Dear Abby: What happened to you?

Published Oct. 13, 2019

If Justin Abdelkader’s career didn’t go in the toilet, there wouldn’t be any question about who the next Red Wings captain would be, as there is now.

The team is currently going with four alternates, as there’s apparently some hesitation in pinning the “C” on Dylan Larkin, as has been bantied about for quite some time.

But the point should be moot. The Red Wings shouldn’t be considering going all Steve Yzerman/1986 on Larkin, the 23-year-old wonder.

The C should be Abdelkader’s. But not only is Abby unworthy, his role on the team is undefined.

Summer of 2016: Lock him up!

Full disclosure: I wanted the Red Wings to lock up the MSU grad in the summer of 2016, ensuring that he not be able to test the free agent waters. I felt strongly that Abdelkader was a future team captain, due to his grittiness, nose for the net, his heading into his prime and his tenure with the Red Wings (he debuted in 2008).

The Red Wings took my (ahem) advice, and signed Abdelkader to a seven year, $29.75 million deal in 2016. Captaincy after Henrik Zetterberg’s waning but brilliant career seemed to be the logical next step.

But the Abdelkader who we knew at age 29 when he inked his big contract, has vanished. Poof!

He’s on the wrong side of 30 now (he’ll be 33 in February) and I think it’s safe to say that we won’t see the same no. 8 as we did pre-contract. Ever.

But why?

Before 2016’s deal, Abby was about as complete a forward as you could hope to have in the NHL. He had popped in 42 goals the previous two seasons. He had amassed 192 penalty minutes. But more than those tangible numbers were the intangibles.

Abdelkader was hard to play against. He agitated. He got under people’s skin. He was always around the puck—in the corners, in open ice. Even on the nights when he didn’t register a point, you knew he had played. He made his presence felt.

All that is gone now.

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No identity, no presence

Abdelkader once had an identity. Now, he doesn’t. Gone are those intangibles. He’s just another forward. On many nights he’s invisible. The hard numbers went down the tubes as well. In the three seasons combined after signing the big deal, Abby has scored just 26 goals. This season is the same as those three: zero goals in the Red Wings’ first five ganes.

Because this nosedive into oblivion has coincided with the Red Wings’ rebuild and the emergence of youngsters like Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Betuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou et al, Abdelkader almost seems to get a pass from the fans and the media. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t a free agent signed away from another team, like the Stephen Weiss debacle a few years ago.

Abdelkader, by all rights, should be booed out of town. He’s committing larceny every night in plain view. But because the team is in transition, all is forgiven, I guess.

By all accounts, no one in the Red Wings organization has given up on Abdelkader. Coach Jeff Blashill, just before the season started, spoke of Abby playing “on the verge of recklessness.” Blashill commented that just because a guy who once scored 20 goals hasn’t done so in a while, it doesn’t mean that he can’t do it again.

Those are either words of encouragement or of grand delusion.

Untradeable

To his credit, Abdelkader, in a fit of self-reflection, knew that his recent play has been unacceptable, and thus engaged in an intense off-season training regimen.

“More focus on speed and quickness,” said Abdelkader of his training. “The game’s so fluid, so fast, I’m just making sure I’m giving myself the best opportunity to go out and be the player I know I can be.”

The trouble is, the player that Abdelkader thinks he can be, might not be the player he is now able to be. Hockey players who are about to turn 33 typically don’t find the fountain of youth and turn back the clock.

But what else can the Red Wings be, other than patient? They can’t trade Abby, with this $4.75 million payroll hit per season and with three years left on his contract after next spring. At least, they can’t trade him without swallowing large portions of the deal whole.

They could cut him, but that simply hasn’t been the Red Wings’ style, although with new GM Steve Yzerman on board, you never know.

Abdelkader is holding the team hostage now. Believe it or not, despite his rotten production since 2016, he still holds the cards. His past performance gives management a glimmer of hope that he can recapture some of that, yet his most recent body of work suggests otherwise.

The big contract may be an albatross for the Red Wings, but it’s a lifeline for Abdelkader’s roster spot.

What I don’t understand is the lack of physical presence and the disappearance of his agitating, grating ways. Why did that have to go away with his scoring production? Honest to goodness, on many nights after a game I couldn’t tell you whether Abdelkader was in the lineup or not. If you had falsely told me that he was sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch, I would have believed you.

In a way, maybe this is all moot. Abdelkader doesn’t represent the future of the Red Wings. And he’s not why the team has missed the playoffs the past three springs.

But wouldn’t it be nice if, during this transition, Abdelkader could go back to being Abdelkader—even a little bit? Wouldn’t that help the cause in the short term?

