The NHL has been transformed from a North American sport to a truly international game over the last couple of decades.
Sweden's Nicklas Lidstrom and Russia's Sergei Fedorov had a lot to do with that.
"Those guys were in the first wave," Dallas Stars president Jim Lites said. "Twenty-five years ago, Europeans were extras in the league. Those guys were once-in-a-generation superstars. And, the NHL hasn't been the same since because every team has players from all over the world."
Two-plus decades after the duo arrived in Detroit -- in much different ways -- they are set to be inducted Monday into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Phil Housley, Chris Pronger, Angela Ruggiero, Bill Hay and Peter Karmanos.
The Red Wings drafted Lidstrom in the third round and Fedorov in the fourth in 1989.
Lites, who was a Red Wings executive back then, recalled how tricky it was to get Fedorov away from the Soviet national team while it was playing in Portland, Oregon, to prepare for the Goodwill Games.
After Fedorov got off the team bus, he saw Lites in the hotel lobby -- reading a newspaper as planned -- and they slipped out of a side door, into a limousine and onto the Red Wings' private plane.
"It was nerve-wracking," Lites recalled. "The biggest worry is that he would change his mind. The Soviet military wasn't with the team, so it wasn't like they had guns."
He also helped Lidstrom negotiate to get out of the last year of his contract in Sweden to play in Detroit two years later, which was less dramatic.
Lidstrom was subtly spectacular, positioning his body to be in the right place at the right time on defense and putting the puck on a teammates' stick or in the net at the other end of the rink. He won four Stanley Cups, becoming the first European-born captain to win an NHL title in 2008, six years after being the first from Europe to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league's postseason MVP.
With his signature slap shot, he scored the gold-medal-winning goal for Sweden against Finland at the 2006 Olympics. He won seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenseman and trailed only Bobby Orr's record total of eight.
These days, his main job includes driving his boys to and from school in Sweden and he doesn't regret his decision to retire from a sport the Red Wings were willing to keep paying him millions to play.
"I still miss playing and still watch the NHL, but I was ready to leave," Lidstrom said.
Lidstrom spent his entire career with the Red Wings from 1991 to 2012.
Fedorov started playing in Detroit in 1990 and left in 2003 as a free agent, signing a $40 million, five-year deal with Anaheim. That decision probably will keep his No. 91 jersey out of the rafters at Joe Louis Arena where the Red Wings hang Lidstrom's No. 5 alongside the franchise's other greats such as Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman. Fedorov went on to play for Columbus and Washington.
With a rare combination of size, speed and soft hands, Fedorov won the Hart Trophy as MVP of the league and the first of two Selke Trophies as the top two-way player during the 1993-94 season.
"He was the Bo Jackson of hockey during that era," former teammate Chris Osgood said. "He was probably the best player for a three- or four-year stretch, but he didn't get the credit for it."
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Pronger was perhaps the biggest and toughest defenseman in NHL history. The Canadian was skilled, too, especially with his wicked slap shot. Pronger won the Hart and Norris Trophy in 2000 and helped the Ducks hoist the Cup in 2007.
Housley made the jump from playing at South St. Paul High School in Minnesota to being on the Scotty Bowman-led Buffalo Sabres the next year in 1982. He retired after the 2002-03 season with 1,232 points, the most by an NHL defenseman born in the U.S.
"He was an offensive machine," Bowman recalled. "It was amazing to see the transition he made from playing high school hockey to being in the NHL."
Ruggiero was on the U.S. team for four Olympics, winning gold in 1998. She was born in California, raised in the Detroit area and went to Connecticut in search of better competition in high school.
Hay, who had 386 points for the Chicago Blackhawks from the 1959-60 through the 1966-67 seasons, earned a spot in the class in the builder category. The Canadian has flourished in executive roles with the Hockey Hall of Fame, Hockey Canada and Calgary Flames. Karmanos, who is from Detroit, is also going into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category for playing a key role in the development of amateurs in the game and owning the Carolina Hurricanes.
Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage