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Vladimir Konstantinov ("Владимир Константинов" in the Russian cyrillic alphabet) was a defenseman for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings from the 1991-1992 season until after the 1996-1997 season. After 96-97, he was involved in a car accident and suffered rather extreme head injuries, which ended his playing career.

On June 13, 1997, six days after the Red Wings' first Stanley Cup victory since 1955, Vlad and his teammate Slava Fetisov, along with Red Wings equipment manager Sergei Mnatsakanov, were in a limo going south on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak. The driver, who was drunk, crashed the car into a large tree on the median. Fetisov and the driver both escaped with minor injuries, but Vlad and Mnatsakanov both experienced massive, devestating injuries that have left them both disabled to this day.

After years of physical and mental therapy, Vlad still has extremely limited physical ability and almost no recollection of his past. His speech has also barely recovered.

A few days after the accident, the Stanley Cup itself was brought into Vlad's hospital room. Unlike when people tried to talk to him, show him videos of himself playing hockey, tried speaking to him in Russian, etc., he seemed fixated on the Cup. The following year, when the Red Wings won the Cup again in 1998, they brought Vlad out in his wheelchair and skated him around their victory lap with the Cup in his lap, an act the team repeated with Vlad when the won the Cup yet again in 2002. The team has made a habit of involving Vlad in all their official ceremonies since his disablement.

During his career, Vlad lead the NHL in +/- with a +60 in 1995-96 and finished second to the New York Rangers' Brian Leetch in the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) voting that year. He was a mean, if not vicious body-checker and wouldn't hesitate to drop his gloves to settle a point. He had a notorious feud with Colorado's Claude Lemieux for a couple of years before his career-ending accident, and that feud was taken up by teammate Darren McCarty following Vlad's accident. For most of his career, he was 5'11" and weighed 190 lbs. He was a right-handed shot and was born on March 19, 1967, in Murmansk, Russia. For a number of years he played on the Red Wings' "Russian Five" line, which consisted of himself and Fetisov on defense, Sergei Fedorov at center, and Slava Kozlov and Igor Larinov on the wings.

Back in Russia, before his NHL career, he was a lieutenant in the CSKA, as well as the captain of the Soviet National Team. In 1989, the Red Wings drafted him in the twefth round, 221st overall, in the entry draft. The Wings didn't really expect anything to come of the draft pick (as was the case with most Russian draft picks back then, due to Soviet government regulations about letting their players play in the NHL), however, Vlad was itching to get out of the USSR. Because of his CSKA affiliation, attempting to leave the country would be a criminal offense that could land him in prison. This made it virtually impossible for him to obtain a traveller's visa. Desperate for action, Vlad checked into a clinic that diagnosed him with a "rare but difficult to detect" disease. He and his wife, Irina, petitioned the coach of the Soviet National Team to send Vlad to a hospital in the USA for treatment, but the coach, a dyed in the wool Soviet nationalist, balked and sent Vlad to a military hospital. The military doctors couldn't detect the disease but did rule that Vlad could not continue playing hockey. The coach again didn't buy it, so an appeal to the Russian police on Vlad's behalf had to be made for him to be released. In the end, a bribe to Russian police got him released.

Eventually Vlad and his family made their way to Budapest by train, after much more bribery and red tape. From there he and his wife flew to Detroit, where Red Wings' owner Mike Illitch met him personally at the airport. He then joined the Red Wings at their 1991-92 preseason camp.

Here are Vladimir Konstantinov's complete (main) statistics:

Year    Team      GP  G   A   P PIM |      GP G  A  P PIM
1984-85 CSKA      40  1   4   5  10 
1985-86 CSKA      26  4   3   7  12 
1986-87 CSKA      35  2   2   4  19 
1987-88 CSKA      50  3   6   9  32 
1988-89 CSKA      37  7   8  15  20 
1989-90 CSKA      47 14  14  28  44
1990-91 CSKA      45  5  12  17  42 
1991-92 Detroit   79  8  26  34 172        11 0  1  1  16
1992-93 Detroit   82  5  17  22 137         7 0  1  1   8
1993-94 Detroit   80 12  21  33 138         7 0  2  2   4
1994-95 Wedemark+ 15 17  13  30  51
1994-95 Detroit   47  3  11  14 101        18 1  1  2  22
1995-96 Detroit   81 14  20  34 139        19 4  5  9  28
1996-97 Detroit   77  5  33  38 151        20 0  4  4  29
NHL TOTALS       446 47 128 175 838        82 5 14 19 107
NON-NHL TOTALS   295 36  62  96 230

+ = The 1994-95 NHL season was shortened by a work stoppage. Vlad played the first half of that season in Wedemark, Germany, then returned to Detroit after the labour dispute was resolved.

Vlad's #16 jersey has since been semi-retired; there's no #16 banner hanging from the rafters at Joe Louis Arena, but nobody has since been issued the #16 jersey since Vlad wore it. (The #6 jersey, worn by Larry Aurie, underwent the same semi-retirement.) In fact, when the Red Wings signed Brett Hull in 2001, he was asked to wear jersey #17 (he had worn #16 for his entire career prior to joining the Red Wings) out of respect for Vlad.

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