The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/16/11 at 12:45 PM ET
In 2004, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman asked Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and governor Jimmy Devellano to endorse an experiment involved locking out paying customers for an entire season, eliminating Detroit’s ability to out-spend its opponents (and buy out three players in the process) via instituting a hard salary cap, halving the Wings’ playoff revenues for the sake of revenue-sharing, and on top of it all, cutting a check in the $10 million range to help subsidize teams like the Coyotes and Thrashers. As this experiment was less than palatable to big-market teams like the Wings, Bettman engaged in the same kind of empty promise-making that fueled Arthur “Enron” Levitt’s “audit” of the league, a website full of lies about a hard salary cap eliminating ticket price increases and selling that lie to fans while courting the owners.
In the Red Wings’ case, Bettman ensured Ilitch and Jimmy Devellano that, should the league expand (back in 2004, the economy was a very different beast), the Red Wings would be given first priority in fulfilling their long-standing request to move to the Eastern Conference, as the Detroit News’s John Niyo notes...
“Well, I think they want to keep us in the division we’re in now because we fill their arenas,” Ilitch said then, adding, “We want to go in the East now, and we’re working real hard so that our fans can see our team all the time. They don’t have to (wait until) 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night (for games) and all that business.”
I asked Ilitch that day if he’d gotten any assurances from the league and its commissioner, Gary Bettman, that Detroit eventually would head East, as Toronto did in 1998.
“Well, (Bettman) has told Jimmy (Devellano, senior vice president for the Red Wings) and I on two or three occasions that we’re next,” Ilitch said.
He was referring more to another round of expansion — Las Vegas? Kansas City? — than franchise relocation at the time. But five years later, we’re still waiting — the Red Wings, their fans and, yes, the team’s ownership. And the league has since denied publicly the Red Wings are “next,” as Ilitch indicated.
When Devellano, who remains the club’s voice on the Board of Governors, and did indeed vote to lock the players out and place financial handcuffs on his team for the sake of being a good citizen back in 2004, suggested that the team could very well move to the Eastern Conference if the Atlanta Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg during the Wings’ locker room clean-out on Saturday, it was…It was wishful thinking:
“Where do things stand? We’re gonna be right where we are next year,” Devellano said. “We’re gonna be right where we are this year for next year. Beyond that, I can’t comment. But next year, we’re right where we are.”
As Niyo suggests, the Columbus Blue Jackets have lobbied to move to the Eastern Conference, and while doing so, club president Mike Priest was the first person to reveal that the NHL’s promise to the Red Wings was as empty as the line about the “inflationary spiral,” as the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline noted way back on April 24th...
Since the Blue Jackets joined the NHL, it has been whispered that the first club to move to the East would be Detroit, that the Red Wings’ desire to leave the Western Conference predates the Blue Jackets’ existence. No such agreement exists, a league source told The Dispatch this week. Priest said he’s been told as much, too.
“I have personally never been told that anybody has a leg up over anybody else,” Priest said. “If there’s a team that needs to move to the East, every team would be looked at before any decision is made.”
Niyo suggests that we should go with Devellano and “cross our fingers” given the fact that the Wings want to reduce wear and tear on both bleary-eyed fans and the team…
So go ahead and light a candle, Red Wings fans, now that you can finally get a little rest — with the playoff run over a month too soon — after all those late-night puck drops. (And after Redbird II logged a mere 15,830 flight miles in three weeks shuttling back and forth between the Eastern and Pacific time zones.)
But the fundamental truth regarding realignment remains a simple one—as the Western Conference’s marquee team not named the Chicago Blackhawks or Vancouver Canucks, the Wings sell out rinks wherever they go thanks to a strong road following of both adopted fans and Michiganders-via-economic diaspora, and in terms of both geography and pull with the Board of Governors, the Nashville Predators, who were (along with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins), the face of the lockout, would likely move to the East to join the Southeast Division and their geographic rivals in Carolina, Washington, Florida and Tampa Bay.
I suggested this past weekend that the NHL tends to reward teams that have done them favors and/or have built new rinks via awarding All-Star games and Entry Drafts to them, and as we all know, the Wings haven’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1980 or an Entry Draft since 1986, and the Predators stood by the league when it refused to allow Jim Balsillie to invest in the team (back when its ownership situation was messier than it is now, and I’m not talking about Mark), so they’ve got dibs.
Keep your Visine stocked, Wings fans. The team isn’t going anywhere.
• In terms of player personnel, however, we do know that there’s going to be some turnover—though it won’t be as drastic as Sunday’s crop of columnists suggested due to the Wings’ salary cap commitments, and it was refreshing to hear 97.1 the Ticket’s Mike Stone tell WXYZ’s Tom Leyden that we should expect the Wings to make tweaks and not wholesale changes this summer, with more major potential changes to come next summer, when Brian Rafalski, Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi come off the books.
“Stoney” suggests that, aside from Jan Mursak and Jakub Kindl joining the team on a full-time basis, and Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith (and Cory Emmerton,should he not make the team during training camp) likely to be called up semi-regularly (and if the embed doesn’t work, you can watch the clip on YouTube). He and Leyden also suggest the obvious—that the Wings were pretty damn close to advancing to the Western Conference Finals by pushing the Sharks to seven games, and as such, the team acquitted itself quite well, addressed its goaltending big time via Jimmy Howard’s performance and at least gave Pavel Datsyuk some well-earned praise by the out-of-town media:
Stone argues that the Wings should add another big and/or speedy forward, but otherwise, he doesn’t expect the Wings to make many changes, and I agree with him.
