Eight summers ago, Luc Robitaille did a different turn on an old adage.
Normally, it’s “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Robitaille spun that a little bit and tried, “AFTER you beat ’em, join ’em.”
It worked out. They didn’t call him “Lucky Luc” for nothing.
Robitaille, along with sniper Brett Hull and All-World goalie Dominik Hasek, joined the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2001. Robitaille and Hull were free agents; Hasek came to the Wings in a trade.
Robitaille’s Los Angeles Kings had upset the mighty Red Wings in the first round in ’01, yet when it came time to make a decision about where he wanted to land next, Luc looked beyond that playoff derailing of the Red Wings.
Robitaille was 35 and had never won a Stanley Cup. He made it to the Finals in 1993 with the Kings, but no champagne.
“My wife and I discussed it. She asked me, ‘Luc, where do you think you’d have the best chance at a Stanley Cup?’ I said, ‘Detroit.’ So that was pretty much our focus,” Robitaille told me yesterday during a conference call.
But this wasn’t just any conference call. It was the call announcing the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2009.
Robitaille, along with Hull, Steve Yzerman, and Brian Leetch, was among the four player inductees. Longtime New Jersey Devils executive Lou Lamoriello will also be inducted.
So add Robitaille to the list of superstar players who ventured to Detroit seeking that missing brass NHL ring.
“When my agent called and said that he was talking to (Red Wings GM) Kenny Holland, I got excited,” Robitaille went on. “Then, he called and said a deal was done and my wife and I were very happy.”
According to Luc, there really was no other team in the mix for his services eight years ago.
Some have called the 2001-02 Red Wings one of the best teams in NHL history. It’s a hard point to argue, if you’re going to simply compare rosters.
“Sometime during the season, someone said that we had maybe 10 future Hall of Famers on the team,” Robitaille said. “And looking back, it was an amazing team, for sure.”
The ’02 Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy for best overall regular season record, then eventually captured the Stanley Cup, ousting the Carolina Hurricanes in five tough games.
Not that the Cup run was a breeze. The Red Wings started things out by losing the first two games, both at home, in the first round to Vancouver. Hasek was a major culprit.
But Detroit re-grouped and won the next four games.
Robitaille (left) kisses the Cup in 2002 with Steve Duchesne
The highlight was a grueling, seven-game series with the Colorado Avalanche in the conference finals — the last good playoff series the two teams have played.
Yzerman was also on the conference call yesterday.
As team captain, I wondered, was there added pressure to win, since ownership went out and secured such immeasurable talent that summer?
“You know, there’s always pressure to win (in Detroit),” Yzerman said. “We won the Cup in 1998, then we kind of had trouble getting out of the second round the next three years. But that [2002 team] was a special team–and I think Luc would agree–in that we just played the games and didn’t really worry about the playoffs until they rolled around.”
I asked Robitaille what it was like playing with Yzerman and his exemplary leadership skills.
“I don’t want to talk about Stevie while he’s on the line. He might get cocky or something,” he said, as everyone laughed — including, and especially, Yzerman himself.
Hull wasn’t present at the call, but it was pointed out by one of the writers that it’s not too often that three members of the same Cup-winning team all go into the Hall of Fame together.
2002 was also the year that Yzerman had knee surgery and was in great pain for most of the playoffs.
“We had so many great players,” Yzerman said. “We knew we had something special,and I wanted to be a part of it. But like I said, we didn’t focus on the playoffs or put extra pressure on ourselves to win the Stanley Cup during the season. We kind of just let that (playoff time) roll around and dealt with it then.”
And dealt with it they did.
Robitaille got his Cup, but despite playing in 81 games the following season, Luc wasn’t so lucky, tallying just 11 goals and ending up in new coach Dave Lewis’s doghouse. He re-signed with the Kings that summer, his original team, and finished there in 2006.
Robitaille has a sense of history, as he proved yesterday.
One of the men the NHL designated to announce the inductees was Pat Quinn, who read Robitaille’s brief bio before announcing Luc’s name.
After he was announced, Robitaille said, “Pat, you were my first coach (in the NHL). So it’s great that you’re the one announcing my name.”
Hull teamed with his father Bobby to be the only father-son combo in NHL history to each score over 600 goals. Brett Hull won Cups in 1999 with Dallas–scoring the Cup-winning goal in controversial fashion, against Hasek, no less–and in 2002 with Detroit, obviously. He’s currently in the Dallas Stars organization, having just been re-designated from his position as co-general manager.
Leetch, of course, was the brilliant defenseman for the New York Rangers, an American kid–born in Texas, no less. He won a Stanley Cup in 1994, helping the Broadway Blues snap a 54-year drought.
Lamoriello has been with the Devils since 1987, and has had a couple different stints as the team’s coach. But he made his mark as one of the shrewdest, most adept GMs in the business. His Devils teams captured Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000, and 2003.