The concept of ‘franchise’ players in North American sports dates back as far as the 1950s and is a notion that has evolved massively since then.
In simple terms, a franchise player is the ‘go-to’ guy – generally the best athlete on the team who makes things happen when the chips are down.
For ice hockey, franchise players have historically been forwards who log big minutes during games and weigh in with a ton of points during the season.
Legendary stars such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are amongst the players who have been handed the ‘franchise’ tag over the past few decades.
Detroit Red Wings had more than their fair share of ice hockey greats during a golden era for the club in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In a recent interview with Betway, four-time Stanley Cup winner Darren McCarty was asked which Red Wings legend he would build a franchise around today.
Forwards Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov were obvious choices, but McCarty says that changes to how the game is now played make ‘D’ men far more important.
“In today’s NHL, I gotta go (Niklas) Lidstrom,” said McCarty. “I gotta take not only the leadership, but I gotta take my 20-year, Hall of Fame, Norris Trophy winner.
“If you notice that the new centremen, logging the minutes is that ‘D’ man. It’s the Victor Hedman, it’s that defenceman.
“If it was back in my day, in the ’90s, it would obviously be Steve Yzerman. But the evolution of that two-way player, the leader, you’ve got to build around that.”
With the current Red Wings’ roster off the pace in the Atlantic Division, it is fair to say that McCarty’s views on the importance of ‘D’ men in the modern era take on greater weight.
The Red Wings have conceded a league-high 258 goals in 67 games this season, despite the efforts of netminder Alex Nedeljkovic.
The 26-year-old has been compared by some pundits to Dominik Hasek, and some of his performances have suggested the Red Wings may well have a franchise goalie on their hands.
However, his 0.900 save percentage highlights that the Red Wings’ blueline corps is desperately in need of strengthening if the team is to return to the top of the tree in the NHL.
Having solved one piece of the defensive puzzle with Nedeljkovic, current Red Wings’ general manager Yzerman must focus on finding the next Lidstrom.
In fairness to Yzerman, addressing the netminding situation was undoubtedly a smart move given that the Red Wings’ previous success was built on solid goalies.
McCarty highlighted the influence Chris Osgood had on the team during his playing career as a pointer towards the impact Nedeljkovic could have with a solid ‘D’ in front of him.
Osgood was back-up goalie for the Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup success, before securing the starting role for their wins in 1998 and 2008.
McCarty believes that it is a travesty of justice that his former teammate has not been inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame.
“When you’ve got 400 wins, you’ve backstopped two Cups and you’ve won a third as a back-up – I mean to me it’s just the bias of the team in front of him,” he added.
“But go watch our games, go watch any of them. The toughest job in sports is to be a quarterback, or a goaltender in Detroit.”