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Sunday, February 18, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Statistics Don't Show Fedorov's Game-Breaking Talent

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Sergei Fedorov has 63 points and is a plus-31, but nobody mentions him for the Hart Trophy as National Hockey League most valuable player.

Sixteen seconds. That's all Sergei Fedorov needed to turn a potential loss into another victory for the Red Wings.

Fedorov scored the tying goal and set up the winner a couple of weeks ago in the Red Wings' 4-2 victory over Toronto at Joe Louis Arena. If you ran to the kitchen for a snack, you probably missed it. Sixteen seconds.

"Sergei is a game-breaker for us anytime he's on the ice," said captain Steve Yzerman. "He's the most talented player I've ever seen, and I don't think there's any reason why he shouldn't dominate every night."

Yet he doesn't have dominating numbers. Fedorov leads the Wings with 63 points in 49 games and is second in the NHL at plus-31, but nobody is mentioning him for the Hart Trophy as league MVP or the Selke for best defensive forward. He won both awards in the 1993-94 season.

"It's hard to be an MVP on a team like ours because you have a lot of players," Coach Scotty Bowman said. "You look at the goaltending, you look at (Paul) Coffey, you go down the line."

And because Bowman uses a lot of forwards, Fedorov won't get the ice time that Mario Lemieux, the likely MVP, receives in Pittsburgh. On the other hand, would the Penguins use Lemieux on defense as Bowman did with Fedorov for a few games because of injuries?

In a recent game against Pittsburgh at Joe Louis Arena, Fedorov had a goal and two assists in a 3-0 victory. Lemieux was scoreless and minus-2.

Fedorov's ability is unquestioned. But fair or not, the measuring stick of his performance is the MVP season.

Fedorov doesn't think he's the same player he was then.

"I think I'm playing different hockey," he said. "Not like three years ago, maybe a little better tempo. A little different at some points. Every year is different for me. Every year, I find myself with different people. It's a different experience. We got criticized for a while. But the rest of my game hasn't been changed, but it's been elevated to a higher level.

"I see things a little bit differently because this is my sixth season. Obviously, that experience comes through from my other five seasons to help me out. . . . I can get from them the best opportunity to attack the net or make a good pass in an automatic way."

Some say Fedorov has been elevated by the arrival of Igor Larionov. The Wings acquired Larionov from San Jose for Ray Sheppard on Oct. 24, reuniting Fedorov with his idol growing up in the Soviet Union and his teammate with Central Red Army.

Larionov bristles at the suggestion he was acquired to inspire Fedorov.

"I'm not able to go to his soul and find out what's going on," Larionov said. "I came here to play the game. I guess they could use some experience.

"How can I spark a guy who's the best player in the National Hockey League? To tell me I have to spark Sergei is like saying I could spark Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, total hockey players. They have bad nights and good nights. Normal people. Of course they have to be consistent, but they're just people."

There's no question Fedorov has played better since Larionov arrived. Fedorov was moved from center to right wing to accommodate Larionov and create that five-man Russian unit with left wing Slava Kozlov and defensemen Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov.

"When I came to the Red Army team in 1986, I was just a kid," Fedorov said. "Igor was in his prime, was the best centerman to ever play hockey in the world. I watched him for 4 1/2 years, how he played, how he practiced. I admired him through my hockey career. All of a sudden he ended up with Detroit after 10 years.

"You know how much excitement it would bring to any person who would grow up like that, watching their favorite players and work with them together on the same team, on the same ice? Here we go back again. But I'm not that little kid anymore. I believe I'm an established player. I can do things on the ice, I can take charge on the ice when needed."

So why doesn't it happen every night, every game, every shift? That's the question some of Fedorov's teammates ask privately. As impressive as those 16 seconds were against Toronto, what about the rest of the game?

"One thing he's done, when we've played the best teams, the Rangers, Pittsburgh, he's come to play and he's been one of our best players," Yzerman said. "We expect a lot of him.

"He set a very high standard for himself a couple years ago. Now everybody expects more."

More than 16 seconds.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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