The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/04/12 at 04:24 AM ET
I didn’t need Jeff Riger or any of you to remind Red Wings fans that Sergei Fedorov remains an incredibly controversial player. On my second-to-last night in Grand Marais, I mentioned his inclusion in the Winter Classic Alumni Showdown, and one uncle talked about Fedorov as instrumental to the three Cups that the Wings won with a player “who could dominate like Bobby Orr,” while the other replied that Fedorov was an *#$%@& who deserved every boo he’d ever gotten.
I understand both sides of the arguments here, for a couple of reasons.
Fedorov was really my first “favorite” Wings player, and to some extent, my 7th grade best pal Joe Kim insisting that I had to watch this Russian guy named Fedorov play hockey really changed my life. For at least the first couple of years as a Wings fan, Fedorov was far and away my most favoritest Wing, and I thought he could do no wrong.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the summer of 2003, when I was doing what I do now as a job for free on message boards, knowing Fedorov as a very flawed athlete who didn’t always put hockey first after he’d become something of a hockey-playing rock star, I followed the dramatics surrounding Fedorov’s “defection” to Anaheim in print, on TV, online and especially in Russian, really in the first days that free online translators—and Promt was my go-to translator at the time—made any sort of intelligible sense of foreign-language press.
During that summer, Fedorov’s now-famous agent, Pat Brisson (see: Sidney Crosby), made his client’s contradictory demands very clear at times and obtuse at others, and while Fedorov crashed his Ferrari, the Wings admitted that they’d covered up multiple DUI’s for a player who ultimately left Detroit insisting that none other than Mike Ilitch and Jimmy Devellano pulled a contract he’d wanted to sign off the table, and the Wings suggested that Fedorov violated what was a little more than a verbal agreement and a little less than, “Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m retiring as a Wing”...
Sergei’s father, Viktor, was spouting off at a prodigious rate in the Russian press, with Igor Larin offering Viktor what the elder Fedorov assumed was a Russian-speaking audience to vent his various frustrations about his son’s ice time, role, supposedly misunderstood status as a Russian superstar who was treated as second rate by Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman and the Wings’ organization, etc. etc…I mean, if you want to know where the lore regarding the “enigmatic Russian superstar” or the “Russian problem” came from, a significant minority of that lore was spun into virtual ink from Viktor’s mouth to Larin’s ears, and out on the internet it went.
What Viktor and sometimes Sergei had to say were baffling, confusing, contradictory, sometimes incredibly petty and mostly remarkably vicious statements, and if you think the blood was bad between Fedorov and the Wings in the English-language media, man, you have no idea how nasty things got in Russian. You would have thought that Fedorov and the Wings were getting a Hollywood divorce, negotiated in the media and involving the splitting of assets more entangled than a hundred-year-old oak tree’s roots, or the custody of multiple children from various marriages and extramarital affairs.
If you’re looking for a frame of reference, what played out—and as you might imagine, foreign-language commentary got back to the Wings’ front office—may very well have exceeded the acrimony surrounding Bob Probert’s departure for the Blackhawks after Jimmy Devellano essentially kicked Probert off the team after a wrecked Harley served as the deciding factor in ending a tattered and torn relationship.
It took until Steve Yzerman’s jersey retirement ceremony for the Wings to mend fences and welcome Probert back into the fold, and I can imagine that Ken Holland will have a good ten miles of barbed wire fence to cut down before Jimmy Devellano and Fedorov can occupy the same room.
Long story short, those of you who wonder went wrong only know a portion of the story, and those of you who hold grudges…
Well, while I don’t advocate booing Fedorov, as someone who went through the process reading what was a side trip into a sideshow of dysfunction, I can understand where you’re coming from.
The Wings didn’t trade for Fedorov’s rights back in 2009 because the organization was still pissed off enough and still questioning his work ethic enough that the team took a pass on a player at the end of his tenure with the Washington Capitals, and I think that what Holland had to say to the Free Press’s George Sipple about any potential booing is just the first step of what’s going to be a long, complicated and difficult reconciliation:
“I think Sergei has been one of the great Red Wings in the last 20 or 30 years,” Holland said. “Maybe in the history of the Red Wings. He was a tremendous player, a tremendous talent. My feeling is this alumni game is to honor the history, and Sergei has been a big part of our history.”
Fedorov helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
“He was in town in late June, and I had lunch with him, and the minute I made the offer he was very receptive,” Holland said.