Forget being the next captain of the Red Wings. All we wonder now is, how long can Justin Abdelkader remain on the team?

It’s quite a tumble, I tell you.

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OK to add MLB Line to list of fine Red Wings’ forward trios of the past

Published Oct. 6, 2019

It’s one of the most iconic photographs in Detroit sports history, and indeed in all of hockey history.

Three forwards, in their blood red sweaters with the winged wheel on their chest, in mid-skate, closely bunched, smiling and looking down at the ice at a puck of which they are fully controlling.

I have no idea how many takes it took to capture the image, but you know the one. Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. The Production Line. A wonderful take on the car industry in the Motor City, as well as the offensive prowess of that legendary, Hall of Fame trio in the late-1940s, early-1950s.

One of my prized possessions is the photo, signed by all three Red Wings. You can have it, if you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

The Red Wings had another iteration of the Production Line in the late-1960s. Howe was still on the right wing, but center Alex Delvecchio and left wing Frank Mahovlich flanked no. 9. They were the Production Line II.

Great lines of the past

The history of NHL hockey is adorned with many forward lines who earned nicknames. There was the Bruins’ Kraut Line of the 1940s, so named because of the German ancestry of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

The Rangers of the 1970s had the GAG (Goal a Game) line of Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert. The Sabres in that time had the French Connection (Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert). And on and on.

The Red Wings of 1987-88 used an unusual combination of Gerard Gallant, Steve Yzerman and Bob Probert to march to the league’s semifinals—a season in which Yzerman scored 50 goals for the first time in his career and Probert had a career year, potting 29 goals (despite 398 penalty minutes!) and breaking Howe’s franchise record for points in one playoff year (21).

The famous forward lines have lost their zing as coaches in the league frequently shuffle wingers and centers like playing cards, often within the same game.

MLB line?

Image result for larkin mantha bertuzzi

Yet the Red Wings of today have a line that I doubt coach Jeff Blashill will fool around with too much.

In Saturday night’s 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in their season opener, the Red Wings’ trio of Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi terrorized the Preds, figuring in four of the five goals.

In their last nine games dating back to last season, that line has tallied an astounding 47 points. Incidentally, the Red Wings are 7-2 in those games.

Get used to this unbalanced scoring for the Winged Wheelers, at least for the near future. Mantha, Larkin and Bertuzzi (they need a nickname, by the way) are, without question, the Red Wings’ no. 1 line—the same way that of the Aaron brothers, Hank is the no. 1 home run hitter.

But that’s OK. The Red Wings are building something, and unlike their counterparts who kick around baseballs in Comerica Park, the hockey rebuild has definitive light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And it isn’t emanating from the equally proverbial oncoming train.

So while the other forwards—a mix of kids and veterans—get their sea legs and occasionally chip in a goal or two, the MLB line (working title) will be happy to be the dominant point producers.

“For us as a line, it’s huge,” Mantha said of the opening night onslaught of production. “We just right away come back to where we left off last year. It’s exactly what we wanted. This game just proves that we’re meant to be a first line together and hopefully we can stick around for the whole season.”

Are you listening, coach?

“They know how to play together,” Blashill said after Saturday’s game. “They kind of feed off each other. Dylan kind of drives the line with his energy. Bert is greasy, he’s skilled, he’s smart. And Mo has that great skill package. They’ve been a really good line together. They enjoy playing together and we’re going to need them to be great.” 

Other forwards must contribute

The Red Wings have other veteran forwards who, in their careers, have bobbed to the surface offensively with fine years. But most of those guys are well into their 30s. This is a full-on rebuild. The Frans Nielsens, Justin Abdelkaders, Darren Helmses and Val Filppulas likely won’t be in Detroit—or even active players—when GM Steve Yzerman’s project comes to fruition.

So it’s the MLB line or bust for now, on most nights. Veteran mucker Luke Glendening chipped in with a fine goal Saturday night as well, but make no mistake: the league will be filled with game plans for the Red Wings that pretty much will say, “Stop those no. 1 guys and we’ll take our chances with everyone else.”

The Predators, who accumulated 100 points last season and made the playoffs yet again, are considered one of the top teams in the West. But they had no answer for the MLB kids on Saturday. In fact, the Preds haven’t been able to figure out the Red Wings, period, lately. Saturday’s win was Detroit’s sixth straight in Nashville and the Preds are 1-10 against the Red Wings in their last 11 meetings. Go figure.

The chemistry of a successful forward line in hockey ought not to be underestimated. The game is so fast, so knowing the little things about your linemates such as where they like to position themselves in the attacking zone, how they like the puck to be served to them and so forth, is critical. There’s also a certain trust factor involved.

