On Jersey Number Retirements

The Red Wings announced yesterday that they will retire the #4 of Leonard “Red” Kelly prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 1, 2019.

Kelly won four Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Red Wings in the early 1950s, was the team’s captain later in the decade, and then was traded to the Maple Leafs during the 1959-60 season (as punishment for disclosing that he had played on a broken ankle, something Detroit general manager Jack Adams was keeping secret).  He switched to playing center with Toronto and won four more Stanley Cups.

After retiring in 1967, Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.  The Maple Leafs honored his number on October 4, 2006, and fully retired it on October 15, 2016, in a celebration of the team’s 100th anniversary.


Retiring Red Kelly’s number makes sense but I still can’t shake a cynical feeling about it.

It’s an honor that should have happened in the early 1990s.  The Red Wings retired Ted Lindsay‘s #7 and Alex Delvecchio‘s #10 in 1991, Terry Sawchuk’s #1 in 1994, and Sid Abel’s #12 in 1995.  Kelly would have fit perfectly into that group as the core of the team’s early 1950s Stanley Cup Championships.  That his number wasn’t raised to the rafters then seemed to show that it wouldn’t be.

Since then we’ve seen Steve Yzerman‘s #19 and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5 raised, with much pomp and circumstance leading up to the events.  The dates were announced before the start of the season and ticket packages were sold around them.

So to see Kelly’s number retired now, with the announcement tucked into a pregame press availability, gives me a bad vibe.  It feels to me like a ploy to get people to come down to a game between a bad team and a very good team.

That said, as I Tweeted last night, the timing makes more sense than the Wings usually give to jersey retirements.  Toronto is the perfect opponent to raise Kelly’s number against, while history shows the team preferring to do so against a lesser draw on a weeknight to boost their ticket sales.  So if there’s a reason to give the team the benefit of the doubt, it’s that.

Whatever the reason, a deserving number is going to the rafters, righting the wrong of it not having been up there already.


But if I’m talking about wrongs, I have to mention Larry Aurie.  The franchise’s first star player, Aurie led the Red Wings in their early days, including when the team was known as the Cougars and the Falcons.

Jack Adams thought enough of Aurie that his #6 was retired in 1939, when Aurie hung up his skates.  It was later brought back into circulation so that Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, could wear it, then put back into retirement.

Gordie Howe‘s #9 later joined Aurie’s #6 as unavailable, but in old arenas like The Olympia, teams rarely raised numbers to the rafters.

That changed with the team’s move to Joe Louis Arena and Mike and Marian Ilitch buying the team from the Norris family.  Howe’s #9 was the first number given a banner.  Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel would follow.  Aurie did not.

At some point, the team’s story became that the core of the 1950s Cup Championship teams were all Hall of Famers and that only those in the HHOF would get banners.  Aurie never made it to the Hall, so his number would be retired but not honored.

Then the 2000-01 NHL Guide and Record Book came out, with Aurie’s #6 no longer listed among the team’s retired numbers.  Suddenly it was not only not honored but not even retired at all.

Despite this seeming lost of status, #6 was not assigned between 2000 and 2010, when Mike Modano signed with Detroit.  Modano – unable to get his usual #9 due to it’s retirement for Howe – asked about #6.

“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.

“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”

If the all-time leading American scorer can’t have the number, that sure sounds to me like it’s retired.

They may not have raised banners to celebrate that in the 1930s, but we do now, and it’s time for Aurie’s number to have that honor.


And then there’s Sergei Fedorov.

There was buzz over the summer that Fedorov’s #91 might be retired this season, something that didn’t come to happen.  Chris Ilitch commented on that when Kelly’s number retirement was announced.

“Obviously Sergei was an outstanding Red Wing. He was a big part of bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ilitch answered. “The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject, it deserves a lot of conversation, a lot of thought. We’re continuously evaluating that with our organization. Related to 91 and 40 (Henrik Zetterberg), let’s see what the future holds.”

It wasn’t what Ilitch said, though, that really explained where Fedorov stands with the organization.  That was Jim Devellano.

“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”

What this makes clear is that this is an organization that holds grudges.

You buy a team, you get to run it how you want, and that means you don’t have to honor any players you don’t want to.  We’ve seen that with Aurie (for whatever reason) and we’ll see that with Fedorov.  We’ll probably see it with Pavel Datsyuk.

The Alternate Wings All-Stars

I was talking expansion draft with Michael Petrella, of the now-defunct Production Line blog, yesterday and we got on the topic of draft picks that the Red Wings have traded away.

