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.

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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.





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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.

Red Wings should name Larkin captain sooner rather than later

Published Nov. 3, 2018

Stevie Yzerman wasn’t ready to be team captain.

Yzerman was all of 21 years old in September 1986 when Red Wings coach Jacques Demers, new on the job and taking over a moribund team (40 points the year before), named Yzerman his captain, succeeding the veteran Danny Gare.

Yzerman wasn’t ready. How could he be?

He had only three NHL seasons under his belt. He was shy, quiet and reserved. His body was still filling out and his overall game. He had just turned legal to drink a few months before the 1986 training camp.

Team captain? Not ready.

But Demers was desperate to find a spark. The Red Wings were awful and many were surprised that Jacques left a pretty promising situation in St. Louis to come to Detroit.

So Demers gave Yzerman the “C” and hoped for the best.

You can call Jacques Demers crazy like a fox today. 

Better to be lucky than good

They sewed the C on Yzerman’s sweater and there it stayed for 19 seasons. He became widely regarded as one of the best team captains—in any major professional sport. Ever.

But Demers himself would tell you that he had no way of portending the happy union between Yzerman and team captaincy. The roster that Jacques assumed in 1986 was so bereft of high octane NHL talent, and the crowds at Joe Louis Arena were so inconsistent, that there really wasn’t much to lose.

I remember driving to the Joe on several occasions during the 1985-86 season, on a whim after work, and walking up to the box office to purchase a lower bowl ticket for that evening’s game. Not too many other fans were seated around me. The Red Wings would go down to defeat, of course, and I would drive home, with no traffic impeding me on the way out of the parking garage. It was a polite outing.

Demers arrived and the Red Wings started making the playoffs again–ascending to the conference finals in Jacques’ first two seasons.

Yzerman led the way, on and off the ice—still with that quiet, reserved persona. Demers lucked into a great decision.

The case for Dylan Larkin

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There’s scuttlebutt that 22-year-old Dylan Larkin is earmarked for captaincy of today’s Red Wings, now that Henrik Zetterberg’s bad back necessitated that Z hang up his skates.

The situation is eerily similar to Yzerman’s back in 1986.

The team isn’t going anywhere—not this season, at least. 

The roster has some veterans but they represent the glory days of yesteryear: Niklas Kronwall, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm to name a few. Each of those players could wear the C. They’d be safe choices.

Demers had some veterans to choose from in 1986, as well. But they didn’t have the cache with the Red Wings franchise and they weren’t stewards of the future.

Despite the current, modest three-game winning streak, the Red Wings seem to have a vacuum in leadership. They’re poised for a new captain. After Zetterberg retired, the team decided to go with a bunch of alternate captains rather than give any player the C.

Larkin probably is about as ready to assume the captaincy as Yzerman was in 1986. Which is to say, he isn’t, by traditional metrics. He’s too young. His game is still a work in progress, though it’s progressing quite nicely.

But who’s the best player on the team? It’s Larkin, and it’s not close. And I see a certain je ne sais quoi in his body language on the ice. It is captain-like.

Dylan Larkin is about as close to being the face of the franchise as you can get right now. If you see that as an indictment, so be it. But it’s true.

The C is a big deal in Detroit

The C in Detroit is hallowed.

Alex Delvecchio’s tenure wasn’t filled with Stanley Cups, but that doesn’t mean that Fats wasn’t one of the best league captains during his 10-plus years.

Yzerman restored honor to the C after about a dozen years of the role being tarnished by bad teams and a revolving door approach.

Nick Lidstrom was Nick Lidstrom. Enough said.

Zetterberg was a fine captain, leading the team as it descended back to the pack and eventually below it. It wasn’t easy for Z to see the team denigrate on his watch.

Hockey fans know that being captain of the Red Wings isn’t like being the captain of just any other NHL team. With all due respect to the Arizona Coyotes.

If Larkin indeed is handed the C, it won’t be a small deal.

