At crossroads in 2016-17, Red Wings’ expectations lowest in 26 years

Sometimes, a firing of a coach in the world of sports is a mercy killing.

Sometimes, the coach knows that it’s time.

Dick Vitale practically heaved a sigh of relief when Pistons owner Bill Davidson rendered the ziggy in early-November, 1979, relieving Vitale of his coaching and de facto GM duties.

Vitale’s promise of Pistons Paradise and ReVitaleization, which he crowed about when he was hired in May 1978, had turned into a ghoulish joke after 18 months, 94 games, 34 wins and the stripping of the franchise’s future thanks to ill-advised trades of the team’s draft picks.

“Mr. Davidson probably saved my life. And I’m not exaggerating,” Vitale would later say about his stomach troubles and health while he tried to endure the losing.

It was a summer’s afternoon in 1990 when Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch paid a visit to his coach, Jacques Demers.

It was an emotional meeting. Both men openly wept.

Ilitch gave Demers—who won the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year two years in a row (1987-88)—the ziggy after a so-so 1989 season and missing the playoffs in 1990.

But Demers later credited Ilitch for being “a man about it” and for delivering the news in person. Demers also admitted that his time in Detroit had gone stale and the Red Wings needed a new voice.

The new coach was Bryan Murray. It’s a tent pole moment in Red Wings history because when Murray took over the Red Wings prior to the 1990-91 season, it marked the last time that so few experts and fans expected anything out of a Red Wings team.

Until now.

Only the most optimistic of fans can truly say, in their heart, that the 2016-17 Red Wings can make some real noise.

Only the delusional can look at this team and see serious advancement in the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring.

The timing of this crossroads in franchise history is potentially very unfortunate.

If the Red Wings sink into a several year rebuild/reload scenario, it will overlap with the team’s move into new Little Caesars Arena next fall.

The thought of missing out on the revenue from playoff games in their new ice palace for several seasons must rankle Ilitch and his family.

But it might be a necessary evil, for the Red Wings to be a mediocre, middling team until the youth kicks in.

They’ll drop the puck tonight in Tampa to launch another NHL season—the Red Wings’ 90th in Detroit, dating back to 1926-27 when they were known as the Cougars.

It’s fitting in a way that this potentially crossroads season starts in Tampa.

In the Lightning executive suite high above the ice, watching the action, will be GM Steve Yzerman.

Yzerman cut his teeth as a Hall of Fame player wearing the Winged Wheel and he was a front office apprentice in Detroit after he hung up his skates. Some would say that the student has lapped his mentor, Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

As the Red Wings enter a season of the unknown—they could squeeze into the playoffs or finish at least 10 points out—Yzerman has built a consistent Stanley Cup contender in Tampa.

Stevie Y has only been on the job for six years, and it’s not like the Lightning were a league powerhouse when he took over.

Ironically, the Red Wings could learn a thing or two from Yzerman, who is now entrenched as one of the NHL’s best and most admired front office men.

Yzerman’s Lightning have blasted Holland’s Red Wings out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

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After almost 20 years as Red Wings GM, maybe Holland’s time to move on has come.

In defense of Holland—who’s been the GM since 1997—and his lieutenants, the Red Wings have never been a mediocre team under Kenny’s watch. This whole rebuild/reload thing is new to him. I’m not sure that he’s wired for it, or up to the task. I also doubt whether he’s terribly interested in it.

Last spring, Holland tried to brace the fans in Hockeytown to expect some less-than-spectacular things from their hockey team.

In August, Holland went one step further.

“There are probably five or six teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders” this season, Holland told“After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We’re in that group of 20.

“Certainly there are lots of questions about our team.”

Despite its reality, it was also a stunning admission from a man who loathes to do anything other than show the utmost confidence in his team. Since he took over the GM duties 19 years ago, Holland has only known winning and Cup contention.

This can’t be easy for him—emotionally and functionally.

Ken Holland isn’t wired to transition a veteran, elite team into a young, mediocre squad trying to find its way.

The Red Wings, if things aren’t planned well, could become the NHL’s version of the Oakland Raiders—a proud team with iconic uniforms and logo whose mystique wore off long ago.

If things really go to pot, the Red Wings could also become the Edmonton Oilers, who’ve been bumping into themselves for over 20 years.

Fans are growing weary of Holland, and I wonder if Holland is growing weary of the Red Wings.

He’ll always be a Red Wing at heart but maybe he’d be better served somewhere else.

Somewhere like Ottawa, where the Senators are on their seventh opening night coach in 10 years—an NHL record.

Coaches aren’t the only people who know when their time has come to move on.

Gordie’s kid adds to his own impressive trophy case

With only one surname can you be a Hall of Fame defenseman and yet not even be the best hockey player in your own family.

Sadly, Mark Howe is now the best living hockey player in his clan, after father Gordie passed away in June.