Mantha, after Saturday night’s first period, told Fox Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson that the MLB line is having fun and really enjoys playing together. “We’re three different types of players,” Mantha said, but in hockey that’s considered a positive for a forward line. Opposites really do attract.

The rest of the league will design its defense to do what it can to shackle the MLB line. That’s a given. But if the Red Wings can find some semblance of offense from their myriad of other forwards, the rebuild could take a big stride this season. Andreas Athanasiou, he of 30 goals scored last season, didn’t play on Saturday, don’t forget.

One down, 81 to go. Since the MLB season was so unkind to Detroit fans in 2019, it’s only fair that those initials bring a ray of sunshine on the ice this winter, eh?

Yzerman only beginning what promises to be a long honeymoon in Detroit

Published June 22, 2019

Look, I don’t know Moritz Seider any better than you do. Prior to seeing his photo on Friday, I could have tripped over him and not known who he was. I’m guessing you’re in the same boat.

The fans aren’t paid to evaluate hockey players. They don’t have the gene that enables one to look at a guy on skates and break him down from head to toe. The sharp evaluating of talent requires looking at players through a different, trained lens.

So when the Red Wings selected Seider, an 18-year-old German defenseman, with the sixth overall pick in Friday’s NHL entry draft in Vancouver, it’s OK if you said, “Who?”

In the world of draft experts, the selection of Seider at no. 6 was deemed a mild surprise.

But I bet after you heard the news of Seider’s drafting, you said, “Well, if Stevie Y says he’s a player, then he’s a player.”

An era of trust

Such is a smidgen of the instant credibility and trust that Yzerman, named Red Wings GM on April 19, currently enjoys.

Yzerman could have told us that the Red Wings drafted Elmer Fudd yesterday and we would have said, “Well, I’ll be darned. I didn’t know that Fudd was a rink rat.”

But of Seider, Yzerman said, “We think he has excellent hockey sense. He’s a big kid, a real good skater. In our opinion, he was one of the top defensemen in the draft. We’re pretty excited to get him. I know our fans don’t know much about him, but I think when people come to development camp (next week at Little Caesars Arena) and see him move — Google him, watch him play a little bit — I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

OK then!

By the way, that’s the first time I’ve known a GM of any pro sports team to tell the fans to Google a player he drafted. Of course, even if we did Google Moritz Seider, we wouldn’t necessarily see in him what Yzerman and his scouting staff saw. Which is why they do what they do and we do things like bang away at a keyboard.

I’m not here to talk about Seider, who himself was even surprised at being selected at no. 6. This is about Yzerman, and the beginning of a honeymoon period with the fans that may turn out to be the longest that any sports executive has ever enjoyed in this town.

Image result for yzerman seider

Yzerman is seasoned. He built the Tampa Bay Lightning from the dredges of the league into a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, and in just a few years. He knows what he’s doing.

Yzerman has the most job security of any sports figure in Detroit. He’s adored by the fans. He’s loved by his owner’s family.

To steal a line from Jerry Maguire, if Yzerman tells the fans to eat lima beans, they’ll eat lima beans.

Hanging on his every word

But here’s the other thing about Yzerman that will be a joy to watch for as long as he’s the Red Wings GM: He’s a straight shooter.

There’s no bluster about him. He carries himself with a certain degree of humility and grace. He’s wise and he’s smart. When Yzerman speaks, it’s hard not to hang on every word. His decisions won’t be driven by loyalty or past performances.

You wanna nitpick this and tell me that you were unnerved by Yzerman’s support of bringing aging defenseman Niklas Kronwall back? Well, I would counter that Kronwall, at age 38, had one of his best seasons in several years.

But I can assure you that there won’t be any silly long-term contracts handed out to old Red Wings because they’re, well, old Red Wings.

If that sounds like a knock on Yzerman’s predecessor, it is, but as I’ve also written, Kenny Holland has set the Red Wings up nicely for a hockey man like Stevie Y to finish the job.

A word of caution, however.

There will come a time when the Hockeytown denizens will be asked to take off their Yzerman-colored glasses and seriously evaluate their GM’s job performance. The trick will be knowing when to do that.

But for now, Stevie Yzerman can pretty much make any move he wants and the fans will lap it up. He’s the anti-Al Avila that way.

Yet Yzerman doesn’t take this trust lightly. He said as much at his introductory presser.

Meanwhile, Moritz Seider is a Red Wing. You got a problem with that?

Didn’t think so.





Just as in his playing days, Yzerman obsessed with winning Stanley Cup as GM

Published April 20, 2019

The man who would save Hockeytown was in full Clark Kent mode.