Dylan Larkin probably isn’t ready to be the captain of an NHL team. But yet, the timing is right for him to assume the role with the Red Wings.

Expectations for the team are low. The sports media in Detroit isn’t exactly the hardest-hitting in North America, so Larkin wouldn’t be walking into a pressure cooker after games. And again, he’s the best player on the team.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought that it was Abdelkader who would follow Zetterberg as captain. But Abby signed his big contract a few years ago and his game went down the tubes. My opinion.

Kronwall is on his way out. Helm, who will turn 32 in January, would be a not-bad choice. But the Red Wings don’t need “not bad.” They need a captain that could keep the C for years to come.

They need Dylan Larkin. Give him the role and let him grow into it.

It’s funny, really, that the same organization that gave a 21-year-old the C in 1986, has been reluctant to do the same with Larkin with the team in similar straits. The option to hand out a bunch of As instead of one C is only delaying what should be the inevitable.

Naming Larkin team captain now won’t make the Red Wings contenders this season. It’s not about that. 

But the team does need direction amidst the current rebuild. Why not have a young captain to go along with the young, wet-behind-the-ears players that are supposed to be the future?

Why not have Larkin lead the Manthas, Rasmussens and Cholowskis?

Give Larkin the C and be done with it. The sooner you let the kid start to grow into the role, the better off the organization will be—on and off the ice.

He’s probably not ready. But he’s as ready as he’ll ever be, and for today’s Red Wings, that’s good enough.

This time, the fans are right: Stevie needs to come home

Published April 13, 2017

Some guys just wear certain threads well.

Al Kaline looks splendid in the Old English D. Can you imagine Al wearing anything else?

How out of place was it to see Tony Dorsett wearing the orange of the Denver Broncos? Or Hank Aaron in those hideous Milwaukee Brewer duds?

Ask Boston Bruins fans what they think of Bobby Orr wearing the Chicago Blackhawks sweater and be prepared to duck.

Stevie Yzerman still looks good in the Winged Wheel, doesn’t he?

On Sunday evening, Yzerman donned the blood red sweater yet again, as the Red Wings alumni helped bid farewell to Joe Louis Arena.

The adoring faithful chanted “Come home Stevie!” as Yzerman stepped onto the red carpeted ice, raising a hockey stick at the Joe one last time.

The chant was obvious. The fans want Yzerman to be the Red Wings’ next general manager.

Yzerman still looks good in the Winged Wheel.

It’s been five years since Yzerman took the Tampa Bay Lightning GM job and folks around Hockeytown still refuse to accept the images of Stevie giving press briefings with the Lightning bolt logo behind him.

Red Wings fans still think of the Lightning job as Yzerman’s apprenticeship in being an NHL front office guy. In their minds, Yzerman learned some executive ropes with the Red Wings after his 2006 retirement as a player, then went to Tampa to ply his new trade, and so it’s time to come home, seasoned in the ways of managing an NHL team.

And you know what? They’re right. It’s time. If not now, then soon.

The fans’ trust in Red Wings GM Kenny Holland is at an all-time low. And with good reason.

Despite missing the playoffs for the first time since 1991, which was several years coming, Holland still seems to be resistant to the notion that the Red Wings are in for a significant overhaul.

The fans have been bracing themselves, and are now ready, for a new era of Red Wings hockey. Missing the playoffs this spring was almost cathartic—to them.

Holland doesn’t seem to have the chops, or the wherewithal, to plunge into the depths of this new challenge. He’s not used to it. He’s never done it before.

Holland has been the Red Wings’ GM since 1997. That’s an awful long time to be a front office guy in professional sports, which is the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” business.

It’s admirable, and the Holland era has been marked with three Stanley Cups under his watch. But people and their ideas get stale. You can even say that the game passes them by.

The fans want Yzerman to replace Holland, and they want it yesterday.

The Red Wings could do worse.