Mark went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. But in hockey, even that high honor doesn’t mean that the sport is done recognizing you.

It was announced last week that the younger Howe is one of two winners of the Lester Patrick Trophy, for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

The award’s significance is in inverse proportion  to its notoriety. I doubt that more than 4 out of 10 die-hard hockey fans could tell you what the Lester Patrick is.

That’s OK, I’ll do it.

The trophy is named after one of ice hockey’s founding fathers.

It’s not overstatement to say that Lester Patrick is hockey’s Alexander Cartwright.

Patrick is the founder of no less than 22 rules that are still in use in today’s game. He’s been called “the Brains of Modern Hockey.”

He introduced the blue line, the forward pass and the playoff system—a change adopted by other leagues and sports around the world. Patrick took a suggestion by his father to begin using numbers on players’ sweaters and in programs to help fans identify the skaters.

Patrick was responsible for crediting assists when a goal was scored, and he invented the penalty shot.

So yeah, to win the Lester Patrick Trophy is sort of a big deal.

Howe isn’t the first Red Wing to be so honored. The list includes Alex Delvecchio (player, 1974); Bruce Norris (owner/executive, 1976); and Mike Ilitch (owner/executive, 1991).

Longtime Red Wings coach and GM Jack Adams was the first recipient of the Lester Patrick, in 1966.

Mark Howe, 61, is the Red Wings’ Director of Pro Scouting, which means he’s GM Ken Holland’s right hand man when it comes to sniffing out possible trade and free agent targets.

Howe has four Stanley Cup rings—all as a Red Wings executive.

The Big One was elusive to Howe as a player—having made the Finals three times in his career (Philadelphia in 1985 and 1987 and Detroit in 1995) but there was always another team skating the Stanley Cup around the ice when the final horn sounded.

The bridesmaid part of Howe’s career was stomped to pieces once he took off his skates and donned wing tip shoes to work for the Red Wings in their scouting department.

Howe’s name is engraved four times on the Stanley Cup, though no doubt he’d exchange all of them to have held the Cup aloft just once as a player.

It almost happened in Detroit, where Howe signed with the Red Wings in 1993 as a 38 year-old on the back end of a career in which he was a multiple Norris Trophy finalist for best defenseman in the NHL.

After a bitter first round playoff loss in 1994, Howe returned for one last go-round, which was the strike-shortened 1995 campaign.

But the storybook ending that every Red Wings fan was hoping for—son winning his first Cup playing for the same franchise as his world-famous dad—was turned into a horror story by the maddening, left wing lock-playing New Jersey Devils, who swept the Red Wings to capture the Devils franchise’s first championship.

Howe was 40 and his winning the Stanley Cup was clearly not meant to be. He retired but stayed with the Red Wings organization, even though he played a majority of his 22-year professional hockey career with the Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers (Carolina Hurricanes).

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Howe, playing in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, in his last shot at the chalice as a player.


The folks who dole out the Patrick—the NHL and USA Hockey—don’t just pull names out of a hat.

“As the Lester Patrick Award observes its 50th anniversary and the National Hockey League prepares to celebrate its Centennial, we are extremely pleased that Mark Howe and Pat Kelly are receiving this recognition for their decades of devotion to hockey in the United States,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

Kelly is the former commissioner of the East Coast Hockey League, a longtime NHL minor league affiliate.

Howe’s honor is not in recognition of his being the son of Gordie Howe. Marty Howe didn’t win the Patrick, did he?

Mark Howe is getting the Lester Patrick because he started playing organized hockey in the United States as a teenager and some 45 years later, after a stellar playing career in Houston, Hartford, Philadelphia and Detroit, he’s still a major component of one of the NHL’s legendary franchises.

Did you know that Howe is the Flyers’ all-time leader in goals and assists for a defenseman?

But despite his 10 years with the Flyers, Mark Howe will always be a Red Wing to the hockey denizens in the Motor City.

At first that designation was by proxy due to Howe’s lineage, but in the summer of 1993, then-GM Bryan Murray took a flyer (sorry) on the aging defenseman and brought him to Detroit for one last kick at the can. Mark Howe would be a real, honest-to-goodness Red Wing.

Howe’s Cup never runneth over as a Red Wings player, but in the front office the rings have been aplenty.

The Lester Patrick people have taken notice—finally.

The ceremony honoring Howe and Kelly will be November 30 in Philadelphia—as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction festivities.

In his book, Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow Mr. Hockey, Mark Howe answered the age old question.

“Interviewers have asked, ‘What’s it like being Gordie Howe’s son?’ I’ve always assumed it was no different than being anybody’s son who grew up in a loving, supportive family.”

That family may have lost its patriarch, but the name lives on proudly.

Finally, inadequate JLA gets its send-off

Published September 28, 2016

If Joe Louis Arena was ever state-of-the-art, that state lasted about a week.

