Many things are easy to debate because there isn't necessarily a measuring stick for everything when it comes to a player or a team. You can argue how one player's ability to score goals isn't as valuable as someone else's ability to generate plays, or how a team's attention to defense isn't as valuable as a team's ability to just win. Yet when it comes to the best team assembled in the past decade, maybe even the past 20 years, there's not a contest as to who that team is.
It's the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings.
As it stands, three players from the 2001-02 Red Wings Team, being Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Luc Robataille, were inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. They join Igor Larionov and Scotty Bowman as both alumni from the 2001-02 Red Wings team and inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Considering how many other qualified players are eligible to be inducted, that's quite an honor for them to make the cut.
But what about the other players who have yet to retire (or be retired long enough) to warrant their own inclusion into the HHOF? Red Wings fans don't need to mention the contributions that Nicklas Lidstrom made toward the team and provided the club with a franchise player who took the torch when it was time for Yzerman to retire. The team could have belonged to Sergei Fedorov, whose 1179 NHL points place him among the game's best, had he placed the team before himself. No one can blame Brendan Shanahan for leaving when he did; he gave the Red Wings the best years of his career before they transformed from a rough-and-tumble North American-based team into a finesse-based European-styled team, leaving Shanahan on the outside looking in as the team's only player who embraced the concept of toughness. While Chris Chelios didn't necessarily give Detroit his best years per se, he did extend a career that many thought would be over in 3 seasons to 10 and is still showing no signs of stopping after signing a contract with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Dominik Hasek, who remains the premier European goaltender of all time, backstopped this team through some grueling series that saw him facing none other than long-time nemesis Patrick Roy, whom many point to as being better than Hasek largely because of his birthplace. He's still young in his career, but the 2001-02 season was the rookie season of a sixth-round draft pick named Pavel Datsyuk, who has gone on to become one of the most dynamic two-way players in the game today. While Steve Duchesne may still be waiting for his turn to be inducted, his career as a defenseman that could both score and provide an abundance of grit leaves him as one of the best defenders to ever play the game. You look at any of the names in the above paragraph and you know that it's not a matter of if they'll be in the HHOF, but rather when that will happen.
While legends make for a great team, this group also had an unsung supporting cast that was just as important as their star power. The infamous Grind Line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and Darren McCarty gave the Red Wings a line that featured the most complete checking unit in the league that season while forward Tomas Holmstrom remains one of the best power play screeners/deflectors the game's ever had. Jiri Fischer was only beginning to touch on the potential of his career before his heart condition forced him into retirement while Mathieu Dandenault gave the team a roving player who's career may still be legitimate had he not left for more money in Montreal. Manny Legace has forever been considered one of the best backups in the league and parlayed that role into several starting opportunities for Detroit, The St. Louis Blues, and now the Carolina Hurricanes. Boyd Deveraux supplied the team with a legitimate checking presence before concussion issues forced him to pursue a career in the minors. While there were a few fringe players and prospects who flamed out during their time with the club that season, the 2001-02 season was the beginning of the NHL careers for current Red Wings forward Jason Williams and some guy named Sean Avery. Maybe you've heard of him.
The early-80's New York Islanders and the late-80's Edmonton Oilers supplied dynasties that provided a lifetime worth of memories. Yet after economics dismantled both teams, there never was a team that was as loaded with star power these guys had (with absolutely no disrespect to the 1994 New York Rangers or the 2001 Colorado Avalanche.) Not only were they likely the best team of the decade, but they were the last team of this magnitude to be assembled before the lockout. Yes, the team was an embarrassment of riches, but when your money is made through winning, than you have to invest wisely if you want business to be good. I'm glad Mike Illitch understood that concept.
2001-02 Detroit Red Wings, we at The Bruise Brothers say you're the best and we salute you!