Many of those picks were used to select players that were never heard from again but some were used to grab some guys who the Wings probably wish they could have gotten.

I went back through the last twenty years of traded Red Wings draft picks – players who could have landed in Detroit – and I give you the Alternate Wings All-Stars.

Forwards

Patrick Sharp
With 277 goals and 322 assists in 869 career NHL games, Sharp is easily the most productive player selected with a traded Detroit draft pick in the last twenty years.  Sharp was picked in the third round, 95th overall, by the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Wings traded that pick to Nashville on June 24, 2000, for a 4th-round pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, which they used to select Stefan Liv at 102nd overall.  The Predators later flipped the pick to Philadelphia for defenseman Mark Eaton.

Alexei Ponikarovsky
Ponikarovsky was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round of the 1998 Entry Draft, 87th overall, with the pick the Leafs acquired from Detroit on March 24, 1998, in return for Jamie Macoun.  Macoun would with a Cup with Detroit that spring and play one more season with them before retiring.  Ponikarovski would go on to score 139 goals and 184 assists in a 12-year NHL career spent mostly with Toronto.

Mike Comrie
Coming out of the University of Michigan, Comrie was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the third round, 91st overall, of the 1999 Entry Draft.  The Oilers got that pick from the Nashville Predators in return for defenseman Craig Millar.  Nashville got it on July 14, 1998, as part of the package that returned Doug Brown to the Red Wings after the Predators claimed him in the expansion draft.  In a 589-game NHL career split across six teams, Comrie would score 168 goals and add 197 assists.

Defensemen

Mike Green
Now a Red Wing via free agency, Detroit gave up the chance to pick Green when they sent their first-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft (29th overall) to the Washington Capitals in the deal for Robert Lang.  Green went on to score 113 goals and 247 assists in ten years with the Capitals, driving their power play.  He’s added 21 goals and 50 assists in two seasons since coming to Detroit.

Steve McCarthy
Never a flashy player, McCarthy nonetheless appeared in 302 career NHL games over a nine-season career split between the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, and Atlanta Thrashers.  McCarthy came into the league via Detroit’s first-round pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, 23rd overall.  That pick was acquired by the Blackhawks along with a first-rounder in 2001 and Anders Eriksson for Chris Chelios on March 23, 1999.  Chelios would play 578 games with the Red Wings over ten seasons.

Honorable Mention – Jakub Chychrun
Chychrun, a top prospect heading into the 2016 Entry Draft, slid down to Detroit’s spot at 16th overall before the Red Wings traded that pick and Pavel Datsyuk‘s salary cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes for the 20th and 53rd overall picks.  If he lives up to expectations, he could easily replace McCarthy on this list.

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Newly-annointed starter for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vasilevskiy has appeared in 90 NHL games, compiling a 2.60 GAA and a .915 save percentage.  The Lighting acquired him with the first-round draft pick in the 2012 Entry Draft (19th overall) that they got from Detroit in return for Kyle Quincey.

Saying Goodbye to the Joe

I don’t know if last night is what I expected from the last game at Joe Louis Arena.  I don’t know what I should have expected, either.

It was always going to be hard.  You want to hold on to every last thing.  You want to hold on to every last thing.

I was taking photos of every third-period faceoff, in case it was the arena’s last faceoff.  Some people I was with made sure to buy beer at the last “last call” at the Joe.  There was the last “Livin’ on a Prayer” and the last “Don’t Stop Believing” and the last goal (Riley Sheahan, because of course) and the last penalty and the last zamboni ride and there were probably lasts that I didn’t even register.  I touched on that a bit on my way out last night.

It’s the lasts that will stick with me.

The atmosphere was fun.  I’ve seen people compare it to a playoff game and I can see why, ’cause the crowd was lively, but it really wasn’t a playoff atmosphere at all.  There was no anxiety.  We knew the game didn’t matter.

I think the post-game ceremony was oddly appropriate.

It was awkward.  There was a 45-minute gap between the game and the ceremony, leaving the crowd wondering what was going on.  Microphones didn’t work.  The whole thing took place on seemingly-dingy red carpets.

The alumni present were an eclectic mix.  Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan and Pavel Datsyuk were absent; the Grind Line and Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom were there; and then there were Andreas Lilja and Fredrik Olausson and Boyd Devereaux.

Then everyone raised their sticks to the air and there were fireworks and it just kind of ended.  If fireworks can ever be anti-climatic, that was it.

As I said, oddly appropriate.

Then it was time to leave for the last time.  The last of the lasts.  And that was the hardest.

