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.

Yzerman Steps Down as Tampa GM

Okay, I wasn’t going to even post about this as it’s only Red Wings news if you immediately jump into rumor-mongering, but if you interpret the tea leaves in just the right way, it’s very big news for Detroit.  So here we go…

Of course, if Yzerman is leaving Tampa then he has to be coming to Detroit, right? And HSJ confirms this for us.

But that wording is… Peculiar. So let’s go back to Joe Smith on that take.

Okay, that’s a little bit more clear.

What we know is that Yzerman is stepping down as GM of the Lightning.  We know he has a house and family in Detroit.  It sounds like he’s coming back to that house.

It sounds like he’s going to spend the remaining year of his contract as an adviser to the Lightning.  Which he can do from Michigan, of course.

In the meantime, Detroit has GM Ken Holland signed for two more seasons.  He could always be fired or moved into another position and just get paid to go away, so that contract doesn’t mean too much.  It is worth noting, though, that Holland refused to step aside and allow Yzerman to take over his role back in 2010, leading to Yzerman leaving for Tampa.

Aside from the rumors that have existed since Yzerman first left the Wings that he would one day return to lead the team again, we have no evidence that

The big question for me is timing.  I can understand Yzerman leaving the Lightning.  I can even understand him leaving the Lightning for the Red Wings.  I can’t understand why the eve of training camp is when he would choose to do it.

Then there’s this…

I was already concerned that this isn’t a professional move and that his return to Detroit is for personal reasons.  Pure conjecture on my part.  But that the GM community is surprised by this might lend credence to the idea.

The press conference announcing the move is at 4:00 PM today, so maybe we’ll know more then.

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.

Joe Louis Arena Memories

It’s the morning of the last day of Red Wings hockey at Joe Louis Arena and I can’t sleep.

Recovering from a concussion, I’m supposed to sleep as much as I can, and I’m definitely not supposed to be on my computer, but I’ve got memories and emotions swirling around in my head.

I never had season tickets at the Joe so I wasn’t there for a lot of the big games.  But there are memories that are big in my mind.

Growing up, before the Red Wings had won any Cups and banner raisings became common, I always said that I wanted to be there when Steve Yzerman‘s jersey number was retired.  It was never a question of whether it would be, for me, and I wanted to be sure that I would be there.

Fifteen years after that declaration, I was able to see that happen live.  The ceremony, hosted with a sort of breathless wonder by Darren Pang, attended by decades of Red Wings dignitaries, is probably my favorite Joe Louis Arena event.


I’ve never seen the Red Wings win the Cup at the Joe.  Not strictly, at least.  In 1998, my parents packed all of us in the family minivan and drove in for Joe Vision for Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals.  A packed arena watched the Red Wings win a game that wasn’t even being played there but celebrated as if it had been.


The things that stick with me most, though, aren’t necessarily the events I was there for, or even good moments.

My cousin, a couple friends of his, and I were at Game Seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.  We parked at the MGM Grand and walked down to the arena.  By the time the game was winding down, they’d all gone back to the casino, certain that it would not end well.

They ended up being right, of course, and as I walked down Third Street by myself after the game, I called my then-father-in-law, who was also a Red Wings fanatic.

“It’ll be okay,” he said as a greeting.

“Do you know where I am?” I asked him.  He didn’t.  “I’m walking down Third Street right now, headed to MGM.  I was there.

The pause as he tried to figure out how to respond to that will always stick with me.


I mentioned in the Puck Daddy roundtable that will be published this morning that I was at Game Two of the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, a triple-overtime win over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  Another of my favorite JLA memories is attached to that game.

My uncle’s business split a suite and for that game, he had invited the whole family in.  For some reason, we were running late.  The game had already started by the time we were on Rosa Parks Blvd. headed to Jefferson Ave.

There was a long line of cars waiting to get into the parking garage and we were missing more and more of the game.  As I agonized over that, my dad handed out tickets and told the four of us kids we could jump out and go ahead if we wanted.

I remember hitting the ground running, sprinting down Jefferson, blowing through the suite ticket entrance and racing up the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator.

I ran into the suite, ignoring my aunt, and stepped out onto the arena proper just as the game’s opening goal was scored.


I’ve had a lot of fun at the Joe.  I’ll miss it.  But nothing will take away these memories.

Red Wings Unveil “Mr. I” Patch

Just hours after I posted my proposal for a Mike Ilitch memorial patch, the Red Wings unveiled what the team will actually wear.

Surprising no one, it’s another “text-in-a-box” patch.

Since the 1998 season and the “Believe” patch, the Red Wings have unveiled six special event patches.  The 75th anniversary design was worn only for a few games.  The “Farewell to the Joe” patch was abandoned.  All of the rest (the BM/RS/SL patch, jersey retirement patches for Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom, and memorial patches for Gordie Howe and Mike Ilitch) have been some form of text inside a box.

I think it’s lazy and not a fitting tribute.

Rosters for Red Wings – Maple Leafs Centennial Classic Alumni Game Announced

The rosters for the Centennial Classic Alumni Game were announced on Tuesday, as tickets for the game went on sale.

The Toronto Maple Leafs alumni team will host the Detroit Red Wings alumni at BMO Field on December 31, a day before the Leafs host the Wings in the Centennial Classic.

