According to Japers’ Rink, a book called Hockey’s Greatest Teams has listed the ’97 Wings as one of the top 15 hockey teams of all time. The 1949-50 Wings also make the list, thanks to the legendary Production Line. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that ’97 was chosen over the ’02 squad. I would argue that the ’02 team had more pure talent than the ’97 team did, and there were significantly more future Hall of Famers in ’02. In fact, I honestly can’t remember a roster that looked better on paper being iced in my lifetime, even taking into consideration the fact that Pavel Datsyuk hadn’t yet developed into the star that we all know and love today. It’s been said that the ’02 team should easily end up having eleven members in the Hall of Fame down the road, and I don’t count nearly that many from ’97. Igor Larionov, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Scotty Bowman are already in the Hall/about to be inducted, and you can bet on Brendan Shanahan, Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek, and Datsyuk joining them in their due time.
I would argue that the ’97 Cup probably meant more to the city than the one in ’02 did, just because it ended the 42-year drought, but talent wise, 2002 has to win out. From the first day of the pre-season that year, the expectation was that the Wings were going to win the Stanley Cup. Anything short of that would have been deemed an absolute failure. They were just that much better than anyone else. Their roster that year wouldn't have looked out of place in a fantasy hockey league.
Anyway, take a look at the rosters listed over at Japers’ Rink and see what you think. The ’08 roster is included over there as well, but I still think ’02 wins. I like that '08 was post-lockout/salary cap just to silence those critics who accused the Wings of buying the Cup, but that also means that the talent level was lower. Don't get me wrong, the team was still better than anyone else in the league, but we're just never going to see a team like '02 again under the salary cap.