That’s another thing…Fedorov still spends parts of his summers in Metro Detroit unnoticed…
Fedorov is a general manager for Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League in Eurasia.
“I don’t know if we win those Stanley Cups in 1997, ‘98 and ‘02 if he’s not on the team. He was that important,” Holland said. “Sergei had charisma. He had flair. There was intrigue about him for a whole lot of reasons. One of the best two-way forwards in the game for a long, long time. I’m thrilled he’s accepted the invitation to come put on the jersey, and I certainly hope the fans give him a warm reception.”
I would like to believe that we’ll witness an “Eric Lindros Moment” (see: last year’s Winter Classic alumni game, in which Eric Lindros and the Flyers managed to reconcile, at least to some extent) on New Year’s Eve, but I think Wings fans will need from now until then to get used to the concept that Fedorov is no longer an enemy, a turncoat or a, well, an *#$%@&.
In alumni news of a very different kind, the Red Wings are promoting the first round of “Operation Bobblehead: Alumni Edition” voting, which ends on Sunday, with the following leaders on top of the first of five potential opportunities for bobblehead immortality (hey, work with me here)...
And then there’s this:
I guess we can stick with a multimedia theme for this one, from Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy, as the Grand Rapids Griffins decided to stick a GoPro camera on a t-shirt fired out of a cannon last season:
In news that’s much more weighty, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider spoke to The Fan 590’s Bob McCown about the PA’s request for over 100,000 pages of independently-audited financial information about each and every NHL team’s books given the massive cuts the NHL is proposing…
Which makes me shake my head at the Sporting News’s Jesse Spector’s suggestion that any blame for a lockout now rests upon the shoulders of both parties given that the PA asked for and/or received the documents so late in the process (during the last lockout, it took the owners until February to crack their books open, so this is not “late” by NHL standards), though his last paragraph should be read very carefully as sometimes we need to be reminded that there are more than players and owners’ livelihoods at stake here:
It should not take 76,000 pages of financial documents, or whatever the final total winds up being, for the NHLPA to be able to say to the NHL, “Your first offer was ludicrous and obviously a wish list. We’d like the opposite of everything you asked for, and a Lamborghini for every player in the league.” At least then the league could come back with an offer of a tricycle for every player, and there would finally be some real negotiations.
The problem is that having real negotiations does not benefit the NHLPA, because Fehr has repeatedly made the point that the union would be perfectly happy to continue operating under the current CBA after it expires on Sep. 15. It’s a public relations masterstroke by the union, shifting all responsibility in fans’ eyes to the league in the event of a work stoppage. Fehr has made it clear that it would be the owners locking the players out, not the players going on strike, at a time when the NHL has boasted record revenues, and small-market teams have given out eye-popping contracts.
The problem is, if there is a work stoppage, both sides will be easy to blame—the owners for making demands out of line with any other professional sports league and for enacting the lockout, and the players for taking so long to engage in negotiations beyond “a frank exchange of ideas,” one of the recurring Sixth Avenue catchphrases this summer.
It’s time for both sides to get serious, rather than pushing papers around, because if there is a lockout, the players won’t be the only ones out of work. The ushers, beer vendors, camera operators, Zamboni drivers, and everyone else whose livelihood depends on NHL games being played, do not have six, seven and eight-figure annual salaries to fall back on. For them to work this fall, the NHL and NHLPA need to get to work now.
To quote Ryan Miller and Ted Lindsay, however, via Paul and the AP’s Lynn DeBruin...
“The last thing (we) need to do is have some kind of a work stoppage, because we’ve made great strides with the positive spin hockey’s had,” Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller said. “I think the years coming out of the (2004-05) lockout, we got a lot of the fan base back, a lot of positive energy. Mix that with the Olympics here in North America, a couple of good playoffs, and we have a fan base that’s loyal and, honestly, the best sports fans out of any sport. We can’t alienate them. This is up to the NHL and the NHLPA to just get it right.”
Yet with talks about to enter their seventh week, and with only six weeks remaining before the CBA is set to expire, concern is mounting about a shortened season. Fehr has said the players are willing to work past Sept. 15 if an agreement hasn’t been signed, as long as one is on the horizon. If it isn’t — could a year like 1995 be more likely? That’s when the NHL played just a 48-game schedule.
The key issue in all this? No surprise, it’s money. The players now receive a 57% share of hockey-related revenues, yet the owners’ initial offer would drop it to 46. Former Red Wings great Ted Lindsay said it’s “understandable” the league is asking for rollbacks. After all, the players signed a quality deal with a quality percentage back in 2005. Now — some think — it’s the owners turn.