Bespectacled. Unassuming. Mild-mannered. Apologizing when one of his answers was a little long-winded. Maybe even a tad nervous.

Stevie Yzerman hasn’t changed a bit.

They handed him the reins of one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports on Friday—forget just hockey—and all he has to do is get it to winning Stanley Cups again, sooner rather than later.

“I know there’s a limit to the fans’ patience here,” he said at his introductory presser at Little Caesars Arena, and he said it with that aw, shucks grin that he’s been flashing in Detroit since 1983, when he arrived with peach fuzz as an 18-year-old rookie player.

But Yzerman can’t change in a phone booth. He can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. And the task at hand won’t be faster than a speeding bullet.

“If you’re old enough, you remember that we’ve been through this before,” he said, referring to his early playing days in the NHL, when the Red Wings did things like win 17 games and surrender over 400 goals in a season.

Rebuilds nothing new for Yzerman

And Yzerman has been through this kind of thing before, too. At age 21, coach Jacques Demers, in either a remarkable display of prescience or damn fool luck, named Yzerman his captain, with the Red Wings coming off that 40-point nightmare.

Here’s the C, kid, good luck!

You know the rest.

Yzerman now has to do as the Red Wings’ new GM what he did as a player, which is nothing less than win at least one more Stanley Cup. When he said on Friday that it takes time, he neglected to mention that as a player, it took Stevie’s teams 14 seasons to win hockey’s Holy Grail.

That’s not going to fly as GM—not for the fans, and certainly not for Yzerman.

It should have come as no surprise that just because Yzerman went from sweater to suit, he’s no less driven. He said so on Friday, mentioning several times that his biggest disappointment while at the helm in Tampa for nine seasons was not bringing a second Stanley Cup to that franchise. And he reiterated how badly he wants to do so as a GM.

And he wants to do it in Detroit. Badly.

He wore a Red Wings lapel pin on his jacket, matching the logo that’s embroidered on his heart. Really, if Yzerman was going to get back into the GM game after stepping back from it last fall in Tampa, would it be anywhere else than in Detroit? And with his 54th birthday coming up soon (May 9), you can believe that hockey retirement is far, far away.

The length of Yzerman’s contract wasn’t revealed on Friday, but that hardly matters now. According to the fans, Superman has arrived to save Metropolis, er, Hockeytown.

Not just a brilliant PR move

The Red Wings hit the Daily Double here. Not only are they getting the PR glory from bringing a legend back into the fold, they also happen to be getting one of the best hockey executives in the league. This isn’t the Pistons hiring a green Joe Dumars and hoping for the best.

Yzerman went out of his way several times to give props to his predecessor, Kenny Holland, who is willingly moving upstairs to his new role as Sr. Vice President, so Yzerman can sit in the GM’s seat.

Image result for steve yzerman red wings april 19 2019

“I have a lot of questions (for Holland). I’m going to want his opinions,” Yzerman told the media throng, and there was a throng, alright. The attendance was like for his retirement press conference in 2006, only the emotions were 180 degrees opposite from that day. Back then, the thing to do was look back and be wistful. Today, it’s all about looking ahead and being hopeful.

Speaking of which, Yzerman could very easily fail here. Only one team out of 31 gets to skate the Cup around the ice when all is said and done. And despite building his stellar reputation as a GM in Tampa, Yzerman could do no better than one Finals appearance (lost in six games to the Blackhawks in 2015) in nine seasons with the Lightning. And his teams missed the playoffs entirely three times.

“It’s hard to do,” Yzerman said, and he was talking about replicating his on-ice success as a suit in the front office.

Listening to Yzerman on Friday and studying his face as he spoke, I’m convinced that, while the Stanley Cup was his white whale for so long as a player, it is no less so as a GM. It bothers him that he hasn’t been able to achieve that goal in the front office.

Sitting to Yzerman’s right on the dais Friday was his mentor, Holland, who’s won three Cups as a GM. And I must admit that although I’ve been one of Kenny’s harshest critics in recent years, he’s actually done a nice job of setting the table for someone of Yzerman’s ilk to finish the job.

At the presser, Stevie joked that for a time, he thought that because of guys like Jim Nill (assistant GM who eventually joined the Dallas Stars) in place in Detroit, by the time Yzerman would get a chance to be the Red Wings GM, “I’d be a hundred years old.”

“I feel a hundred right now, frankly,” he added.

The fans feel like a million. This is what they’ve wanted ever since Yzerman left in 2010, truth be told.

For the fans, Christmas in April

They say that the things that hardly ever come true are your wildest dreams and your worst fears.