Circling the concourse, we took one last look in from several sections.  Stared up at the banners.  Thought about where we were sitting for different games we’d been to.

Then it was time to go.

An Alternate Red Wings Roster

After publishing my post explaining why I’m not excited about the start of this season, I went outside and mowed my lawn, which gave me more time to think.  A dangerous thing.

I started mentally re-working the Red Wings’ roster, imagining a lineup featuring none of Detroit’s summer free agent signings or re-signings.  This is what I came up with:

Justin AbdelkaderDylan LarkinRiley Sheahan
Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergAnthony Mantha
Gustav NyquistAndreas AthanasiouTeemu Pulkkinen
Tomas NosekLuke GlendeningTyler Bertuzzi
Martin Frk

Those lines are based on the ones the team practiced with today, so they can be shuffled however you want.  The important thing is the 13 forwards.

Yeah, not having Frans Nielsen and needing to move Zetterberg back to center hurts, but look at the opportunity on that lineup.  That’s Mantha, Athanasiou, and Pulkkinen getting top-nine (none of this top-six, bottom-six nonsense) minutes.  That’s Glendening still centering a line of grinders, just as he is now.

Is it as likely to make the playoffs?  Well, I don’t think the current roster is going to make it, so zero percent chance is equal to zero percent chance.  That said, no, I can’t say I think this roster has as good of a chance.  I’m okay with that.

This roster also includes an effort to fix the Red Wings’ defense.  While the same blueliners make the team as did in reality (which is why I didn’t specifically note them), there is an additional defensive prospect in the system.

This roster has a low enough salary to absorb Pavel Datsyuk‘s cap hit, which means he’s never traded and the Red Wings draft Jakob Chychrun.

Chychrun made Arizona’s opening night roster but I have no expectation that he’d do the same in Detroit, given the Wings’ logjam.  That said, two years down the road you can expect there’d be room for him, the kind of player Detroit has been unable to sign as a free agent or trade for.

I know that I’m looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.  At the time Datsyuk’s contract was traded, no one could have known whether or not Steven Stamkos would hit the open market and the Red Wings felt that they had to be prepared for that.

That said, it’s hard not to look at what might have been and wonder.

On Hope and Excitement, and Lack Thereof

I’m not excited for the start of the Red Wings season.

I’m not saying that I won’t watch the opener tomorrow or I won’t be at the Joe for the home opener on Monday.  I just wouldn’t feel an absence in my life if those games weren’t happening.

I’m also not saying that I don’t care what happens with the team.  Quite the opposite.

At the end of last season, even with the Wings bowing out so early in the playoffs, there was hope.  General Manager Ken Holland spoke about giving opportunity to the team’s prospects, about revamping the defense, about ways to make the team better.

In June Pavel Datsyuk left but Holland managed to unload his contract.  It came at a high cost but was necessary given what the team was trying to do.  There was still hope.  I still had hope

As free agency approached, the Red Wings had money to spend and roster spots to fill, as well as prospects like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek ready to challenge for a role.

Then the Wings brought back Drew Miller, the penalty-killing specialist who missed most of the season with a pair of injuries.

Then the Wings brought back bottom-six forward Darren Helm on a five year deal.

On July 1st, the Red Wings signed Frans Nielsen to replace Datsyuk and Thomas Vanek to replace the soon-to-retire Brad Richards and Steve Ott…  For some reason.

Suddenly those open roster spots were filled and the hole in the team’s defense hadn’t been addressed.  Holland reassured us that the glut of forwards gave him pieces to use in trade for a defender.

Training camp approached and there was no trade.  News broke that Jacob Trouba, Michigan-native and right-shooting defenseman, exactly what the Wings were coveting, was demanding a trade.  But those pieces that Holland had assembled wouldn’t be enough.  So there was no fix for the blueline and there was no battle for forward spots.  Athanasiou beat out Teemu Pulkkinen – waived off to Minnesota – but it was for the 13th forward spot, relegated to the press box.

This season’s roster is last season’s roster.  From opening night to the end of the season to today, Johan Franzen became Pavel Datsyuk who is now Frans Nielsen.  Brad Richards became Thomas Vanek.  Landon Ferraro was replaced by Darren Helm – re-signed due to a need for speed.  Drew Miller became Joakim Andersson who became Drew Miller again.  Teemu Pulkkinen became Andreas Athanasiou who became Steve Ott – despite that supposed need for speed.  Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey became Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

The team that backed into the playoffs and only made it there because they got help from the Ottawa Senators on the last day of the season is much the same as the team that begins this season.