The parking situation was reprehensible. The stairs leading up to the entrances were punitive and heart attack-inducing. An enterprising individual could have made a mint by selling oxygen tanks near the doors.

The suites should have been equipped with plenty of facial tissue because of the bloody noses they caused due to their distance from the ice surface.

The building was plopped on the banks of the Detroit River and there was nothing to do after the game but trudge to the inefficient parking structure and wait 45 minutes to get out. There wasn’t a bar or  a restaurant within reasonable walking distance.

There wasn’t nuance to speak of once you stepped inside. The concourses were narrow and the floors were sticky.

Yet this was the hockey barn that saw the Red Wings finally break their Stanley Cup drought in 1997—17 years and some change after opening in December, 1979.

It didn’t help the Joe that it was following Olympia Stadium, an Original Six building that had personality, history, escalators and a balcony. Olympia was built in the 1920s and it showed. JLA was built in the 1970s and by opening night, it seemed like its time had passed.

By contrast, the Palace of Auburn Hills, which opened in 1988, is still a benchmark by which today’s sports arenas are measured. From its mezzanine-level suites to its massive and more than adequate parking lot—plus its expansive and attractive concourses—the Palace kicks JLA’s rear end.

But whenever there are championships won, the arena gets a bump for being associated with those teams and those years, fondly.

It didn’t start that way for JLA, however.

The Red Wings were not a good hockey organ-eye-ZAY-shun when they moved into the Joe on December 27, 1979. In fact, they may have been one of the NHL’s worst.

Contrary to what some believe in their revisionist history, Joe Louis Arena isn’t the House that Mike Ilitch built. Ilitch didn’t purchase the team until 1982; the Norris family can be blamed for JLA’s inadequacies.

First, the Red Wings moved into their new arena in mid-season, which in of itself is odd; usually you want to christen a new building at the start of a season. But again—the Red Wings in 1979 were hardly a model franchise.

There was only one playoff appearance since 1966; the decade of the 1970s was filled with coaching changes, awful hockey, horrible drafting and mind-boggling trades.

The Red Wings weren’t given the derisive moniker of the Dead Things for nothing.

But Olympia Stadium was indeed old and the neighborhood wasn’t the greatest. Despite their warts, the Red Wings did need a new arena; it was time.

They could have done so much better than Joe Louis Arena, however.

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The sight lines were good—I’ll grant you that. But the seats were too far away from the ice. It would have been a terrific nod to the old arena and just plain good sense to mimic Olympia’s balcony, which made sitting upstairs dramatic. I remember looking onto the ice from the balcony at the old Red Barn on Grand River and McGraw and feeling like the players could hear me call them by name with little effort.

Yet the Red Wings captured four Cups while calling JLA home, winning two of those championships in front of their own crowd. So for that, I think Red Wings fans have more reverence for the Joe than it deserves.

But after this season all that will be moot.

This is JLA’s swan song—a season-long farewell to the monstrosity on the River. A year from this October, they’ll drop the puck at Little Caesars (I know, I know) Arena to usher in a new era of live sports attendance in the Motor City.

LCA won’t just be a hockey arena; there’ll be pubs and restaurants and shopping and things to do—a new extension of Woodward’s mid-town hustle and bustle that has been drawing folks to the city by the droves in recent years.

LCA will be like nothing we’ve ever seen in Detroit. It will blow Ford Field and Comerica Park out of the water—and yes, the Palace—when all is said and done.

There’ll be plenty of time to reflect on Joe Louis Arena. The reliving of the building’s most memorable moments will go on from now until the final game is played next spring. There were the two Cups won on its ice, and the playoff heartbreak that occurred on it as well. There were the concerts with its bad acoustics and the GOP Convention in 1980.

They had Gordie Howe’s viewing there in June.

Soon JLA itself will have a viewing.

Will you be shedding any tears?


Glendening extension doesn’t add up for blue line challenged Red Wings

Darren McCarty wasn’t the most elegant of hockey players.

He was the bull in the proverbial china shop. He was brawn over beauty.

McCarty didn’t skate his wing, he patrolled it. He punched first and asked questions later. On many a night, he was judge, jury and executioner. He especially liked to be the latter.

But for one shining moment in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, McCarty was a virtuoso.

McCarty was one-fourth of the Red Wings’ heralded Grind Line, and if you’re wondering how a hockey line could be chopped up into quarters, that’s because the Grind Line was actually populated by McCarty, Joey Kocur, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, who took turns filling up the three spots at various times.

McCarty wowed the Joe Louis Arena crowd on the night of June 7, 1997.

It was Game 4 of the Cup Finals, with the Red Wings going for the sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Red Wings led, 1-0 in the second period, when McCarty took a pass from Tomas Sandstrom at center ice.