For the fans, this is the former. When it leaked early Friday morning that the Red Wings had called a 3 p.m. presser, with Holland, Yzerman and owner Chris Ilitch in attendance, Twitter was abuzz with GIFs of joy and happy tears. Some folks get quite creative on the Interwebs.

The presser was streamed live on Facebook, and the emotions continued there, with “Welcome home!” and “We love you!” comments scrolling at breakneck speed throughout the event.

Yzerman could fail. His white whale, which he finally slayed in 1997 and captured twice more for good measure as a player, could go back into elusive mode. The obsession with winning a Stanley Cup as a GM—and that’s exactly what I think it is for him—might never be realized.

That’s not throwing shade. That’s being real.

But I do know this. If any executive in the NHL has the pedigree and the drive and the smarts to turn the Red Wings back into Stanley Cup winners, the team just hired him.

That Steve Yzerman also happens to be one of the most beloved athletes to ever toil in this town, is icing on the cake. Pun only partly intended.

Come to think of it, have you ever seen Superman and Yzerman in the same place at the same time?

Hmmm…..

Book it: Yzerman will become Red Wings GM this summer

Published Feb. 9, 2019

The Wings of change are coming.

I’m not one for predictions, but here’s one.

The Red Wings will overhaul in the off-season, and that overhaul will include a distinctive new look in the front office and a new man behind the bench.

I’m not, as Jim Leyland would say, the Lone Ranger here. I know that I’m not putting forth something that hasn’t been bandied about, but I believe it’s fait accomplit.

Stevie Yzerman is coming home. And Jeff Blashill is going home.

The fact that coach Blashill, in the final year of his four-year contract, hasn’t yet been offered an extension, shouldn’t be a mystery. The Red Wings have no desire to retain Blashill beyond this season.

That’s because they want their new GM, Yzerman, to pick his own coach. Among other things.

Stevie Y in, Blashill out

Book it. Current GM Kenny Holland, whose contract runs through the 2019-20 season, will step aside this summer into a more consultant role–think Jimmy Devellano–and Yzerman, whose contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning expires after this season and hasn’t been extended, will be hired by the Red Wings.

An alternate scenario is that Holland stays through 2020 and then seeks another GM job in the NHL.

Regardless, Yzerman is taking over. Blashill will be out, and Stevie Y will use his clout to hire a big name coach, perhaps one who is currently under contract with an NHL team as we speak.

Someone like John Tortorella, currently bench boss of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I’m not spewing this forward just to read myself write.

Call it reading the tea leaves, or playing a significant hunch. I might plop a Jackson down on it. You might think it’s worth a Grant or even a Franklin.

Yzerman shocked, but after the shock wore off, it made sense, when he announced last September that he was stepping back from his GM role with the Lightning into a more consultant role in order to fulfill the remaining year on his contract in Tampa.

Not a Tampa guy at heart

Then, he would essentially become a free agent—and thus the most sought after hockey executive in recent memory.

I’ve written it before. Yzerman is no more a Tampa guy, at heart, than Bo Schembechler was a Texas guy. Yzerman took the Lightning gig in 2010 and it was the right thing to do at the time. He was blocked in Detroit, yet had served his apprenticeship to the degree that he was ready to be in charge of his own team. Even a team as lousy as the Lightning, when Stevie took it over.

You know what’s happened since. Multiple Stanley Cup-contending teams in Tampa and the overseeing of a well-oiled hockey machine, from top to bottom. A Cup has eluded him in Tampa but that doesn’t tarnish his look as an executive whatsoever.

Multiple teams would stumble all over themselves to ink Yzerman this summer. The Philadelphia Flyers were reportedly interested last fall, but even the Flyer brass admitted that bidding against the Red Wings, the logo of which Yzerman has branded on his heart, would be a tough deal.

It’s Detroit or bust for Yzerman. He never sold his home in the suburbs, even after moving to Tampa.

Yzerman will be 54 years old in May. For a sports executive, that’s called being in your prime. Yzerman could take the Red Wings job and never work for another NHL team again.

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The case against Blashill

As for Blashill, Yzerman might consider retaining him except for a few disturbing items.

One, the development of players who could have taken that next step when Blashill took over in 2015, simply hasn’t happened.

Players such as Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Riley Sheahan and even goalie Petr Mrazek are examples of either unrealized potential or becoming stagnant in terms of growth. Or, worse, regression.

Two is Blashill’s reluctance to call out veterans, and instead levy his discipline and benching to just the young guys. Sitting defenseman Dennis Cholowski, a British Columbia native, on a night when friends and family were expected in the crowd in Vancouver, was odd timing.

