Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

The Hockey News publishes Ken Campbell’s feature article about the Red Wings and the City of Detroit

For as long as I can remember the Hockey News has reluctantly embraced the internet, often offering "teasers" and screenshots from their feature stories, but little more.

As I was perusing the web, waiting for later-night Red Wings-Bruins recaps to pop up, this Hockey News subscriber found a pleasant surprise: the THN's previous issue's anchor story involved the Red Wings' status as something of a beacon of hope in my bankrupt birthplace, and I'm happy to say that THN's chosen to publish Ken Campbell's feature story in full.

He cites Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy at length and as something of an anchor for his story, duly noting that most of the bad things that people say about Detroit are indeed true in some way, shape or form.

Before he gets to the "meat" of his article, Campbell wonders aloud whether the partially-public funding of the Red Wings' follow-on rink is a good idea given we're talking about a city in which so much government mismanagement over the past 40 years has yielded the largest municipal bankrptcy in American history.

Then comes the hockey part:

[T]here is the distinct feeling the Wings are on the rise, which sounds a little strange given their status as perennial Stanley Cup contenders for the better part of two decades. Despite leading the league in man games lost to injury, they advanced to the second round of the playoffs, losing in overtime of Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion after holding a 3-1 series lead. Their American League farm team won the Calder Cup and there’s a promising group of young players ready to complement some of the most talented offensive players on the planet. With the additions of Daniel Alfredsson, a longtime NHL captain, and Stephen Weiss, a potential 25-goal man, the Wings are moving to the friendlier confines of the Eastern Conference and serving notice that reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

“In my opinion, this last year is the first season we got better since ’09,” says coach Mike Babcock. “We were a legitimate hockey club by the end of the season. From Game 22 on, we got better and better and better. This year, we were a much better, deeper team than we’ve been in the past couple of years.”

It was that promise for a championship that prompted Alfredsson to vacate his seat as de facto mayor of Ottawa to come to Detroit, even though both teams finished with the same number of points last season and reached the same juncture of the post-season. But the Wings will be playing in the Eastern Conference, which will make life easier for everyone from their fans to their equipment manager. Two years ago, the last time there was a full season, the team travelled 42,865 miles and was on the road for 64 days, 48 of which were outside the Eastern time zone. With the Wings playing in the East under the league’s new realignment, they will travel 35,324 miles this season and spend 53 days on the road, only 21 of which will be out of their time zone.

Switching conferences could translate into a 10-point jump for the Wings in the short term, largely because they have historically feasted on Eastern teams. Over the five seasons from 2007-08 through 2011-12 (remember, they didn’t play against the East last season), when you back out the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and replace them with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Wings have a 68-28-12 (.685 points percentage) record against East teams. (Having the Blue Jackets move with them might have been their greatest stroke of luck, considering their 17-8-2 record against them over the past five seasons.) And just imagine what Babcock will be able to do with 11 additional practice days that used to be spent travelling when the team was in the West. He’s not sure the players will be so happy about dealing with their cranky coach more often, but the logistical advantages will be enormous.

“It’s a huge deal and I don’t care about the travel hours, I care about the time change,” Babcock says. “When I was in Anaheim, I didn’t even feel the time change when I was going in the other direction. But when you live in the East and you play in the West, for some reason it wears you out more. I don’t know why that is, but that’s my own study. With all the man games we lost this year, I have to believe fatigue played a part in that.”

Campbell continues, discussing the Wings' need for secondary scoring, the fact that its blueline remains a major question mark, and noting that GM Ken Holland is the consummate under-salesman, and there is this--a shockingly positive note from sports economist Andrew Zimbalist regarding the 44% public funding of the Wings' rink project...

“You can look at it as something that might have a slightly positive stimulative effect on the Detroit economy, at least in the short run when constructions are going on,” he says. “If they decided to take all this state money into education, into police, street lights, infrastructure, that would be better for Detroit. But the notion that what they’re trying to do is to create some life in downtown Detroit, I don’t think you can scoff at that. It makes some sense to try it. I don’t think it’s a magic bullet, but I’m not altogether negative about it.”

And Babcock has this to say about the city, if not his team:

“We’re turning the corner like we haven’t since I arrived there,” Babcock says. “Detroit is about ready to take off. It’s opportunity time now in Detroit.”

If it’s opportunity time for Detroit, it’s also opportunity time for the Wings, a franchise that can no longer count on drawing full houses just because the team is one of the best in the NHL. Between 1996 and 2007, the Wings had a string of 452 consecutive sellouts, which is no small achievement considering Joe Louis Arena holds 20,066 fans. But as the Big Three automakers have foundered, everyone has taken a hit, including the affluent suburbanites who make up much of the Wings’ fan core. At one time, the team had a season-ticket base of 17,000 with a lengthy waiting list. That fell to 12,000 three years ago, but is now up to north of 14,000. “Even though the economy has been challenging for everybody in Michigan over the last number of years, they’re fighters,” Holland says. “It gives people an opportunity to forget about everything for a little while.”

Campbell isn't done there, and I'm someone who's seen it all, heard it all and shoveled the pandering and smarm on to my personal zuig Island's worth of a pile of hazardous bullshit waste, but I really think that reading the rest of Campbell's article is a worthwhile investment, City of Detroit-from-an-outsider's-perspective stuff included.

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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.