McCarty was known for his stickhandling ability the same way Donald Trump is known for his couth.

Yet McCarty suddenly turned into a maestro with the puck, turning Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa completely inside out with a left to right move, slipping the disc between Niinimaa’s legs, leaving McCarty 1-on-1 with goalie Ron Hextall.

McCarty didn’t stop with the Niinimaa move; he lured Hextall out of the crease with a deke to the left before dragging the puck to his right. The result was an open net, into which McCarty neatly deposited the puck to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.

The goal turned out to be the Cup-clincher, as the Red Wings held on for a 2-1 win and their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

A year later, Grind Linemate Draper scored another iconic Red Wings goal in the Cup Finals.

It was Game 2 against the Washington Capitals—Detroit won Game 1—and the Red Wings twice fell behind by two goals in the third period at JLA.

But the Red Wings managed to get the game into overtime.

With about 15 minutes gone in overtime, the Red Wings were dangerous deep in the Capitals zone. Draper, his legs fresh, jumped onto the ice while Brendan Shanahan and Marty Lapointe, their legs not fresh, wreaked havoc. The puck went into the corner and so did Shanny and Lapointe.

Draper floated into the slot area, and Lapointe found him with a perfect pass that Draper redirected past Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig.

Game over. Red Wings led the series, 2-0 on their way to yet another sweep to the Cup.

In Game 1 of the 1997 Finals, Kocur, who had been basically playing in a beer league earlier in the season, scored a goal in Philadelphia that got the Red Wings started.

Maltby, the other Grind Liner, scored 14 goals in the ’97-98 season and was no stranger to chipping in with some offense when needed.

Calling the Grind Line a so-called fourth line is really a disservice. They weren’t the Production Line, but nor were they a black hole on offense.

I’m flipping the “on” switch to the way back machine for you in light of the Red Wings’ odd summer of defection, free agency and contract extensions that in some cases are puzzling.

One such head scratcher was the extension of Luke Glendening to a four-year, $7.2 million contract, announced in mid-July.

I may be late to the party on this but it’s never too late to talk about what the Grind Line meant to the Red Wings of yesteryear, and how that can’t be replicated with today’s group of plugging forwards.

Besides, with training camp about a month away and the off-season rapidly draining, it’s time to take inventory of what the Red Wings did to improve themselves from last year’s team that sneaked into the playoffs in the season’s final hours, only to once again be ousted in the first round.

In the case of Glendening, one has to wonder, indeed.

Glendening had all of 21 points for Red Wings last season, and that marked a career high.

With the original Grind Line, you got not only toughness and tenacity, you got some offense as well.

McCarty could pop in 15 goals a season. Maltby did it a couple of times. Draper scored 10 or more goals in a season six times, including 24 in 2003-04. Kocur didn’t score a ton but the quality of his goals reverberated way more than the quantity. That, plus I never saw Joey Kocur lose a battle for the puck along the boards. Ever.

Glendening is a nice hockey player. He brings you some defense, some face off ability and a nose that is hard. He’ll kill some penalties.

He won’t give you any offense.

That’s not his game, of course, but the Red Wings are starved for goal scoring. They’re not going to penalty kill their way to winning hockey games.

The late-1990s Grind Line could intimidate. The Grind Line could frustrate.

But, more importantly, the Grind Line could score the occasional goal—and sometimes more than occasionally.

Red Wings GM Kenny Holland seems intent on locking up players that don’t need to be locked up, especially when there are players in Grand Rapids—ironically, that’s Glendening’s hometown—who could probably do the same thing that Glendening does for a much cheaper price.

The Red Wings, once again, showed their “we’re loyal to a fault” ways by inking Glendening, 27, through the 2020-21 season.


Here’s Holland.

“There are things a player brings to a team that maybe aren’t just in goals and assists, and that’s what Luke is,” Holland mused after the Glendening extension was announced.

“He’s a really good defensive player, has the ability to play 16-18 minutes against other team’s best players. He’s fearless. He’s a tremendous penalty killer. He brings intangibles.”

Fine. But two things make this a flawed argument for the extension.

One, see above. The Red Wings need goal scoring, not what “a player brings to team that maybe aren’t just in goals and assists.” The Red Wings are in desperate need of goals and assists.

Two, the Red Wings’ success in keeping the puck out of their own net—which runs neck-and-neck with goal scoring among the team’s most pressing needs—is far more attached to the quality of their defensemen than it is to that of their puck hounding forwards.

You could have four lines of Luke Glendenings, all Selke Trophy candidates, and it won’t mean a hill of beans if the guys on the blue line can’t play.

And the Red Wings, as of right now, plan to go to Traverse City next month with essentially the same defense corps as what played most of last season. Except—bonus!—everyone is a year older.

Doesn’t that make you warm and fuzzy inside?

There could be some infusion of youth on the blue line, however.

Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko are two defensemen—age 23 and 24 respectively—who might see more ice with the Red Wings in 2016-17. But with the extension of Danny DeKeyser, the over-reliance on ancient Niklas Kronwall, the odd loyalty to 32 year-old Jonathan Ericsson and with soon-to-be 31 year-old Mike Green just one year removed from signing a big free agent deal in Detroit, where will Ouellet and Marchenko find that time?

Don’t forget Brendan Smith, who figures to be in the mix as well. Kyle Quincey wasn’t offered a contract and is still out there, unsigned.

The days of keeping third and fourth line guys together for years have passed. Except in Detroit, where management loves to unnecessarily reward the “intangible” guys like Glendening, Drew Miller, et al.

The Red Wings seem to bid against themselves a lot. If we all woke up one morning and found out that Luke Glendening had signed with Montreal, for example, would we lose sleep the subsequent night?

But Holland loves to make sure that guys like Glendening will never, ever play for another NHL team for as long as they lace up skates.

I’m not anti-Luke Glendening. I don’t come to bury him.

But you don’t need to lock guys like that, up. You let them walk if they don’t fit into your budget, and you go find younger, cheaper alternatives.

The Red Wings’ problems go way, way deeper than Luke Glendening and players of his ilk.

Holland paid too little attention to the Red Wings’ blue line this off season. However, he can save some face if Ouellet and/or Marchenko become prime contributors this season. But at whose expense?

The Red Wings have too much money sunk into their goalies, they got rooked financially in the Pavel Datsyuk debacle, they’re paying for too many bad contracts and all the while, too many players are stewing in their own juices in Grand Rapids.

But Luke Glendening will be a Red Wing for the next four years.

Glendening himself said it best.

“If you’d have told me two or three years ago that I’d be sitting here talking about a four-year extension, I probably would have laughed.”

But this is no laughing matter if you’re a Red Wings fan.

Whether he’s in or he’s out, Ozzie’s HOF credentials will forever be debated

Published June 27, 2016

One of the best clutch performers in Red Wings history had a very inauspicious start to his playoff career—one in which he would eventually dominate.

Die-hard Red Wings fans can still recall, some 22 years later, the video images of Chris Osgood, 21 years old, weeping softly in front of his locker. It was late-April, 1994.

The Red Wings had goalie problems in those days. They were an annual playoff team but too often the post-season dreams died due to shaky goaltending.

In a move born of desperation, GM Bryan Murray traded a goalie for a goalie—which in of itself smacks of desperation by both teams—when he dealt fan non-favorite Tim Cheveldae to Winnipeg for MSU grad Bob Essensa on March 8, 1994.

The gambit didn’t work.

The Red Wings were in a first-round match with the third-year San Jose Sharks. The best-of-seven series had an odd format—though agreed to by the Red Wings. The teams would play a 2-3-2 format, as opposed to the traditional 2-2-1-1-1.

This meant the three middle games would be played out west, to save on travel. The Red Wings OK’d the change because, frankly, they didn’t think it would much matter, since the Sharks finished with 18 points fewer than Detroit in the regular season.

But it mattered, quite a bit.

One of the reasons was the play of Essensa in net.

Osgood was a rookie and played in 41 games in 1993-94, but Murray and coach Scotty Bowman felt that the veteran Essensa would be a better choice to start in the playoffs.

The Sharks won Game 1 in Detroit, 5-4, and already the 2-3-2 format was looking dicey.

Bowman switched to the rookie Osgood in Game 2, and Ozzie pitched a 4-0 shutout. Still, the Red Wings faced the prospect of three straight games in a hostile arena.

Osgood started Game 3 and Detroit won, 3-2. It looked like the series would be under control, after all.

But Osgood faltered in Game 4, a 4-3 Sharks victory. So Bowman switched back to his veteran Essensa for Game 5. Perhaps the Hall of Fame coach panicked a little.

Essensa was awful in Game 5, giving up four goals on just 19 shots. He was pulled in favor of Osgood, who allowed both shots he faced to elude him. The Red Wings lost, 6-4.

Bowman returned to Osgood in Game 6, and the Red Wings won, 7-1.

That set up a Game 7 that no one expected the Red Wings to have to play against the upstart Sharks.

With less than seven minutes to play in the third period of a tie game, Osgood left his net to play the puck. The results were disastrous.

There are iconic, gut-wrenching plays in Detroit sports history that will never be stomached by the fans.

Isiah Thomas’ pass that Larry Bird stole in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.

David Ortiz’ grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS.

The non-pass interference call that went against the Lions in Dallas in the 2014-15 playoffs.

Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary that beat the Lions last December.

Osgood played the puck but his pass along the boards was snatched up by Jamie Baker, who promptly snapped the puck into the open net before Osgood could recover.