• The Wings’ biggest personnel concern involves the probable return of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke showed impeccable timing by highlighting significant figures from Lidstrom’s 19th season and 20th year in the NHL:
1: Recorded his first-ever NHL hat trick, collecting three goals and an assist in a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 15, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena.
11: Longest game point streak of his career, collecting two goals and 12 assists from Oct. 16 to Nov. 13. The Red Wings were 9-2-0 during his streak.
62: Total points this season to become the oldest defenseman in NHL history to amass at least 60. His 60th point was a first-period goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on March 28 at Joe Louis Arena.
82: Played in every single regular-season game for the second straight time. It was the sixth time in his 19 NHL seasons that he didn’t miss a game. He was also only one of two Wings (Darren Helm) to play in all 82 games this season.
• The Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James spoke to Danny Cleary about the hit from Jiri Hudler which prematurely ended Cleary’s season, as well as the after-effects of his concussion:
“It was pretty scary there,” Cleary said over the weekend. “I didn’t remember anything, really. It took a few hours to get that back.”
Cleary said Hudler “felt pretty bad about it. It was an unfortunate accident. I felt it would have been nice to play that last period and give it that one last chance. I thought we should be proud of ourselves for the effort we put in.”
The Wings already had lost Todd Bertuzzi during the first period, after he suffered a concussion during a collision with Sharks forward Dany Heatley.
Cleary, who hadn’t had a concussion during his NHL career, is scheduled to undergo further evaluation Tuesday. When a player becomes concussed, he has to pass a neurological baseline test compared against the test each player takes at the beginning of the season.
Two days after he and the Wings were knocked out, Cleary already saw the upside to having played such a tough series against the Sharks.
“I think we had a good season,” he said. “It was a good series, that’s for sure. It was close. You never want to put yourself in that (3-0) hole, but certainly we dug pretty hard to make it a series. We’ll look forward to next year. I feel we’ll be a better team next year.”
• In the “bummer news” department, the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff took note of Pavel Datsyuk’s comments regarding the premature passing of Derek Boogard:
In the summer of 2009, New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard travelled to Ekaterinburg, Russia to help Detroit Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk run his hockey school. The two formed a bond -one of the NHL’s most dynamic skill players and one of the league’s most feared tough guys -so naturally, Datsyuk was stunned to hear of Boogaard’s sudden and tragic death Friday at the age of 28.
“I know him a little bit,” Datsyuk said. “He comes to my town a few years ago. He comes to Russia. I got to spend some time with him, hung out with him. A nice guy. It’s so shocking. He come to my camp and when I meet him, he’s a real nice guy. I’m still shocked. I still can’t believe it. I don’t know what to say. He’s so young.”
• In a more optimistic vein, USA Today’s Kevin Allen penned a sort of “top ten list” regarding Steve Yzerman’s accomplishments during his now year-long tenure as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s general manager, and two of them are directly Red Wings-related…Well, okay, one of them:
8. Sharing his confidence, poise and aura. It always seemed to drive Yzerman nuts when news reporters tried to talk to him about his mystique as the Detroit Red Wings’ longtime captain. He didn’t believe he had an aura. But the Lightning, like Yzerman, are humble and hardworking and believe in themselves. When the team lost six of seven this season, Yzerman wasn’t rattled; neither were his players.
10. Building for the future and present through a strong farm team. The Red Wings believed strongly in having players on their American Hockey League team who would come up and play. Yzerman is following that pattern, even claiming Mattias Ritola on waivers from Detroit to bolster team depth. He hired Julien BriseBois as assistant GM to oversee the Norfolk (Va.) Admirals; that team made the playoffs this season for the first time as a Lightning affiliate.
• NWT.se’s Kristofer Holmberg provides our almost-daily dose of Hat Trick Dick (Axelsson) news, stating that Farjestads BK’s general manager, Thomas Rundqvist, has done a 180-degree turn from this past weekend’s remarks, now stating that Axelsson’s chosen to stick with his decision to part ways with the team after winning the Swedish Eliteserien title, presumably chasing more money from a bigger-market team or a KHL club.
Axelsson’s not too keen on heading to Detroit unless he feels that he can earn a spot on the Wings’ NHL roster, and that possibility’s not likely until the 2012-2013 season at the earliest (see: Mike Stone, being smart);
• And finally, whether you’re in the Metro Detroit area or elsewhere, keep an eye out and an ear tuned to WDFN AM 1130, 97.1 the Ticket, WBBL, WRIF, WCSX and WJR today as the sports talk radio stations will conduct their Wings post-mortem analyses today, and it’s highly likely that Wings players will be interviewed (the same could be said for Toronto’s The Fan 590, which I’ll be checking on a daily basis all summer long as Devellano tends to pop up on Roger Lajoie’s late-night show at the oddest of times).
I’ve got my usual Monday afternoon’s worth of mom-errand-ferrying duties, so I’ll be in and out today, but I’ll make sure to post any pertinent interviews in an afternoon or evening post.
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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.