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Abel to Yzerman

And We All Stayed Home

It won’t be just a local story this time.  Nope.  The Wing win last night, as fun as it was to see, will be secondary to the echo chamber they played in.  As Mike Emrich and Ed Olczyk did their pre-game deal on camera, the results of Red Wing apathy jumped out at us on Versus.  A thousand empty seats just minutes before faceoff.

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So prepare yourselves because that’s going to be the story today.  When Detroit can’t fill the Joe on opening night against a team that barely beat us in the conference final…well, just stand by.

It makes me sick that I have to read a column from Drew Sharp and actually agree with him, but that’s where we are. 

There was a time when only two words were required from the Wings come October - “We’re back!” - and this city would fall over itself in unabashed exhilaration. But there’s now heated competition for the city’s heart as well as its entertainment dollar and the Wings seem ill prepared for battle.

They made 200 tickets in the corners of the upper bowl available for $9 every game. There were some still available if you checked online an hour before face-off. That was the only ticket price adjustment made.

Despite the Wings’ sustained success, they’ve nonetheless fallen to fourth place among the city’s four professional sports entities.

And here’s the thing.  Do you think Drew Sharp went to the Joe last night expecting to write that story?  Oh, it might have been a consideration and the word had gotten out a few days prior that a sellout wasn’t likely.  But, it was opening night. There’s a good chance he was actually there to write about a local team with a better chance than any other to bring Detroit another title within the next twelve months. 

Dallas Drake announced his return.  Hank Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk played brilliantly.  Brian Rafalski made Ken Holland look like a genius…again.  A2Y whipping boy Jiri Hudler was heroic and our Czech Miracle of Insanity was steady, then rock solid.

But that wasn’t the story, because the story was unavoidable.  Detroit hockey fans are staying home and everyone saw it.

“Of course, we saw it,” Dominik Hasek said. “You’re surprised when you see so many empty seats. We heard a rumor it wouldn’t be sold out, and it was disappointing to see. All we can do is play well and hope the people come back.”

That’s from a column by Bob Wojnowski.  Get used to seeing it because it’s going to be picked up by national media all over two countries.  Wojo’s another.  Agreeing with him makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little.  We’ll see you again in April, Bobby.  But, like Sharp, he was all over the biggest story of last night.

Yes, the unbalanced schedule is still horrible for the Wings, and Ilitch said he has been assured by Gary Bettman that will change next season. Yes, the Tigers, still a fresh story, sold more than three million tickets this season, draining dollars and attention. And yes, the NHL stupidly has downplayed fighting and physical play in its new whistle-happy incarnation.

There were bursts of excitement Wednesday night, like when Zetterberg scored the season’s first goal. But the biggest noise came in the second period, when Dallas Drake punctuated his return to the Wings with a spirited fight against Corey Perry.

At times, the Wings’ skating and puck-possession were spectacular again. We’ve seen it for so long, we’ve come to take it for granted.

All of it’s true.  Yeah, the economy…I know.  Even if I lived in Michigan, there’s no way I could afford season tickets.  I’d bet ten regular season games would be the max I’d attend.  Max.  But last night would definitely have been one of them.  The lockout?  Yeah, we’re still pissed about that.  But get over it.  That’s not it, not completely.  Were Detroit fans more offended than those in Toronto or Edmonton or Carolina?  I didn’t see many empty seats in Raleigh last night. 

Here’s the reality.  No arena in the league is going to be as stale for their opener as the Joe was last night.  Two thousand empty seats?  If you can’t sell out your opener, in any sport, you better hold an emergency offsite because there is no worse signal than that. 

Sharp:

But there’s also a much less North American appearance to this team, especially after Steve Yzerman’s retirement a year ago and Brendan Shanahan’s free agency exodus to Broadway. The Wings still boast more than their share of world class skill with Lidstrom and young cornerstones, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. But this has become a Euro-dominated team and it’s quite possible the lack of prominent Canadian or American stars may have had an adverse effect.

“I do think that Steve’s retirement after being here for so long and being the face of hockey here might have chased some people away,” Lidstrom added.

Man, I don’t know.  I’ve heard that argument too, and disregarded it because I’m a fan and I don’t see it.  Yzerman’s loss hurt because he was an icon. But it didn’t offer an excuse not to watch.  Shanahan? Same thing.  So, to me, the euro-heavy roster was never a consideration.  But everything’s on the table now.  I like this team. I think it has personality and huge talent.  The likelihood of a Cup parade next summer is as good as ever.  But something’s keeping you out of the Joe and it’s probably a combination of several factors, all mentioned above.

Oh, you watched on TV, if you actually get Versus.  And I’ll bet the ratings in Detroit were a lot higher than in LA or Anaheim because the Angels opened against Boston last night at the same time.  And the game you saw was good, playoff like.  But the empty seats are the story today because if you can’t sell out opening night, something’s wrong and it’s not gonna get any better anytime soon.  And, it’s not like the organ-I-zation didn’t see it coming.  Empty seats during the playoffs may have said a little.

So you drop a couple hundred seats down to 9 bucks and hope the gesture carries some weight.  I suppose it did, but not nearly enough. 

Gary Bettman better wake up.  Was he there last night?  Don’t commissioners generally attend opening night games?  Was this not the most attractive matchup, or was he in Toronto?  He should have been in Detroit.  I have a feeling he would have found a seat.  You want to blame someone, and I really, really do, blame Bettman.

Blame Gary Bettman for allowing the lockout to occur.  Blame Bettman for the rule changes that I’m tired of defending.  Blame Bettman for the Central Division and blame him for Nashville’s disgrace.  Blame Bettman for the empty seats in Detroit.

Blame Bettman because it’s easy.  But it’s time to peel back a few layers and take a harder look.  The same fans who stayed away last night are the ones who used to fill the Joe when it was the city’s cliche.  Detroit’s become Atlanta and the Wings are the Braves, with a little more success.  Money’s tight.  Yzerman’s gone.  Wing PR efforts are pathetic.  But none can fully explain 17,000 showing up against Sasquatch and the Poultry on opening night.

The passion appears to have been fleeting.  Empty seats were the story last night and “Hockeytown” is going to be a punchline today.

Filed in: | Abel to Yzerman | Permalink
  Tags: attendance, datsyuk, drake, hasek, zetterberg

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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com