The rosters are as follows:

Detroit Red Wings

Name Pos.
Kris Draper F
Dino Ciccarelli F
Martin Lapointe F
Doug Brown F
Sergei Fedorov F
Vyacheslav Kozlov F
Brendan Shanahan F
Tomas Holmstrom F
Mickey Redmond F
Darren McCarty F
Igor Larionov F
Kirk Maltby F
Joe Kocur F
Nicklas Lidstrom D
Larry Murphy D
Chris Chelios D
Jiri Fischer D
Paul Coffey D
Manny Legace G
Kevin Hodson G

Toronto Maple Leafs

Name Pos.
Darryl Sittler F
Doug Gilmour F
Rick Vaive F
Darcy Tucker F
Wendel Clark F
Lanny McDonald F
Gary Roberts F
Dave Andreychuk F
Tiger Williams F
Tie Domi F
Steve Thomas F
Gary Leeman F
Mats Sundin F
Tomas Kaberle D
Dave Ellett D
Bryan McCabe D
Borje Salming D
Dmitri Yushkevich D
Al Iafrate D
Bob McGill D
Curtis Joseph G
Felix Potvin G
Mike Palmateer G

Every player from the Detroit roster played in one of the two Alumni Showdown games at Comerica Park in 2013.  Lapointe, Fischer, Dandenault, and Hodson played in the first game while the rest played in the second game, which mostly featured the bigger names.

Former Red Wings who appeared in that second game but won’t be in Toronto include Steve Yzerman, Chris Osgood, Viacheslav Fetisov, and Mark Howe.  Of those, only Yzerman played at the Stadium Series Alumni Game in Denver last February.

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.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Hurricanes – 10/10

Coming off their 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night in Detroit, the Red Wings are right back at it tonight with their first road game, visiting the Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite being the second game in as many nights, the Red Wings won’t be changing up any of their skaters. The only lineup change from the Toronto game will be Petr Mrazek getting the start in goal while Jimmy Howard backs him up.

Stupid stat of the day: Dylan Larkin became the first teenager in over three decades to score in his NHL debut for Detroit last night. The last time that happened (Steve Yzerman), the Red Wings lost their next game. Additionally, Yzerman scored his first goal against a team wearing blue and the next game was against a team wearing red.

Game time is 7:00 PM on FSD.

Abdelkader, Larkin Lead Red Wings Past Maple Leafs on Opening Night

Justin Abdelkader scored a hat trick and rookie Dylan Larkin added his first career NHL goal as the Detroit Red Wings breezed to a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

The win was the first for new Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill, opening the season with a victory over former head coach Mike Babcock, who left for Toronto in the offseason.

Goalie Jimmy Howard earned the shutout for the Red Wings, stopping all 22 shots he faced.

Abdelkader opened the scoring just 1:15 into the game. On a Detroit power play, Henrik Zetterberg fed Johan Franzen for a shot from the right faceoff circle that careened off the far post. The puck bounced off the back of goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s leg and towards the goal, with Abdelkader jumping in to knock it across the goal line.

At 8:20 of the period, Larkin won a battle for the puck in the right-wing corner and send a pass to Abdekader in the slot for a quick shot past Bernier and a 2-0 lead.

The rookie’s goal came just 20 seconds into the second period. Larkin raced down the left wing past Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and snapped a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle into the top of the near-side corner of the net, over Bernier’s shoulder.

Abdelkader completed the hat trick against James Reimer, who replaced Bernier after Larkin’s goal. At 3:54 of the middle frame, Abdelkader and Larkin raced into the Toronto end after a turnover in the neutral zone. Abdelkader held onto the puck down the right side and snapped a shot from the inside edge of the faceoff circle past Reimer for a 4-0 lead.

Reimer finished the night with 12 saves on 13 shots. Bernier stopped six of the nine shots he faced.

Detroit went 1-for-4 on the power play while Toronto was scoreless on three chances with the extra attacker.

The Red Wings are right back in action on Saturday night, visiting the Carolina Hurricanes.


Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, and Danny DeKeyser all started the season on injured reserve for the Red Wings… Joakim Andersson, Tomas Jurco, and Alexey Marchenko were healthy scratches… Larkin is the first teenager to score in his debut for the Red Wings since Steve Yzerman.

Former Wings Lidstrom, Fedorov Named to Hall of Fame

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced on Monday that two former Red Wings will be included in their Class of 2015.

Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov were elected to the Hall in their first year of eligibility. They join Phil Housley, Chris Pronger, Angela Ruggiero, Peter Karmanos, and Bill Hay in making up the latest class of inductees.

In his twenty-year career, spent entirely with Detroit, Lidstrom won the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman seven times, trailing only Bobby Orr’s eight. He won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and was named the playoff MVP of their 2002 championship run.

Lidstrom played 1564 career games, with his final season of 2011-12 the only one that saw him miss more than six games. He scored 264 goals and added 878 assists for 1142 career points while taking only 514 penalty minutes.

For the final six seasons of his career, Lidstrom captained the Red Wings, taking over that role after the 2006 retirement of Steve Yzerman.

Outside the NHL, Lidstrom represented his native Sweden four times at the Olympics, winning a gold medal in 2006.

Both Lidstrom and Fedorov were drafted by the Red Wings as part of their legendary 1989 class that included Mike Sillinger, Bob Bougner, Dallas Drake, and Vladimir Konstantinov.

Fedorov played 13 seasons with Detroit before moving on to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as an unrestricted free agent. From there he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and then the Washington Capitals. He ended his NHL career in 2009, returning home to Russia to play three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with Metallurg Magnitogorsk before retiring.

In 1248 career NHL games, Fedorov scored 483 career goals and 696 points for 1179 points. He won three Stanley Cups – all with the Red Wings – and won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP in 1993-94. That same year he was awarded the Lester B. Pearson Trophy as the league’s best player, as voted by his fellow players. He was also twice named the league’s best defensive forward.

The pair will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on November 9, 2015.