Why doesn’t Blashill tell someone like Abdelkader, who’s been awful since he signed his big contract in 2016, to watch a game or two from the press box? Anyone can punish a kid like Cholowski. You and I could do that.

Third, is the maddening frequency with which the Red Wings have become unglued in the third period under Blashill, blowing one lead after another.

Full transparency here. I was on board with the Blashill hiring in 2015 after Mike Babcock followed his instincts—and gobs of cash—and moved on to Toronto.

Blashill, who was coaching the Red Wings’ minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids, was traveling a natural path toward Red Wings coach, especially when you consider how often the organization rewards loyalty. Plus, he had led the Griffins to an AHL championship in 2013.

So it would be disingenuous—plus just plain dishonest—to posit myself as having squawked about the Red Wings’ hiring of Blashill from the get go.

But with Yzerman dangling in front of the Red Wings, Blashill’s fate seems sealed anyway. Blashill is 45 years old. He will have other NHL opportunities, even if as an assistant coach.

A PR field day, but also a smart hockey move

Detroit sports fans are crying for something to get excited about. The state of pro sports in Motown is as bad as it’s ever been, and I’m including the awful 1970s.

The hiring of Yzerman would not only instantly vault the Red Wings to kings of the town once again, it would be a solid hockey move.

Don’t listen to the nonsense about Red Wings owner Chris Ilitch not wanting to hire Yzerman, for whatever reasons. And I think Holland would be more amenable to a change now, than he was when it was suggested to him before Yzerman left for Tampa.

Despite my frequent criticism of Kenny, I must admit that he’s laid a solid foundation in the current rebuild—though he was slow on the uptake. Holland has set the franchise up for success for a seasoned man like Yzerman to massage. And Stevie knows it.

Yzerman is too good of a hockey man, too wise and cerebral, to make a career move of this magnitude based on emotions alone. If the Red Wings were an unmitigated disaster, he wouldn’t come home.

But there are enough good, young players, both in Detroit and coming through the pipeline, and there will soon be plenty of salary cap space, to enable Yzerman to do his thing successfully with the Red Wings.

It would be stunning, I believe, if Yzerman took his next NHL job with any team other than the Red Wings, despite any reports to the contrary.

I believe the prospect of winning a Stanley Cup as a GM for the first time, with the same team that he won as a player three times (and one as a front office apprentice), is too good for Yzerman to pass up. It’s too enticing.

And, Mother Hubbard’s cupboard isn’t bare with the Red Wings. There’s enough to work with here. There’s enough to get Yzerman’s signature on a contract, emotions and nostalgia aside.

Change is coming. Significant in nature. Stevie Yzerman is going to join the Red Wings this summer and he’s going to make this town go crazy for hockey again.

Book it.

Approaching 35, Howard soon to leave a puzzling Red Wings legacy behind

Published Jan. 19, 2019

As bad as the Red Wings have been this season, imagine them without Jimmy Howard.

Soon, you may not have to imagine such a thing.

Howard, the Red Wings goalie who, approaching age 35, is officially a graybeard, might be on the trading block, if you read the Internet wires.

He’s in the final year of his contract, and with an extension unlikely at this point, Howard is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

I don’t mean to write an obituary of Howard’s Red Wings career prematurely, but with his 35th birthday coming up in late-March, and with the Red Wings going nowhere once again, it’s time for reflection.

Howard, like so many Red Wings goalies before him, has been the recipient of a love/hate relationship by the hockey denizens in Detroit.

But unlike the targets of fan vitriol who have preceded him, Howard is an easier one because of one simple fact: he never won anything as a Red Wing.

It may be harsh to frame it that way, but how else would you?

Image result for jimmy howard red wings loss

Goalies in Detroit: fans love to hate ’em

Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon and even the great Dominik Hasek were Red Wings netminders of the past who were given the business at Joe Louis Arena. Sometimes relentlessly, often ridiculously.

But all of them won Stanley Cups.

On June 7, 1997, the night the Red Wings ended their 42-year, Cup-less drought, a fan at JLA had brought a mea culpa for the sometimes-maligned Vernon. The fan held it up proudly as the team celebrated on the ice.

I’M SORRY, the banner said.

Vernon was asked about the public apology during an on-ice television interview after the Cup-clinching game.

“Apology accepted,” Vernon said with a chuckle.

But Howard?

No Cups. Not even close, really. Unlike so many of the men who’ve guarded the net in Detroit over the past quarter century, Howard and playoff success have been like oil and water. Despite postseason goals against and save percentage numbers that are aligned with his regular season performance, Howard is 21-26 in the playoffs. He has never truly led the Red Wings into a deep spring run.

