Vladimir Konstantinov, more popularly known as “the Vladinator”, “Vladdie” or “Vlad the Impaler”, was a hockey player known for his devastating ability to put opposing players on the ice. After playing for the Soviet club CSKA Moscow, Konstantinov was noticed by a Detroit Red Wings scout at the 1987 World Junior Championships, when a brawl broke out in the Soviet Union-Canada game. He was drafted 221st overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, and immediately had an impact on the team, once he was able to join after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
In the 1993-94 regular season, he scored three short-handed goals to tie for the NHL lead amongst defenseman. He was part of the legendary “Russian Five.” During the 1995-96 season, he earned the NHL Plus/Minus Award, with a plus/minus of +60. This is the highest rating a player has finished with in the past 20 seasons, since Wayne Gretzky finished with +70 in the 1986-87 season. In the 1996-97 season, he helped his team win the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers. He would take runner-up for the NHL’s best defenseman, the James Norris Memorial Trophy, this season as well.
Immediately following the Stanley Cup victory, tragedy struck the entire Red Wings organization. Following a golf outing, Konstantinov, along other Red Wings, were involved in a limousine accident. As a result of the crash, Konstantinov’s career was cut short in an instant. However, the Red Wings still recognized him as part of the team, and in one of the most iconic moments in NHL history, he raised the Stanley Cup the following year from his wheelchair once the Red Wings claimed the title a second time. Although his number 16 has not been officially retired from the Red Wings organization, no player has been given the number since.