“Certainly they have a right to ask for anything they want, but if the players had any brains, they wouldn’t accept it,” Lindsay said. “But you have to start somewhere.”
Lindsay found it contradictory for the owners to cry “poor-mouth” at a time when record deals are being signed in a league with record revenue in excess of $3.1 billion. Defenseman Shea Weber, for instance, got a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators eventually matched it. Lindsay said the owners are off base.
“They have to sell this game,” he said. “Not destroy it.”
The fact that Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold has been present for so many of the negotiations must strike the players as ever-so-slightly hypocritical given that he’s both shelled out $196 million to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter while effectively asking for 24% of that money back.
I don’t have many CBA answers right now—I think that what happens when Donald Fehr comes back from Europe and the PA’s had the chance to even begin to crunch the audits’ numbers will tell the tale—but I’ve been receiving a question regarding which players are or are not eligible to play in the AHL in the event of a lockout, and it sounds like the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau’s been asked the same thing on a pretty regular basis, too:
Hey Adam, if the NHL were to have a lockout in the upcoming season, what would the procedure be in regards to sending players to the American League? For example, would an NHL team be able to assign a player on a one-way contract to their AHL team for the season?
Mark Mottola, Pittsburgh
Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA, nor the AHL for that matter, knows the full answer to that one, after THN put in calls to all three. Players on two-way contracts would be eligible to play in the American League – that much we know. For NHLers on one-way deals, it’s wait-and-see at this point.
It’s important to note the AHL does have a veteran maximum rule that caps the number of vets (goalies are exempt) teams can dress. Teams must dress 12 skaters with no more than 260 professional regular season games played and a 13th with no more than 320. We do know NHLers would be free to seek temporary employment in Europe as they did in droves during the 2004-05 lockout. But let’s just hope we don’t learn the hard answer to your question come Sept. 15 when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. The league has too much riding on this coming season, including a mammoth Winter Classic and its concomitant HBO 24/7 series. – RS
(Whoever “RS” is [couldn’t figure it out myself], the Hockey News has columnists and staff writers filling in for Proteau this week, and RS makes a good point about the Winter Classic, too)
Also of Red Wings-related note:
• I’m not one for dishing the kinds of trade talk Paul delved into here on Friday afternoon, so all I can say to MLive’s Brendan Savage’s stating that Wings fans hope that the team can trade for an offensive defenseman like Zach Bogosian, Keith Yandle or Jay Bouwmeester is what is probably a party line by now: “That’s swell and all, but the Wings have no leverage in trade discussions right now, and the team can’t afford to dig a new hole in its roster to fill another.”
I’d love to see the Wings do more than add a free agent band-aid sometime this month and then ride things out until the regular season begins, at the earliest, to make a move, but it just makes more sense for the team to dip into the shallow free agent pool to find an offensive rearguard, or, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James suggested, maybe find Niklas Kronwall a stay-at-home partner instead, because the Wings’ inability to land a top-six forward leaves the team in no shape to trade a Filppula or Franzen as well as a top prospect away when other teams won’t be getting into issues with having too many defensemen on one-way contracts or getting into cap trouble until just before the start of the regular season.
• This is just plain old neat, per Sportsline’s Adam Gretz:
On Thursday we passed along the news that the Detroit Red Wings will be having a reunion of their famed Russian Five line (well, four of them anyway) at the Winter Classic alumni celebration in December. The line, of course, was the first time any team used five Russian players on the ice at the same time in an NHL game, and coach Scotty Bowman first rolled them out together on October 27, 1995, during a game in Calgary.
The Red Wings went on to win the game, 3-0, with the line scoring two goals and combining for 15 of the team’s 25 shots that night. The Flames, as an entire team, only had eight shots on goal which is still an all-time low for the franchise.
They were dominating teams right from the start.
One goal came from Slava Kozlov, the other from Igor Larionov. The first goal belonged to Kozlov, the youngest member of the group, and because he’s still actively playing in the KHL the only one not committed to the Winter Classic.
Thanks to the powers of the Internet and YouTube, you can watch that goal again right now…
• And I’m heading home today, so there won’t be any mid-day entry from me. I’ll likely post something tonight, try to lay low tomorrow and Monday and get back to work in earnest on Tuesday or Wednesday.
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About The Malik Report
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.