Bowman: Shanahan the "missing piece"
The Ilitches were in their 15th season of ownership when general manager Ken Holland and coach Scotty Bowman recommended a trade. The deal was the Hartford Whalers would trade Brendan Shanahan and defenseman Brian Glynn to Detroit for Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau and Detroit's first-round choice in 1997.
Nine months later, the Ilitches and all their team's fans watched and celebrated as the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, sweeping the favored Philadelphia Flyers. A year later, they were hoisting the Stanley Cup again, after downing the Washington Capitals. The Red Wings, once the longtime laughing stock of the NHL, became the first team in 15 years, since the New York Islanders in 1982 and '83, to record back-to-back sweeps in the Stanley Cup finals.
There were only a couple of personnel changes from the 1995-96 team, which had torn up the league during the regular-season but came up short in the playoffs. So what transformed the Red Wings?
"We made a tough trade with Hartford," Bowman recalled. "Keith Primeau decided not to re-sign with us. It looked pretty bad and it was an unfortunate thing. It looked like he was just going to sit out and things were getting dicey. I didn't know if we could trade him, but it opened up that we were able to trade for Brendan Shanahan. I remember getting my first look at him in the dressing room before our home opener.
"We were fairly strong at center with that team. We had Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov and Kris Draper was coming along pretty good," Bowman recalled. "We needed size on the wings, and Brendan and Darren McCarty became big players for us.
"Brendan became a big part of our team. We were always a skilled team and he was the big power forward that we needed. He had great physical strength. He could score, he could fight and he could check. That deal, along with the addition of Igor Larionov the year before, were the big trades that got our team going. We had a heck of a good stretch there for many years.
"Brendan was perfect for our team, and he didn't get in many scraps while he was here because no one would fight him. He was a great fit."
Much has been said over the years about how Bowman got the Red Wings to become winners by making many of them accept roles that they might have thought beneath them when they were earlier in their careers. In Shanahan's case, the great scoring winger became the prime performer of Bowman's famed "left-wing lock," a defensive strategy that forces an opponent to take the route up the boards that you want him to take.
Here and there, now and then, Shanahan griped about it -- probably while twirling his Stanley Cup rings.
"Well, he was a natural right-hand shot, but he liked to play the left wing," Bowman said. "He was one of the better shooters in the league and fit in better on the left wing. He was always better on that side and that's how we played.
"We had no problem with any part of his game. He was drafted No. 1 behind Pierre Turgeon, so he was already good when he got to the NHL. He was respected by the other players and he could put the puck in the net. He had a heavy shot when he played in the NHL.
"For us, Brendan was definitely the missing piece. Well, he and Igor Larionov, and they wound up playing together and were very good. Then, we had that line in 2002 of Yzerman, Fedorov and Shanahan and they were pretty much unstoppable."