I expect this team to miss the playoffs.  I expected that this would be a losing season last May.  But in May, I had hope that this losing season would feature learning experiences for the next generation of Red Wings.  Instead, they’re going to lose with the same guys that lost last year.

So I’ll watch and I’ll root for the Wings, but I’m not getting my hopes up.  I’m not getting excited.

Red Wings Name Abdelkader Alternate Captain

Justin Abdelkader will make his first appearance of the preseason in Chicago tonight and the Red Wings didn’t wait any longer than they had to before naming him as the team’s new alternate captain.

Yeah, they used the word “assistant.”  Whatever.

Abdelkader takes on the ‘A’ left behind by Pavel Datsyuk‘s trade to the Arizona Coyotes and subsequent departure for his native Russia.

It’s the first time the Red Wings have named a new alternate since Niklas Kronwall replaced Kris Draper in the three-man rotation for the 2011-12 season.  When Henrik Zetterberg ascended to the captaincy in 2014, the team simply went back to two alternates instead of replacing him.

The Red Wings did not assign an extra ‘A’ in cases of injury throughout the 2015-16 season.  The only players on the active roster to have previously worn a letter for Detroit in a regular season game were Jonathan Ericsson (three games) and Darren Helm (one game) during the 2014-15 campaign.

I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone.  The buzz surrounding the ‘A’ had been focused on Abdelkader all summer and he’s really the most logical choice, after accepting Dylan Larkin wasn’t going to get it.


Update, 11:30 AM: The Red Wings deleted their original announcement tweet and replaced it with one using the word “alternate” instead.  Small victory.

Revisiting the Myth of “Playing the Kids”

It was a summer that saw the Red Wings swing and miss on a free agent signing that would have filled a massive hole in their roster.  The team’s blueline corps was looking ineffective.  Fans were clamoring to see more of the exciting forward prospects in the system but there was no room for them on the roster.

It was 2012.

I wrote then about how the team needed defense but instead had a glut of forwards.  Unlike then, now there’s actually talk of swapping some of the forward depth for defensive help.  Maybe they can actually do that, but no trade they do for a defenseman is going to clear up the logjam they have at forward.

On April 21, as the Red Wings closed out their season in Tampa with a loss to the Lightning, they had 14 forwards on the roster.  Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen were healthy scratches.  Andreas Athanasiou was in the lineup.  So were the since-departed Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, and Joakim Andersson.

Red Wings’ brass implied that there would be a battle for roster spots up front in the aftermath of another early playoff exit.  With two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner gone, there would seemingly be plenty of opportunity.

Then, when free agency opened on July 1, the Red Wings signed two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner.

Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin, and Frans Nielsen are locked in as four of the top six forwards.  One of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar might be traded but probably not both, so there’s five.  Darren Helm or Tomas Vanek likely makes the sixth, with the other dropping to the third line with Riley Sheahan.  Your fourth line is the returning Drew Miller, the extended Luke Glendening, and the recently-signed Steve Ott.

That’s one roster spot on the third line open.  Athanasiou.  Pulkkinen.  Jurco.  Anthony Mantha.  Tyler Bertuzzi.  Tomas Nosek.  Martin Frk and Mitch Callahan have to clear waivers.  Hell, throw Eric Tangradi and Louis-Marc Aubry in the mix.  That’s ten players (okay, realistically five to seven) fighting for one roster spot.  That’s not even mentioning Dylan Sadowy or Evgeny Svechnikov.  That is not opportunity.

Opportunity would have been letting Helm walk.  Letting Miller go.  Not signing Ott.  Not extending Glendening.

Vanek takes the second line spot.  The third line is Sheahan with Mantha and Pulkkinen or Jurco.  The fourth line is Athanasiou with Bertuzzi and whichever of Pulkkinen or Jurco that’s not on the third line.  Some combination of Glendening (who, without that extension, isn’t as cemented into the lineup), Nosek, Frk, and Tangradi provide your depth/healthy scratches.


Let’s go back to the trade for a defenseman plan.  This is not going to be a fantasy hockey quantity-for-quality deal.  No one is going to take Jurco and Pulkkinen and Frk for a top-pairing blueliner.  This theoretical deal starts with Nyquist or Tatar.  Maybe another prospect forward gets included but more likely Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen.

That deal would help solve the Wings’ defensive problems but it does not suddenly clear up the logjam at forward as well.

On the Red Wings’ Next Alternate Captain

With Pavel Datsyuk having departed, the Red Wings are left with an open spot among their contingent of captains.  I brought this up on Twitter a month ago and WiiM did a post on it a couple weeks ago.  I went back through the team’s recent history to see if anything can be gleaned from it to show us who might be picked.

