get good scoring chances against Roy plagued the Red Wing for many years, finally culminating in Game 7 of the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs between Detroit and Denver. At long last, the Red Wings were able to break Roy, delivering a humiliating seven-goal loss to the Avalanche, dashing their hopes for a repeat Stanley Cup championship. Players far and beyond recognize Roy’s skill, but it seems almost fitting that two of the superstar’s biggest losses were against his greatest rivals.
1 – Claude Lemieux
It should come as no surprise that Claude Lemieux tops this list of villains. His infamous hit on Kris Draper served as the catalyst for the biggest and bloodiest rivalry between the Red Wings and the Avalanche. Lemieux’s dirty hit has earned him a special place of hatred within the Red Wings organization. In fact, the injury that Draper sustained from the hit earned him a one-way ticket to becoming one of dirtiest players in NHL history.
Fortunately for the Red Wings, Darren McCarty and the rest of the team managed to get their revenge, resulting in the “Fight Night at the Joe”, one of the most shocking and adrenaline-pumping events in hockey history. Nowadays, Lemieux is regarded by the Red Wings as nothing more than the spark that started the fire of rivalry between they and the Avalanche. Even the Red Wings’ social media pokes fun at the infamous photo of McCarty punching out Lemieux on National Turtle Day. While he wasn’t a frequent goal-scorer against the Red Wings, the war he started makes him far and beyond the biggest villain in the history of the Red Wings.
Who do you think deserves the title of biggest rival for the Red Wings? Who didn’t make it to the list, but should be on it? Let us know in the comments!