And before this season ends, Howard may be an ex-Red Wing, his legacy in Detroit enigmatic.

He is, ironically, the Red Wings’ lone All-Star this year. And he’s been an All-Star in the past as well (2015).

An enigma as a Red Wing

Jimmy Howard, as a Red Wing (since 2005-06), has been good at times, sometimes exemplary, but too often in the middle of the pack. Even in his All-Star years, you didn’t look at Howard and see consistent greatness.

And, he’s been injured a lot.

More irony: despite his past and with his current tenuous state, Howard has been one of the Red Wings’ best players on many a night this season. He’s cooled off recently, but if it wasn’t for Howard’s play in October and November, the Red Wings might be sporting the league’s worst record now.

You’re excused if you still look at Jimmy Howard and see that fuzzy-faced, young goalie, despite what his birth certificate says. He’s a sneaky 35, and I don’t mean his sweater number.

He might not look 35, and you might not think of him as an elder statesman, but Howard waxed like one after he was named to the All-Star team earlier this month.

“I kind of think (Dylan Larkin) deserves to be (on the All-Star team) probably even more, but it’ll be fun,” Howard said. “I’m looking forward to it for my boys. They’re at that age now where they’re starting to learn players around the league. They were really excited when they found out.”

“My boys”? “They’re at that age now”?

Spoken like a grizzled veteran, which Howard is.

The end in Detroit seems near

For now, Red Wings GM Kenny Holland has been mum on Howard’s future in Detroit. With it looking like the Red Wings will be (again) on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs this spring, it may not make sense to lock up a 35-year-old goalie to another multi-year contract.

But does Howard have the chops to be attractive to a playoff contender, as a rent-a-goalie? If a team is looking for a veteran to serve as backup insurance, Howard might be a viable option, but with his contract expiring, the Red Wings will be lucky to get a bucket of pucks for him in a trade.

Or, the Red Wings could just hang on to Howard and let his contract expire quietly after the season.

It’s time to reflect a little on Jimmy Howard’s career as a Red Wing. He clearly won’t join Vernon, Osgood and Hasek as Cup-winning goalies in Detroit. That’s not an indictment; that’s a fact.

Playoff success and Howard didn’t go hand-in-hand. His timing was such that when he took over as the starting goalie, the Red Wings were in decline.

Part of that isn’t his fault, but yet he didn’t do anything spectacular to help the cause, either.

It’s been an enigmatic career. And soon, one way or another, it looks to be nearing its end–in Detroit.

It’s OK to be feeling torn now.

Maloney’s career as Red Wing brief but legendary

Published Dec. 2, 2018

Before Bob Probert tantalized the city of Detroit while he terrorized the NHL, skating the circuit with the heavyweight championship wrapped around his waist on a nightly basis, there was Dan Maloney.

Before Probert teamed with Joey Kocur to provide a 1-2 punch (literally) that was unrivaled in the league, there was Maloney’s pairing with Dennis Polonich in Detroit.

Probie and Joey played for the Red Wings when hockey became chic again in the Motor City. They arrived when the team was on the cusp of rising from being known as the Dead Things, and they were there when playoff hockey returned with a vengeance—theirs and the team’s.

Maloney and Polo played in the Dead Things Era, but their place in franchise history ought not be forgotten.

Sadly, it appears that at least Maloney’s half has been wiped—judging by the local papers in town.

Maloney: he won his battles even when Red Wings lost theirs

Dan Maloney is dead. Perhaps you heard. Chances are that if you did, it was from scouring the Internet. It certainly wasn’t because the Detroit Snooze and Free Dreck told you about it—though they have finally, days later, given his demise some belated ink.

Shame on them.

Maloney was 68 when it came across the wire on Nov. 20 that the tough guy had passed. Cause of death wasn’t disclosed.

So yeah, this column comes some 12 days after Maloney passed. I would have written about it earlier had I known. I’m looking at you, Detroit papers.

But enough wasting space on the systematic lowering of journalistic standards around here. This is about Maloney.

Maloney was widely regarded in his prime—which came right smack during his time as a Red Wings forward (1975-78)—as being among the top two or three fighters in the entire NHL. 

He had the typical face of an NHL enforcer: nose out of joint, eyes seemingly forever partially closed, plus a wry smirk at the rest of the league.

The fact that Maloney played on some pretty bad Red Wings teams, and that he was here for less than three years, shouldn’t take away from his presence with the franchise.

Two big trades 

First, was that Maloney was part of two pretty big trades involving the Red Wings.