The goal proved to be the series winner for the Sharks. The Red Wings were booed off the Joe Louis Arena ice during and after the post-series handshake.

Afterward, in a deathly quiet Red Wings locker room, the rookie Osgood faced the music. Speaking to the media, the 21 year-old openly wept at his blunder. The weight of the entire universe had fallen on him, and he collapsed under it.

Like I said, no true Red Wings fan will forget the haunting images of Chris Osgood as we saw him in perhaps the worst moment of his hockey life.

But that was then.

Chris Osgood ended up being one of the best big-game performers in Red Wings history. Maybe in all of hockey history.

That’s not opinion.

Osgood won two Stanley Cups as a starter—10 years apart (1998 and 2008)—and a third as a backup (1997). He posted 15 playoff shutouts and had a save percentage in the post-season of .916 to go along with his 2.16 GAA.

In the two Cup wins as a starter, Osgood could easily have been named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for MVP of the playoffs. That he didn’t is no indictment on his performance in either year.

Osgood hoists the 2008 Cup—the year he bailed the team out in the 1st round and beyond

In 2008, as a 35 year-old, Osgood posted a 1.55 GAA and a .930 save percentage in the playoffs, with three shutouts. Ridiculous numbers.

In ’08, coach Mike Babcock started the playoffs with Dominik Hasek in net. But after splitting the first four games in the first round with Nashville—and with Hasek as shaky as a bobblehead—Babcock made the bold decision to switch to Osgood for Game 5.

Babcock’s reasoning was simple.

“The puck has been going into the net too much,” he said, explaining the switch—and the demotion of a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Osgood made almost 17,000 saves in his NHL career, but his rescue of the Red Wings in the 2008 playoffs might have been his biggest. It was clutch goaltending at its best. His first game was a Game 5 overtime win against the Predators and Ozzie didn’t stop until he hoisted the Cup in Pittsburgh.

Today, they’re discussing the Hall of Fame credentials of one Chris Osgood, who is eligible for the third time. The Class of 2016 will be announced today at around 3:30 p.m.

I knew this debate would come.

I knew we would engage in a spirited discussion over whether the Alberta native Osgood should be enshrined. But now that we are in the third year of Osgood’s eligibility, the debate is growing in passion, because he was never considered a first ballot guy, anyway. As the years tick by, there will be more clamoring for his induction by the pro-Osgood folks. And the opponents in that debate will only dig their heels in.

Osgood’s body of work, if you just look at the hard numbers, would warrant a good argument to vote Ozzie into the Hall.

401 victories, including 50 shutouts. A career GAA of 2.49. A career save percentage of .905.

Now, 2.49 and .905 aren’t eye-popping numbers these days, when scoring is at a premium in the NHL. But for a goalie whose NHL career started in 1993, they aren’t numbers to sneeze at.

And there’s all that clutch play in the playoffs for which Osgood was famous—after that horrific start in 1994.

The trouble with an Osgood HOF candidacy is that he played on such powerful teams. In a way, that works against him.

He was never considered irreplaceable, and that’s another strike against him.

His win total, his critics would tell you, was propped up by having a roster filled with Hall of Famers playing in front of him.


But I keep coming back to his playoff performances. If I needed a playoff game to be won, there are only three goalies that played in Detroit who I would ask for.

They would be, in this order, Terry Sawchuk, Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek (his 2002 play was phenomenal).

Two of the above names are in the Hall of Fame, and they were no-brainers.

Osgood is no no-brainer, but I’m not sure that he’s a no, either.

The debate over Osgood for the Hall will be wonderful to play out, whether he makes it or not. Even as he gives his induction speech—if he’s so fortunate—there will be naysayers to his enshrinement.

That’s OK. Hall of Fame debates are among the most fun in sports.

I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I’d cast a yes.

There are those who say that if you have to debate over a guy’s qualifications at length, then he’s probably not a Hall of Fame player.


There are all sorts of Hall of Fame players. The no-brainers, the mildly debated and the hotly contested. Guys who wait for years because the appreciation for their careers grows in direct proportion to how long they’ve been retired.

Osgood’s career may not scream Hall of Fame, but even if it whispers it, and the voters give him admission, he’s a HOFer just the same.

I’d vote yes.


Howe’s steel trap hockey mind played no favorites

June 11, 2016

When he entered the National Hockey League, all the teams traveled by train. A western swing meant games in Chicago and Detroit.

There were 120 players, total, in the entire league. The rinks were surrounded by wire cages, not plexiglass. Teams played each other 14 times per season. There weren’t rivalries, there were continuations.

You didn’t have to wait months to get retribution, if there was retribution to be gotten.

But sometimes, Gordie Howe bided his time.

“I found out the hard way that I should call him Mr. Howe.”

The speaker was Stan Mikita, a Hall of Famer and every bit as entwined with the Chicago Black Hawks (they split it into two words in Stan’s day) as Howe was with the Red Wings.