Yzerman isn’t a Tampa guy. It’s not in his DNA. He still resides in the Detroit area. You can tell from his words and emotions that he doesn’t just bleed red, he bleeds Red Wing red. The Winged Wheel is tattooed onto his heart.

The Lightning didn’t even come into existence until Yzerman was 10 years into his playing career.

Tampa is nice. It’s sunny and warm during the hockey season. But is that hockey weather, really?

Yzerman is Canadian first, Detroit second. He knows his way around a shovel and an ice scraper.

He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lightning, but you know how it goes with sports contracts. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to wriggle out of them.

Yzerman is too modest, too humble, too polite to say anything remotely indicative that he’d like to run the Red Wings. He has too much respect for Holland, for one, and for a fellow GM second.

But if you pumped Stevie full of truth serum, he’d tell you that he’d be thrilled to do for the Red Wings as a manager what he did for them three times as a player.

Yzerman is a seasoned GM now. This isn’t some former star player who’s never stepped foot into an executive washroom who’s being drafted by the fans to learn on the job.

So we know that being a general manager is something that Yzerman enjoys. He built the Lightning into Cup finalists in short order. He has been, without question, a success in the Tampa front office. He’s drafted well. He made some bold coaching decisions.

Frankly, Steve Yzerman threw himself into the Tampa job as if he’d been an NHL manager for years. He looks to be a natural.

But he’s not a Tampa guy. Not for the long haul. He’ll never wear the lightning bolt on his sleeve, truly.

The pull of the Red Wings is strong for him, I believe. So strong, that if the Red Wings gave him a call, he’d listen. Hard.

Image result for steve yzerman joe louis arena april 9

Yzerman bade farewell to the JLA on Sunday, and he still looks good in the Winged Wheel.

Then there’s the matter of the Ilitch family.

There are rumblings that as long as Christopher Ilitch is running the show, Yzerman-to-Detroit won’t happen, for whatever reason. And Mike’s kid has already come out publicly in full support of Holland.

But you know how public votes of confidence go in sports. I’ve seen them followed by a firing less than 24 hours later.

I have no idea if the “Chris Ilitch will never hire Steve Yzerman” thing is true, nor do I know why it would be. Yzerman was always like a son to Mike and Marian Ilitch. And Marian is still alive and kicking.

Holland isn’t the man for this challenge that the Red Wings currently face. I firmly believe that. Kenny needs to be with a team that’s on the verge of winning, or is still relevant. He’s not built for this. Or, he needs to be booted even further upstairs with the Red Wings than he already is.

I know it can be tricky to pump for a local hero to return to his roots. Those stories don’t always end well.

And I remember what happened when the fans and the media cried for Dickie Vitale to coach the Pistons in 1978.

Yet John Elway has done wonderfully with the Denver Broncos. Mario Lemieux has done the same with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jimmy Harbaugh has full support at Michigan after two seasons.

It can be done successfully.

Perhaps Yzerman, in his earlier days of retirement, would have been more reticent to take on the GM role with the Red Wings. He likely would have seen himself as ill-equipped and too green for such a job. I can buy that.

Yzerman isn’t green any longer. He’s wise in the ways of running an NHL team. He’s got to be more comfortable in his own skin now, wearing Armani and wing tips instead of Nike and skates.

The Red Wings are ripe for change. They’re moving into a new arena. Their playoff streak is over. The old guard is pretty much gone.

The front office, led by Holland, has become stale. There’s no crime in that. It happens to the best of franchises.

Yzerman represents not only change, but competent change. He’s bold. He’s got an eye for talent. He understands player development. He knows what makes a good coach, and what doesn’t.

Yzerman would be taking over the Red Wings in a period of decline, which is probably the way it should be. Expectations are the lowest now than they’ve been for over 20 years in Detroit. No honest fan believes the Wings are on the verge of greatness.

But there’s some young talent on the roster. There are enough veterans who can still play who can help the kids along.

Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard isn’t bare.

