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A Mighty Winner

Fedorov gives Ducks more than big name to replace Kariya; he brings outsized star quality and A-list celebrity status

October 12, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Sergei Fedorov means many things to many Mighty Duck players. Each sees a perk to having the multitalented center in Anaheim.

"Maybe all those [Detroit Red Wing] fans that come to our games will root for us now," Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said, smiling.

OK, more fans.

"I can go to him and ask questions," 21-year-old Alexei Smirnov said.

OK, savvy mentor.

"He's a world-class player," team captain Steve Rucchin said. "You can never have enough of those guys on your team."

OK, exceptional player.

What this all means to Fedorov is: all of the above.

So what this could mean for the Duck organization is a big payoff -- on the ice, in the dressing room and at the box office, not to mention in public opinion, where Fedorov's signing more than counter-balanced Paul Kariya's departure when he was allowed to become a free agent.

Fedorov, in his prime at 33, exchanged drab and dingy Detroit for the surf and sun of Southern California, signing a five-year, $40-million contract. He was lured by his friendship with Duck General Manager Bryan Murray, who was his first coach in Detroit. What sealed the deal were some big bucks and a not-so-small change.

"I was looking forward to a new challenge," Fedorov said. "Hopefully I will become a two-goal guy. I want to be involved in every situation, the penalty kill, the power play, five on five, key faceoffs.

"I think I had that with my former club, [but] only when there was nowhere else to go. Then they remembered I was on the team."

Fedorov stopped talking, looked around the dressing room of his new team and said: "I like the logo. I like the smirk on that Duck. That's a pretty tough-looking Duck."

*

Huddled in the corner of the dressing room after the Ducks' 3-1 loss to Nashville on Thursday were Smirnov and Stanislav Chistov, who were giving apostle-like attention to everything Fedorov was saying.

That Smirnov soaks up everything Fedorov has to offer is not surprising. That Chistov sits next to Fedorov in the Duck dressing is not luck.

"I was in Russia this summer and I heard rumors that Sergei was going to be a Duck," Chistov said. "When [Coach] Mike Babcock called me and said Sergei was coming, I was excited. This was the guy you followed growing up in Russia."

The excitement ran through every player on the team.

There was relief.

"I don't have to chase him around the ice any more," Rucchin said.

There was eagerness.

"How can you not like playing with a guy like Sergei Fedorov?" winger Petr Sykora said.

This was a marquee signing unlike any the Ducks had ever made. The Kings, 22 miles up the road, were among those who noticed.

"You don't go and spend $40 million on a player when you know the economics are going to change [in the NHL]," King President Tim Leiweke said on a television talk show recently.

Leiweke also said the Kings already have a star player in Ziggy Palffy. Asked whom he would rather have, Leiweke said, "I know what we're going to get out of Ziggy every night."

Fedorov scoffs at the notion that he is moody or doesn't always put forth an effort. But he did disappear during the Red Wings' first-round playoff series against the Ducks. He attributes that to a diminished role in the series.

"He's got an exceptional work ethic," Rucchin said. "You got a guy who is your best player with your strong work ethic, that is only going to help rub off on everybody else."

Fedorov brings Hall of Fame credentials, with 400 goals and 954 points. He was chosen the NHL's best skater this year by one publication. He also brings high expectations, a heavy load for a guy making his first big move in the NHL.

"He's never been on a different team," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said. "He's never lived anywhere other than Detroit in the NHL. ... It will take some time before he gets comfortable."

Said Fedorov: "I moved from Russia to Detroit. This isn't as big a move."

*

Fedorov stepped out of a car, with a TSN film crew in tow. The Canadian sports channel was doing a story on Fedorov's move to Southern California and followed him everywhere for days.

On this stop in Los Angeles, Fedorov was asked to do a quick stand-up intro, just a few words, "I'm Sergei Fedorov and welcome to Hollywood."

Fedorov politely declined.

This is the image he is hoping to avoid.

Southern California was certainly appealing. Fedorov bought a home at the beach and his convertible, which resembles the Batmobile -- jet black with red trim -- fits a rich-and-famous lifestyle.

But Fedorov insists that he winged his way west to be a Duck, not a night owl.

"I am here to play hockey," Fedorov said. "I am not that naive. All that good stuff, the great reception, the great publicity, I'm not fooled by that. I know how hard I have to work.... Hey, I know what I can control and what I can't, and that's the bottom line."

What Fedorov could control this summer was his future. He said he knew Detroit was in his rearview mirror long before he was officially a free agent.

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