Mikita was a young player in the NHL. One of his teammates was the great Ted Lindsay, who knew Howe as well as anyone.

“I nicked him with my stick,” Mikita recalled. “Gordie took his glove off, and checked for blood. There were maybe a few drops on his face.”

Howe told Mikita that he’d pay for the blood, no matter how little.

Mikita, young and full of himself, derided Howe.

“Oh yeah, old man? You should be out of the league.”

Lindsay was within earshot of this on-ice exchange.

In between periods, Terrible Ted went up to Mikita.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Lindsay, who knew a thing or two about Howe’s retribution, said to Mikita about the “old man” remark.

“Ted wasn’t concerned about the blood,” Mikita said as he related the story in Chicago several years ago. “But he didn’t think that Gordie would take kindly to the ‘old man’ remark.”

As mentioned above, the NHL teams played each other 14 times in the 70-game schedule. And many Detroit-Chicago tilts went by after the “old man” remark with nary a glance in Mikita’s direction from Howe.

“I figured he forgot all about it,” Mikita said.

Then one night, during yet another Red Wings-Black Hawks match, Mikita made a pass and admired it a little bit.

The next thing he knew, he was waking up on the trainer’s table.

The Black Hawks’ backup goalie, “a French-Canadian,” Mikita said, told the Black Hawks center what happened to him.

“(Howe) took his glove off, gave you a punch, then  put his glove back on and skated away,” the goalie said. “20,000 people in the building and I was the only one who saw it!”

Gordie never forgot the “old man” remark, after all.

“From then on, I learned to call Gordie, ‘Mr. Howe,'” Mikita said.

Mikita’s respect for Howe was also evident in this great quote.

“The best teams in the league are Montreal, Toronto, and Gordie Howe.”

Mr. Howe, Mr. Hockey, or just plain old Gordie—however you choose to address him, has thrown his last elbow on Earth. He’s gone, passed away on Friday at age 88.

He could have been gone 66 years sooner than that.

Howe was checked by Toronto’s Ted Kennedy late in the 1949-50 season and went horrifically into the boards, fracturing his skull. Howe’s condition was perilous, at the very least. For a couple of days, the pressure on his brain made his prognosis highly suspect.

This was 1950. Brain surgery and treatment weren’t nearly as advanced as they are now.

It’s not melodramatic to say that Howe, not yet 22 years old, lay near death in the hospital.

He survived, of course, and made his way onto the ice several weeks later as his Red Wings teammates celebrated the winning of the Stanley Cup.

Howe survived the brain injury, the Canadiens, Mikita, expansion and his shameful treatment at the hands of the Red Wings following his retirement—his first retirement—in 1971.

Along the way, he made the folks in the NHL offices tear up their record books and write new ones.

He threw elbows, washed hundreds of faces, jabbed countless opponents in the ribs with his stick and he did it all while eluding the watchful eyes of the referee. There was no quicker trigger in the Old West than Howe’s on the ice.

Howe, within a few hellacious moments, virtually ended the tough guy career of New York’s Lou Fontinato in 1959.

There was a scrum behind the Rangers net. Howe was looking on. Fontinato had an idea.

Louie tried to cold cock Howe, but Gordie, again using his amazing quickness, caught Fontinato in his peripheral vision.

Rangers goalie Gump Worsley said that the sound of Howe’s fists pummeling Fontinato’s face was like “someone chopping wood.”

It didn’t take long. But when they peeled Fontinato from the ice, his face looked like a Picasso.

“I broke his nose a little bit,” Howe said in typical understatement.

Images of Fontinato’s deformed face made the wires across the league and Louie’s reputation as a tough guy was gone.

“I broke his nose a little bit.”

When the NHL was getting more strict on hits from behind, Howe posed a simple question that captured his larger-than-life persona.

“If I’m chasing a guy,” Howe wondered, “how the hell am I gonna hit him from the front?”

Someone once asked Howe who had the hardest shot in the league.

“Dr. Finley,” Howe said without hesitation.

That would be John Finley, the Red Wings’ longtime team doctor.

I reminded Dr. Finley of Howe’s statement back in 2007, the night they retired Steve Yzerman’s no. 19.

The doc threw his head back and roared with laughter. He had forgotten about the quote.

Speaking of that night, I was doing some work for Fox Sports Detroit. My job was to corral Red Wing dignitaries for in-game interviews between whistles.

One of them was Mr. Hockey.

At the appointed time, I sidled up to Gordie—Mr. Howe—and said that it was time to get into position for the interview. He didn’t respond right away. I figured he didn’t hear me.

I repeated the request.

“Ah, f*** off,” Gordie said.

He was smiling from ear to ear.

How can being told to f-off turn into such a pleasant memory?

When it comes from Gordie, er, Mr. Howe!