Ken Holland, as it was duly noted on social media, didn’t speak during the Joe’s farewell festivities on Sunday. Sometimes silence can be deafening.

Holland was holed away while Yzerman, who the fans think could walk from Detroit to Windsor on the river, took his bows and enjoyed his thunderous ovations.

It can be tricky to pump for local heroes to return. But it’s not a doomed proposition, either.

Yzerman is still under contract with the Lightning. So what? You think that’s ironclad?

The fans chanted it on Sunday night, and so it’s repeated here, now.

Come home, Stevie. The Red Wings need you. Again.

 

 

The Not-So-Magnificent Seven: Red Wings who were the last to wear retired numbers

They are hanging from the rafters at the Joe Louis Arena, and some of them go back almost 25 years. I wonder if they’re ever dusted.

No doubt they will relocate, as will the Red Wings themselves, when the new arena complex opens in time for the 2017-18 season.

They’re the seven officially retired uniform numbers in team lore: 1,5,7,9,10,12 and 19.

I don’t have to tell you to whom those cherished numbers belonged.

Gordie Howe’s no. 9 was retired during the 1971-72 season, but in those days the Red Wings didn’t hoist numbers to the rafters, for whatever reason. Never did no. 9 hang at the Olympia, believe it or not.

The first two numbers to be officially retired with a ceremony at JLA were in November 1991, when the Red Wings put nos. 7 and 10 to bed for good, honoring Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio, respectively.

The most recent sweater to be retired was Nick Lidstrom’s no. 5.

But I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the players who wore the retired numbers before they were put into moth balls.

Who was the last Red Wing to wear Terry Sawchuk’s no. 1? Or Sid Abel’s no. 12?

You don’t have to do the digging; I already did—and so what follows is a look back at the seven Red Wings who became answers to a great trivia question.

No. 1: Glen Hanlon (last worn in 1990-91)

Sawchuk played in the days when goalies pretty much wore no. 1 or no. 30. Period. Tony Esposito’s 35 and Ken Dryden’s 29 were exceptions. I remember Gilles Meloche wore no. 27. But the goalies were 1 or 30, as a rule, leaving 2-29 for skaters. Players didn’t start wearing goofy numbers until the late-1970s. Now, hockey players wear uniform numbers befitting a football roster.

Hanlon was a 29 year-old goalie when the Red Wings acquired him in July 1986. He had established himself in Vancouver and was coming off two seasons with the Rangers when the Red Wings got him for defenseman Jim Leavins.

As a Red Wing, Hanlon played five seasons and was huge in the 1987 playoffs, posting two shutouts, a 1.67 GAA and a save percentage of .943. He was a redheaded man of sharp wit and self-effacing humor. In 1988, after the Flyers poured 10 goals past him one night at the Joe, Hanlon joked, “OK, who put the soccer net behind me?”

The Red Wings didn’t retire no. 1 until 1995, but Hanlon was the last to wear it, in 1991.

No. 5: Rick Green (1990-91)

Before Lidstrom, there was Rick Green.

Green, a defenseman, was the first overall pick in 1976 by the Washington Capitals.

After six seasons in Washington, Green was part of a huge trade with Montreal that shipped Green and Ryan Walter to the Canadiens for Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom, Craig Laughlin and Rod Langway.

The Red Wings acquired Green, by then 34 years old, from Montreal, who still had his rights after Green played a year in Italy.

Green played 65 games for the Red Wings in 1990-91. Lidstrom debuted in October 1991.

No. 7: Tom Bissett (1990-91)

Who?

Bissett, a center, was drafted by the Red Wings in the 11th round of the 1986 draft out of Michigan Tech.

He went back to college and didn’t turn pro until 1988-89, when he played for Detroit’s top minor league affiliate, the Adirondack Red Wings.

Bissett had a cup of coffee with the Red Wings in 1990-91, suiting up for five games and slipping sweater no. 7 over his head, making him the last Red Wing to wear the number before its retirement.

