There’s no disputing the rich history of talent that has played for the Detroit Red Wings. The team boasts 58 players in the Hall of Fame, and the inclusion of others is frequently debated, so it’s sometimes easy to forget some of the players who helped along the way without stealing the show.
Role players are an important piece of any team, and sometimes the missing piece that helps conquer an elusive championship. Today we look at three former Red Wings, one from each of the last three decades, who left their mark on the organization despite spending just a brief time in the motor city.
1997-1999: Jamie Macoun
Most recall former NHL defenseman Jamie Macoun’s time spent with Canadian NHL teams, and it’s easy to see why. In his 16 professional seasons, he spent nine with the Calgary Flames, and seven with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was named to the All-Rookie NHL team in the 1983-84 season and helped the Flames win it all in 1989.
The seasoned veteran played 1,287 career games (including playoff appearances), and a mere 99 of those were with the Red Wings. Yet a 22-game stretch in 1998 was pivotal in helping Detroit repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, to complete a storybook season and help a city heal.
Macoun joined a Red Wings team that was still trying to figure out how to patch its defense after unexpectedly losing their star defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov the previous summer. Despite various pairings throughout that season, the blue line was never as stout without Konstantinov, so Detroit dealt a fourth-round draft pick for Macoun on March 24, 1998.
His stay-at-home mindset helped shore up the blue line almost immediately, and even though he played only seven regular-season games with Detroit that season, he quickly gelled with his teammates to help lead the team to its second consecutive Stanley Cup. In 22 playoff games that season, Macoun finished with four points (two goals and two assists), and a plus-3 rating. His steady presence helped put the Red Wings over the top en route to their ninth championship.
Macoun retired one season later after 69 additional regular-season games and one playoff appearance. He was elected to the Ohio Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and he remains active in the Calgary community.
2003-2007: Robert Lang
In 2004, an already-potent Detroit offense was looking to add even more punch, so the Red Wings traded Tomas Fleischmann, a 2004 first-round draft pick, and a 2006 fourth-round pick to the Washington Capitals for Robert Lang in late February. At the time of the trade the team had the best record in the league, and Lang led the league in scoring, so it seemed like a match made in heaven.
One of Lang’s most memorable goals came in Game 4 of the 2007 Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks when he tied the game with just 33 seconds left in the third period. The Red Wings were on the brink of a 3-1 series deficit when Lang scored the equalizer, opening the door for Mathieu Schneider to win the game in overtime. Detroit rolled off three straight wins (including Game 4), to earn a trip to the Western Conference Final where they lost to the Anaheim Ducks in six games.
Lang experienced moderate success in Detroit, amassing 119 points in 159 games, but was never able to help the team to a championship. He left after the 2006-07 season, and the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup the following year.
An interesting note – The Capitals used their first-round pick received in the deal to select defenseman Mike Green, who eventually played for the Red Wings. Lang finished his career after stints with the Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, and Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes. He retired with 989 games played, 261 goals and 442 assists.
2012-2013: Damien Brunner
Damien Brunner had the shortest stop with the Red Wings, but also may have had the most memorable goal.
Brunner signed with the Red Wings in the summer of 2012, and though his debut was highly anticipated, he posted 12 goals and 14 assists in 44 games during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. He scored five goals in the playoffs, including the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Ducks.
Brunner turned down two different contract offers from the Red Wings before signing a two-year, $5 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. He managed just 25 points in 60 games during the 2013-14 season, opted out of his contract with the Devils the following season, and returned to his native Switzerland. He most recently played with Biel HC in the Swiss National League.
Macoun, Lang, and Brunner are three of many Red Wings role players who have passed through Detroit over the years. Some had very brief stays, while others were with the team for many years, but all have rightfully earned their place in the history books.