The first occurred in the summer of 1975, when the mega-talented pipsqueak, Marcel Dionne, became disenchanted with the Red Wings organ-eye-ZAY-shun and wanted out, refusing to re-sign with the team.

Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings, made Dionne an offer he couldn’t refuse, and so Marcel headed to the City of Angels.

But there was the matter of compensation for the Red Wings. The NHL was years away from pure, unadulterated free agency in those days.

When the announcement came of who the Red Wings were getting for the dynamo Dionne, who had scored 139 goals in his four seasons in Detroit, I think even I, as a 12-year-old, gagged.

Maloney was coming over from the Kings, along with aging defenseman Terry Harper. Straight up, for Marcel Freaking Dionne. The Red Wings got rooked.

Harper was 35 and had been a pretty valuable, albeit unheralded, piece of some Stanley Cup-winning Canadiens teams in his heyday. But this wasn’t his heyday. Although, Harper did play in all 80 games for the Kings in 1974-75. Still, yippee.

Then there was Dan Maloney.

Image result for dan maloney red wings

While reasonably knowledgeable Red Wings fans had likely heard of Harper, it was only league geeks who knew who Maloney was. 

Maloney made his league debut as a 20-year-old with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1970. He was traded to the Kings in 1972. 

His anonymity wasn’t among those in the league—especially those who had been pummeled by his right hand. Folks in the know, knew that Danny Maloney was a tough customer, who shouldn’t be trifled with.

In 1974-75, Maloney proved that he could put the puck in the net in addition to putting his opponents flat on their back on the ice.

He played all 80 games and scored 27 goals, adding 39 assists to go along with 165 penalty minutes. He would have been considered an emerging power forward, had that term been used in league circles back then.

But still, Maloney and Harper for Marcel Dionne wasn’t fair. But the Red Wings took their medicine and soldiered on.

Adding insult to injury was that Harper, like Dionne, wanted no part of the Red Wings. He fought the league, eventually capitulating and arriving in Detroit, kicking and screaming.

The second big trade involving Maloney and the Red Wings came late in the 1977-78 season, which was ironically a campaign where the team briefly rose from the ashes and became relevant again.

GM Ted Lindsay, despite his mantra of “Aggressive Hockey is Back in Town,” traded Maloney to Toronto for winger Errol Thompson, who was all hands and no fists.

The trade was a pretty big deal at the time. The Red Wings were charging toward their first playoff berth in eight years, and so were the Maple Leafs. The Wings wanted more scoring punch, and the Leafs just wanted more punch, period. They got it in Maloney.

Thompson was as advertised, tallying 77 goals in three full seasons with the Red Wings.

And Maloney?

True to form, he didn’t score as much for Toronto, but he gave the Maple Leafs a physical presence that had been missing from the lineup, for four-plus seasons before retiring at age 32.

It was a relatively young age to hang up his fists, but Maloney wanted to get into coaching, which wasn’t the usual post-playing path of pugilists. 

A power forward before there were power forwards

But Maloney was more than a fighter, really. He scored 192 NHL goals, number one. Number two, there’s more to physical presence and intimidation than merely duking it out. Maloney was fierce in the corners, won many a puck battle and created a wide berth on the ice. He was someone that you had to account for when you were on the ice—even if it was for your own physical well-being.

As for his time as a Red Wing, Danny Maloney was so well-respected in the dressing room that he wore the A as an alternate captain and occasionally the C when needed. Like Probert, Maloney could bring fans at the old Olympia to their feet. Many a time he was cheered uproariously as he skated to the penalty box, blood often dripping from his face, which looked like a Picasso.

When the Cup-contending Philadelphia Flyers, aka the Broad Street Bullies, came to town in Maloney’s time as a Red Wing, those games were always bloodbaths. And Danny was usually awash with said blood—and not necessarily his own.

Maloney’s career as a fighter was in the spotlight in the 1975-76 season, when he pummeled Brian Glennie of the Maple Leafs in Toronto, a classic beat down that led to criminal charges. 

But like I said, Dan Maloney was more than a fighter, no matter how feared he was in that regard. It wasn’t his fault that he was essentially traded to Detroit for Marcel Dionne. The Red Wings didn’t win with Marcel, either. May as well have some fun while losing, eh?

Maloney was a complete power forward, really. He represented the Red Wings in the 1976 All-Star Game, in a season in which he replicated his Kings performance from the year before: 27 goals, 39 assists.

For whatever reason, the Detroit papers failed to report Maloney’s death when it occurred. But that snub should have no ill bearing on no. 7’s legacy as a Red Wing.

Make no mistake. We lost a big, albeit brief, part of Red Wings history on Nov. 20.