Bissett is in the Michigan Tech Huskies Hall of Fame.

No. 9: Roy Conacher (1946-47)

In the interest of transparency, this is an educated guess. Hockey-Reference doesn’t list jersey numbers on its website for the 1946-47 season, when Howe debuted. What is known is that Howe wore no. 17 initially, and he switched to no. 9 in his second season. Using unscientific deduction and web research, I believe that Conacher, a left wing, was the last to wear no. 9 before Howe donned it for the next 24 seasons.

Conacher played in 60 games for the Red Wings in 1946-47 at the age of 30. He popped in 30 goals, which ended up being a career high for him. Detroit traded Conacher to New York in October 1947, but he refused to report to the Rangers. Ten days later, the Red Wings traded him again—to Chicago. Conacher reported to the Black Hawks (pictured).

No. 10: Jimmy Carson (1990-91)

Carson is interesting because not only was he the last Red Wing to wear no. 10 before it was retired, he then switched to no. 12, and thus became one of the last Red Wings to wear that number before it, too, was retired.

Carson was a local kid (Southfield) who badly wanted to play for the Red Wings. But even though Detroit had the no. 1 overall pick in 1986, the Red Wings selected Joe Murphy instead of the local boy Carson, who was drafted by Los Angeles.

Carson openly campaigned for a trade to Detroit whenever rumors of a deal popped up.

Carson was involved in a trade, all right—perhaps the most shocking in NHL history.

Carson was part of the package that the Edmonton Oilers got for Wayne Gretzky in the summer of 1988.

Jimmy finally got his wish on November 2, 1989, when the Red Wings acquired Carson in a big trade that sent Petr Klima—and Joe Murphy—to Edmonton.

No. 12: Mike Sillinger (1993-94)

Sillinger was a number whore.

He only played parts of four seasons as a Red Wing, yet he managed to wear five different numbers in Detroit.

The last was 12, in 1993-94, before it was retired to honor Sid Abel.

Sillinger was the Red Wings’ first round pick in the 1989 draft, and he went on to have a decent, though well-traveled,  NHL career: 19 years, 240 goals, while playing for—count ’em—12 NHL teams.

All told, Sillinger wore 10 different uniform numbers in the NHL.

No. 19: Randy Ladouceur (1982-83)

Steve Yzerman, as many Red Wings fans know, chose to wear no. 19 because his favorite player was Brian Trottier, Hall of Fame center for the New York Islanders.

Everywhere Yzerman played, he wore no. 19.

So when Stevie arrived in Detroit in 1983, he managed to convince Ladouceur, a defenseman who preceded Yzerman to the NHL by one year, to switch from 19 to 29.

Ladouceur played for the Red Wings from 1982-1987. Detroit traded him to Hartford in January 1987 for Dave Barr.

Ladouceur played 14 years in the NHL before becoming a longtime assistant coach in the league.

 

So there they are—the Ignominious Seven.

Don’t you feel smarter now? Now you’re ready to win some money with some bar bets.

With Fedorov in HOF, it’s time now to retire no. 91

As far as love affairs go, it was at times tumultuous, the relationship between Sergei Fedorov and the hockey fans in Detroit.

Mention Stevie Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom’s names in Hockeytown and the fawning will begin in earnest.

Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuk and Ted Lindsay will get you nothing other than a bow down on one knee from the person to whom you utter the names.

And it’s not Normie Ullman’s fault that he wore the same no. 7 immortalized by Lindsay, but Normie scored 324 goals for the Red Wings and it’s too bad that he gets forgotten about in Detroit.

Ullman’s name should be in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena, as well as at the new arena that will open in a couple of years. And I’m not one to retire numbers like they do at the deli counter.

I believe that if you’re going to take a number out of circulation forever, then your case ought to be pretty damn compelling. To me, it’s almost as hallowed as being inducted into that sport’s Hall of Fame.

Which brings me back to Fedorov.

