The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/20/13 at 12:23 PM ET
I don't plan on following the reports from the Maple Leafs alumni's practices ahead of the "Alumni Showdown" games--save noting that the Toronto Star reported that Mats Sundin won't be able to take part due to knee surgery--and I've kind of ignored Sportsnet's "Greatest Maple Leafs of All Time" profiles on their 24/7 page (again, the "alternate showings" for tomorrow's episode are weird and inconvenient, so those of you who miss it--and I know I have a family Christmas party to attend that will complicate things for me--may have to wait until HBO posts it on YouTube to watch it)...
But Sportsnet's Ryan Dixon gives a little "equal time" to Steve Yzerman today, and even as someone who embraced hockey during the heyday of the Wings-Leafs Norris Division rivalry, it's still hard to explain how incredibly accurate Dixon is when he suggests that Yzerman was "Mr. Everything" to Detroit. As Dixon suggests, there's some irony in the fact that serious discussions about sending Yzerman out of town helped spurn him to change the way he played:
[By] the early 1990s, Yzerman’s gaudy stats became a symbol of misplaced priorities for a Wings club that racked up regular season points but perennially fell short in the playoffs. Though he was the face of the franchise, it appeared No. 19 was on the verge of a new view. “There were a couple times when he was on the block,” says Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano, who was responsible for drafting Yzerman.
Bryan Murray, Detroit’s GM from 1990 to ’94, held serious talks with the Buffalo Sabres about a swap for Pat LaFontaine, but the deal never materialized. Another suitor, the Ottawa Senators, seemed to be a perfect match. The Sens joined the league as an expansion team in 1992–93 and, predictably, struggled to get wins. Ottawa needed to give fans a reason to trek out to the suburb of Kanata, where the franchise was opening a new 19,000-seat arena, and acquiring Yzerman—a bona fide star who grew up in the area—would have been a coup for the fledgling squad. But as a club largely constructed of castoffs from other teams, the Sens didn’t have the assets to entice Detroit into dealing its captain.
The Ottawa rumours coincided with another development in Detroit—the arrival of legendary coach Scotty Bowman for the 1993–94 season. Bowman was brought in to revamp the way the Wings did business, and several talented players, including Paul Coffey, Dino Ciccarelli and Ray Sheppard, were shipped out of town because their approach didn’t fit the new bench boss’s template. Yzerman, however, showed an ability to adapt and expand his game. Once his value began being measured in feet, not points, Yzerman’s standing with the team changed. “What Scotty got Steve to do was become a 200-foot player,” says Devellano, referencing the fact that Yzerman learned to excel in all three zones. “He transitioned his game from a player who was an offensive whiz—a player who could get 60 goals and 150 points—and he became a player who got 25 goals and 75 or 80 points, but was more valuable because he was good in his own end, he was good on draws.”
Yzerman’s metamorphosis—along with the acquisition of some key players like goalie Mike Vernon and power forward Brendan Shanahan—was a big factor in Detroit’s ability to finally get over the playoff hump. The Wings won back-to-back championships in 1997 and ’98, with Yzerman taking the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the second championship. That spring, Yzerman led the Wings with 24 points in 22 playoff games and his plus-10 mark was the best of any Detroit forward. His defensive game evolved to the point that, in 1999–2000, Yzerman was awarded the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. Yzerman’s 1,755 career points rank sixth all-time; the only player with more points who has also won a Selke is Ron Francis, who sits fourth with 1,798.
Yzerman may have overhauled his on-ice approach at mid-career, but it’s not as though his attitude ever required adjusting. There’s a reason Demers made him captain shortly after the time he was legally allowed to drink in Michigan. Yzerman held the post for 20 years until retiring in 2006, the longest tenure for any captain amongst the four major North American pro sports.”People forget, even when he was a scorer, he was a player who didn’t put up with anything, he just played hard every day,” says Luc Robitaille, who played against Yzerman for many years before joining the Red Wings late in his career.
Dixon continues, and his article's more than worth your time.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.