Dylan Larkin: The Red Wings’ best player, by default (for now)

May 4, 2016

Just seven months ago, the question was, should Dylan Larkin be included in the Red Wings’ opening night roster, or should he be sent to Grand Rapids for some more seasoning?

Today, we ask, when can he take over as being the team’s most elite player?

Let’s hope ASAP is among the choices.

It’s not a stretch to say that Larkin, the 19 year-old whirling dervish, is the team’s best player. Certainly he’s the most exciting.

It’s not a stretch because the ex-elite players on the Red Wings—Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk—are no longer that. Datsyuk, in fact, may no longer be a Red Wing at all, if he follows through on his threat to move back to Russia to play hockey next fall.

Zetterberg is still a good player, but he’s not elite. He has morphed into a second or third line guy—something usually not befitting a team captain, though I doubt he’d be demoted.

It’s not a stretch to suggest Larkin is no. 1 because the other forwards haven’t taken that next step from good to very good, let alone from very good to elite.

Justin Abdelkader, likely your next Red Wings captain, isn’t elite, though right now he might be the team’s most complete player—which isn’t the same as being elite.

It’s not hard to imagine the Red Wings as being Larkin’s team in the near future, even without the “C” on his sweater.

Larkin will soon be the kind of player that will be worth the price of admission. Right now, he’s at the price of a couple of beers, and trending upward. He had a shaky second half, but that wasn’t shocking. He still finished with 23 goals and 22 assists and led the team in plus/minus with a plus-11. Only one other Red Wing scored as many as 20 goals (Tomas Tatar, 21).

When the Red Wings move into shiny new Little Caesars Arena (I know, I know) in October of 2017, it would be nice to have a centerpiece on the roster. It would be even better to have a team capable of making a deep playoff run, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Because of a myriad of reasons, Larkin is now being asked, at least indirectly and not yet publicly, to be the Red Wings’ best player every night. He has no choice, because there’s no one else capable.

It’s so, so reminiscent of no. 19.

Stevie Yzerman, at age 19, was entering his second season with the Red Wings, and it wasn’t much longer after that, that Yzerman was anointed as being the team’s best player. At first it was by default, but then it became a no-brainer.

Right now, Larkin is the Red Wings’ best player, by default. Soon there won’t be anything defaulting about it.

This will be Larkin’s team, and the fortunes of it will turn as he turns. That’s not opinion.

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 17: Dylan Larkin #71of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 17, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Larkin’s first half was better than his second, but both halves were better than just about everyone else’s.


The task now for GM Ken Holland and his scouting staff—both amateur and pro—is to surround Larkin with the supporting cast the kid needs to lessen his burden.

The Red Wings’ core should be reduced to Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Abdelkader, Zetterberg (for now), Anthony Mantha, goalie Petr Mrazek and defensemen Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser.

Everyone else should be quite touchable, in trades and in cuts, if need be.

That’s a small core, granted, but I don’t see any other way to go about returning the Red Wings to their glory days.

In the meanwhile, Holland should try trades, an occasional low-profile free agent signing when money allows (no more big contracts for awhile) and continue to go to the draft well, which has served the team fairly decently in recent years.

It’s time now to stop waiting on the likes of Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan et al to break through as top end players. Trade ’em all, if you can.

Keep the aforementioned core and work from there.

As for Larkin, this plan clearly broadens the young man’s shoulders by proxy, but all Stanley Cup-worthy teams have superstars. The Red Wings are not going to claw their way to the chalice with second tier forwards and grinders and a mediocre blue line corps. The league’s playoffs may sometimes be quirky and unpredictable, but they’re not set up to allow a superstar-less team to win it all.

Again, that’s not opinion.

It can’t all be Larkin, of course. The defensemen badly need a marquee guy as well. Niklas Kronwall has frayed so much that his nickname ought to be The Shadow. His minus-21 is like a starting pitcher with an ERA of 5.43. Mike Green is OK but hardly elite.

Trading for or developing a true no. 1 defenseman is a necessary part of the rebuild. And yes, I used the r-word. Sue me.

Holland and his fellow front office suits won’t use the r-word, unless that r-word is “reboot” or “reload.”

It’s a rebuild because in a true reboot or reload, you’re keeping a majority of the roster and doing some tweaks, perhaps to replace stars who’ve left via free agency or who have retired.

In a reboot/reload, you have money to burn to go get another elite player.

This is a rebuild because the Red Wings only have a handful of players worth keeping. The others could be trade chips, if packaged the right way. So they still have some value, especially if packaged with prospects.

Whether Holland and company see the roster this way is the question that many Red Wings fans fear doesn’t have the answer that they would prefer.

But what simply can’t be up for debate is the notion that Dylan Larkin, already, before his 20th birthday, is the Red Wings’ best player.

For now, it’s by default.

But it won’t be that way for much longer.