The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/22/11 at 12:29 AM ET
Updated with comments from a few Wings players: As the sagas of the Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders and other near-insolvent teams have perked up the Canadian media’s ears and inspired thousands of, “They’re going to be the new Winnipeg Jets and/or Quebec Nordiques” stories, it’s been hard for this old Jets fan to not get downright cynical regarding the fact that, since the Canadian dollar stabilized and American teams have found themselves in difficult situations ownership-wise, far too many radio hosts, television personalities and columnists from anywhere with a Sun or Star in its name or .ca suffix have happily jerked around the heartstrings and emotions of fans who were told some fifteen years ago what fans in Phoenix are being told now and what those Nordique fans who travel to Long Island, Miami, Atlanta etc. tell their fan bases—“Your team is in trouble, and you don’t support them well enough, so you don’t deserve a team.”
It’s gut-wrenching, so while I may be less than enthused with Ilya Bryzgalov’s suggestion that Winnipeg is nothing but a frozen wasteland dotted by one single, solitary edifice—a hockey rink—I won’t begrudge Phoenix fans’ their right to support a stand-alone entity with stable ownership seventeen years from now, either.
It would be hypocritical of me to suggest otherwise (and I have other stuff that I can be a hypocrite about instead). Just because a place that I love, have people who I consider to be family living in and nearly moved to to marry somebody is treated like it’s worse than hockey Siberia isn’t worth a knee-jerk reaction of the vulgar kind, especially given that my birth certificate says “Detroit, MI.”
But I’m happy to report that the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen, of all people, offered an assessment of the aftermath of the Phoenix Coyotes’ 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings that represents something we haven’t heard from any media outlet proffering the, “NHL back to Canadian City X or expanding to the Greater Toronto Area City Y” for the sake of stirring up emotion, debate, and advertising revenues.
Friesen feels sympathy for the team, players and fans who represent a city that once poached a Canadian team, and now knows exactly how Winnipeggers felt after a playoff game against the Red Wings in 1996:
t struck me as I watched team captain Shane Doan fighting back his emotions when it was all over. When I heard defenceman Adrian Aucoin talk about the diehard fans, who were dying a little inside at that moment. When I listened to coach Dave Tippett acknowledge the toll the ordeal has taken on his players, all but admitting his team didn’t stand a chance.
Sure, I was a Winnipegger who stands to benefit from the death of the Phoenix Coyotes. But having a front-row seat for the last rites, if that’s what it turns out to be, led me to a sobering conclusion. It’s impossible for me to take any glee from it.
Let me take you into the morgue that served as the Coyotes dressing room, Wednesday night, and see if you feel the same way.
“I’ve never been swept four straight,” Doan began. “Ever. That’s embarrassing.”
Never mind the devastation of a playoff sweep. We wanted to get into the man’s heart and mind, to know how it felt to be faced with this. Again.
“Nobody likes to leave their home, ever,” Doan said, acknowledging the feeling in the pit of his stomach was all too familiar. “Fifteen years ago it was an emotional time for me. But at the same time, I still have a ton of faith that it’ll get done here.”
I hope so, for the sake of fans in Phoenix and for the sake of fans in Winnipeg, too.
Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean faced something similar [to Adrian Aucoin] in his career. He was traded to Winnipeg by the St. Louis Blues soon after turning pro and went from a team that had the best regular-season record to one that had won eight games and was a disaster. MacLean remembers then Blues GM Emile Francis telling him to look on the bright side, at least he would be a regular in the NHL. MacLean found Winnipeg to be a perfect fit. He established his career, his kids grew up there and, ironically, he was part of the coaching staff that moved to Phoenix in 1996. So maybe the lesson is, they need to give Winnipeg a chance and maybe it’ll work out the way it did for MacLean.
“You want the uncertainty to end,” said the Red Wings’ Kris Draper, who played for the Jets and was memorably sold to Detroit for $1 earlier in his career. Draper was in the Red Wings’ lineup for the playoff finale in Winnipeg 15 years ago, and coming from a stable organization such as Detroit, knows what the Coyotes’ players are going through.
“It’s got to be tough on the players who’ve gone through the drama these last couple of years,” Draper said. “You think something’s going to get done, and then it doesn’t. I’m sure those guys go through some very tough moments, not knowing.”
Draper added: “I’m sure a lot of people wanted to sign here, but couldn’t because of the situation. So now it affects their livelihood. So it really does become bigger than just playing hockey. Every hockey player wants security. That’s one of the most important things, knowing where you’re going to be, knowing you’re taking care of your family, knowing that if you sign a three- or four- or five-year deal, that’s where you’re going to be. Kids settle in, make friends, go to school. It’s easier for the wives to develop friendships too. When it’s all up in the air, it’s pretty tough, and I’m sure it’s something, day in and day out, those guys were thinking about.”
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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.