You bring up Fedorov in Detroit and it’s not a slam dunk, like it is with the other men whose numbers have been retired by the Red Wings.

Fedorov doesn’t emit the same aura as his honored teammates Yzerman and Lidstrom.

You can’t find a soul in Detroit who’ll besmirch no. 19 and no. 5, but no. 91 will sometimes elicit an eye roll and a snort of disgust.

It’s the same old thing with the Detroit sports fan: you’d better not leave on your own volition.

There are two things the sports fans in the Motor City demand from their pro athletes: loyalty, and empathy for their pain.

The lack of the latter is what got Prince Fielder turned into a pariah in this town.

And the perceived lack of the former is why Fedorov doesn’t get nearly the same love as Yzerman and Lidstrom, with whom Sergei won three Stanley Cups.

But only three Red Wings scored more goals in the Winged Wheel than Fedorov, who tallied 400: Howe, Yzerman and Delvecchio. And only Howe and Yzerman scored more playoff goals as a Red Wing than Fedorov, who notched 50.

That’s some not bad company.

Sergei is in the Hockey Hall of Fame now, fair and square. He was formally inducted on Monday night, along with Lidstrom, who goes by the nickname The Perfect Human.

Fedorov, the Imperfect Human (tying him with billions of people around the world behind Lidstrom), has waited long enough. It’s time to put aside whatever rancor is left about Fedorov and string his stinking number into the rafters at The Joe.

I can still hear some gasps of indignation.

But he left! He left us!

He held out! He was a Johnny-come-lately in 1998!

He had a weird relationship with Anna Kournikova!

Yes, yes, and yes.

So what?

Fedorov remains the last Red Wing to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP—in 1994. He was just as much a part of the Red Wings’ Cups won in 1997, 1998 and 2002 as Yzerman and Lidstrom.

Yes, Fedorov bolted town as a free agent in the summer of 2003, defecting for the second time in his life, this time for Anaheim.

Yes, FedoFedorov Stanley Cuprov’s contract holdout in 1998 was something that Yzerman and Lidstrom—and every other Red Wing, frankly—never engaged in.

Yes, some would call Fedorov’s relationship with teen tennis star Kournikva unseemly and definitely non-Yzerman and non-Lidstrom-ish.

But what should really matter is what Fedorov did on the ice for the Red Wings, and this is where it gets ironic.

Bob Probert. Denny McLain. Miguel Cabrera. Bobby Layne.

Those are just four Detroit athletes whose off-the-field/ice issues are legendary.

Probert, with the bottle and the drugs.

Denny with his suspensions in 1970 for carrying a gun and for dumping ice water on a sportswriter—long before the ice bucket challenge existed.

Cabrera with his DUI arrests.

Layne with his party-hearty ways.

Yet Probert was about as popular as Yzerman in his heyday with the Red Wings.

McLain returned from suspension in 1970 to thunderous applause at Tiger Stadium.

Cabrera is revered in Detroit.

And Layne is so worshiped in Motown that some folks actually think he put a curse on the Lions.

So why doesn’t Fedorov get the same accommodation?

I think of the three grievances listed above, the most egregious to Red Wings fans is Fedorov leaving via free agency, which none of the aforementioned stars ever did.

Probert was waived. McLain was traded. Cabrera is still here. Layne was traded.

None of them left on their own volition, and Detroit sports fans don’t like it when their athletes bid adieu willingly.

It’s time now to get over that with Fedorov. It’s not like the Red Wings stopped winning Stanley Cups after Fedorov left.

It’s time to put no. 91 up with 1, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 19.

And I’m not a “retire his number!” kind of a guy. The case has to be compelling.

With Sergei Fedorov, it is.

For the Red Wings’ part, GM Ken Holland said in July that the team would consider honoring Fedorov with a number retirement ceremony.

The Red Wings have had four months since then to hash it out.

This morning, Sergei’s plaque is in the Hall in Toronto.

It’s time now.