Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov had an illustrious career which included winning 3 Stanley Cups as a part of the Detroit Red Wings dynasty. But what many people don’t know is that the Wings legend signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes in 1998.
Negotiations were not going well as deep into the season restricted free agent Sergei Fedorov was still not signed to a contract with Detroit. Fedorov was even quoted saying he would never play for Detroit again. Many around the NHL were unsure of what Fedorov’s future would hold. Insert the Carolina Hurricanes, fresh off their move to North Carolina, they were looking to sign a star player who would get more eyes on the team.
Then Canes owner Peter Karmanos had a history with Wings’ owner Mike Ilitch as both grew up in the Detroit area. On February 26th of 1998, Karmanos and the Hurricanes offer sheeted the disgruntled star for $38 million dollars over 6 years.
The kicker though was the signing bonuses put in place. There was a $14 million signing bonus upfront, and about $12 million in bonuses that would be paid throughout the remaining years of the contract. However, there was the caveat that if Fedorov’s team reached the conference finals, he would be paid all $12 million upfront. The actual salary worked out to only $2 million per year.
That would mean that there was the potential of having to pay Sergei Fedorov $28 million for one season. That was the reason Carolina opted for this offer sheet. Detroit was coming off of a Stanley Cup championship, and would likely go on another deep run. Carolina hadn’t made the playoffs in 6 years, and likely wouldn’t be making the playoffs that year either.
Detroit of course matched the offer sheet, ending Sergei’s 59-game holdout. Considering the status of the franchise, both on-ice and financially, this was a bizarre move for the franchise to make. To this day the Hurricanes have not signed a free agency deal that lucrative, and as it stands the second biggest deal signed was Ron Francis’ 4-year, $20 million signing in 1998.
That season Detroit went to win the Stanley Cup, meaning Sergei Fedorov was owed his $28 million payday. He played just 21 regular season games and 22 playoff games. For less than 4 months of work, Fedorov made himself a very good chunk of money courtesy of the Hurricanes’ offer sheet.
One of the biggest what-ifs in franchise history is what would happen if the Red Wings hadn’t matched the offer sheet. The Hurricanes of course played the Red Wings in the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals, if Sergei Fedorov was on the Canes’ side, would that be enough to turn the tide?