The 2015-16 season was unique for the Red Wings in that captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternates Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall were the only players to wear letters for the team all year.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity – both Datsyuk and Kronwall missed significant time due to injury – it means that there were 34 games where Detroit didn’t even bother sewing an “A” on anyone else’s sweater.

Captains are the only players who can speak to on-ice officials but the Red Wings’ going with fewer than the allowed number of captains shows how unimportant that rule.  Of note: Teams may have no more than three lettered players on the roster but there is nothing saying that they have to have that number.

We have to go back to the 2015 season to find replacement captains used by the Red Wings.  Despite ten games with only two captains dressed, seven players still managed to wear a letter throughout the year.  The injured Johan Franzen wore it for ten games, Jonathan Ericsson and Daniel Cleary each wore it for three, and Darren Helm wore it for one.

If he were healthy, I think Franzen would get the A, but he’ll never play again.  Cleary may very well return to the organization and get a letter in Grand Rapids, but I think he can be ruled out in Detroit.  That leaves Ericsson and the recently-re-signed Helm.

Going back one more season to 2014 adds no new names to the list, as the now-retired Daniel Alfredsson was the most-frequent extra alternate, wearing an A for 36 games to Franzen’s 31 and Cleary’s 8.  Five games were spent with only two captains.

The lockout-shortened 2013 – Zetterberg’s first as captain – featured three games with only two captains but no replacement alternates.  It was also the first season since the 2007-08 campaign, when Datsyuk was given an A along with Zetterberg and Kris Draper, that the team had only three captains.

Even with four captains on the books in 2012, Tomas Holmstrom wore the A for eight games.  The team dressed three captains for every game.

Going back further, we see the names of long-departed defensemen Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios…  Clearly players who won’t be options now.

In the last seven years there have been ten players to wear the C or A with the Red Wings.  Two of them – Zetterberg and Kronwall – still do.  Only two of the remaining eight are still with the team: Ericsson and Helm.

At three games to one, Ericsson has more experience wearing the letter than Helm.  Maybe that gives him an edge.

So can anything be pulled from these numbers?  I think the only thing they show is that it’s time for someone new.  The old standbys are gone.

While newcomers Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott have all worn letters elsewhere in their career – Nielsen had an A with the Islanders last season while Vanek and Ott co-captained the Sabres back in the 2013-14 season – the Red Wings haven’t given the alternate captaincy directly to a newcomer since trading for Brendan Shanahan in 1996.

By my count, the Wings haven’t had two defenseman with letters since before the Steve Yzerman era, which would seemingly rule out Ericsson or any of the other blueliners, so long as Kronwall wears the A.

Jeff Blashill is not Jacques Demers.  I don’t think Dylan Larkin gets the available letter by virtue of being the team’s best player.

I think – almost from lack of better options – that we’ll see Justin Abdelkader get the A.

Of course, that could change if the mythical “trade for a top defenseman” ever emerges.  We’ll see.

Postgame: Red Wings @ Lightning – Game 5 – 4/21

Knowing that Pavel Datsyuk‘s time with the Detroit Red Wings is probably over, it’s kind of hard to look at the team’s 1-0 loss in the context of anything but that.

That said…

To me, the most telling thing about this game was the first period. In a must-win game, with an early five-on-three, the Red Wings didn’t even look threatening with a two-man advantage. They got better throughout the game, but that was just a brutal start, a wasted opportunity, and it set the tone for the rest of the night. It could just have easily been the Red Wings getting a lucky bounce to break the tie late as it was the Lightning, but there wasn’t the same feeling of expectation. The Lightning took advantage of their opportunities. The Red Wings didn’t.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Lightning – Game 5 – 4/21

Is this the end?

The Red Wings visit the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight for Game Five of their Atlantic Division Semifinal matchup, one loss from elimination. After consecutive virtual-must-win games, Detroit now faces an actual must-win to keep their season alive.

With a loss, the Red Wings’ season comes to a close with just a single playoff victory to their credit for the second time in three years.

With a loss, Pavel Datsyuk‘s NHL career could end.

The Wings are in a bad position. They’ve never won a Game Five on the road after going loss-loss-win-loss in the first four games. They haven’t looked good in three of the previous four games. They haven’t won in this arena all season.

Win and force a Game Six at home. Maybe all that does is give Datsyuk a proper send-off. Maybe it’s the start of something more. A win opens up possibilities. A loss is the end.

Game time is 7:00 PM on FSD/NBCSN/CBC.