Thoughts on a Mike Ilitch Jersey Patch

The Red Wings are expected to reveal an on-jersey tribute to owner Mike Ilitch, who died last Friday at age 87, tonight as they host the St. Louis Blues.

I’ve commented before on the Red Wings having a tendency to make their memorial patches “text in a box” and I expect we’ll see something along those lines tonight.  With that in mind, I’ve put together something I’d like to see the Wings do.

First off, if I were the team, I’d scrap the Gordie Howe patch (which I never liked anyway) and make a combined patch for Howe and Ilitch.  I’d put this new patch on the shoulder and restore the “Farewell to the Joe” patch to the opposite shoulder for symmetry.  Since the arena patch is probably gone for good, keeping the memorial patch on the chest is also feasible.

My idea for a Gordie Howe / Mike Ilitch memorial patch.

The patch would feature the signatures of the two men, one over the other, separated by a black band with the Winged Wheel over it.

I thought about using the blue from the “Believe” patch the Red Wings wore in honor of Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakonov and the “BM – RS – SL” patch memorializing Brad McCrimmon, Ruslan Salei, and Stefan Liv, but ultimately went with black because I thought the signatures should be black and didn’t want to introduce an additional color.

I have no idea what the team will actually do and I doubt it will be this.  I suppose we’ll see in the coming hours.

An Alternate NHL (Revisited)

Way back in 2006 I posted an alternate history timeline to the now-defunct DH.N forums.  The idea was a world where the Quebec Nordiques never relocated to Denver and looking at what relocation and expansion might have taken place after that.

I was going to pull that out of the archives and re-post it, but, after giving it another look, I think there was a different direction to take.  This is my re-visit to that idea.


Spring 1995
A possible deal involving COMSAT Entertainment Group purchasing the Quebec Nordiques falls through when a small, eleventh-hour financial bailout is granted to the Nordiques by the government of Quebec. The Nordiques pledge to remain in Quebec for at least three more seasons, continuing to ask for a new arena.

December 3, 1995
Patrick Roy demands a trade from the Montreal Canadiens. The Nordiques inquire but Montreal refuses to trade Roy to a division- and province-rival. Roy eventually goes to the Dallas Stars with Mike Keane for Manny Fernandez, Guy Carbonneau and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Spring 1996
The Stars just miss the playoffs after surging since picking up Roy.

Quebec endures a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Philadelphia to advance to face Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Detroit wins the series in six close games. Goalie Chris Osgood is the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Summer 1996
The Winnipeg Jets are sold to COMSAT Entertainment Group and relocated to Denver, Colorado. They become the Colorado Avalanche.

The Quebec Nordiques look to upgrade their goaltending, trading Stephane Fiset and Andrei Kovalenko to the Chicago Blackhawks for Ed Belfour. Belfour had previously demanded a trade, ripping into his teammates and insulting fan-favorite backup goaltender Jeff Hackett after his team’s second-straight loss to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals.

The Hartford Whalers trade the disgruntled Brendan Shanahan to Detroit for Mike Vernon and Keith Primeau. Vernon was deemed expendable by the Red Wings with the younger Chris Osgood in net.

Spring 1997
The Quebec Nordiques best the Hartford Whalers in an Eastern Conference Finals goaltending duel. Mike Vernon and Ed Belfour combine for five shutouts in the series, won by a Joe Sakic goal in the final moments of Game Seven.

The defending champions lack the motivation they had the previous season and the Dallas Stars take advantage of that in the Western Conference Finals, eliminating Detroit in five games, including three shutouts by Roy. Osgood is unspectacular, leading Red Wings fans to complain about the trade of Vernon and making Shanahan a scapegoat.

After few thought the goalie matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals could be matched, Belfour and Roy create a series for the ages. The Nordiques defeat the Stars in six games, all decided by one goal and four in overtime. Belfour is the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

June 25, 1997
With the Hartford Whalers and the defending champion Quebec Nordiques still looking for new arena deals, the NHL announces that they will put off expansion at this time.  This leaves several markets on the table for those two teams to use as leverage against their current homes.

Quite a bit of backroom dealing is required to pacify the prospective owners who feel like they’ve been led on a wild goose chase.  For some, just being unofficially notified that they were a near-shoo-in is enough.  St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, is so certain that they’ll be awarded a team that they move forward with plans to demolish the St. Paul Civic Center and replace it with a new arena.  On the other hand, lack of a decision essentially kills both public- and private-sector support for an arena in Columbus, Ohio.

August 7, 1997
After losing Mark Messier to the Vancouver Canucks via free agency, the New York Rangers make the bold move of signing Quebec captain Joe Sakic to a offer sheet as a restricted free agent.  The deal includes a $15 million signing bonus, intended to dissuade the cash-strapped Nordiques from exercising their right to match the contract.

It’s a plan that works.  The defending champions have leverage in arranging a new arena but they’ve lost their captain.

Spring 1998
Defending champion Quebec Nordiques are led into the playoffs by new captain Peter Forsberg and a dominant season in goal by Ed Belfour.  The Nordiques’ reward?  A first-round matchup with Joe Sakic and the New York Rangers.  Sakic and Wayne Gretzky prove too much for Quebec to handle as the Rangers advance in a four-game sweep.  Particularly bitter for Quebec fans is Sakic scoring the game-winning goal at Le Colisee late in Game Four.

The Rangers move on to make quick work of the Philadelphia Flyers, then Mike Richter outduels Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals as New York advances to face the Dallas Stars.

Patrick Roy dominates the Western Conference for the Stars, getting through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a 1.78 goals-against average.  The Rangers, particularly Gretzky, are able to get to him in the Stanley Cup Finals, but Richter’s spectacular run ends as well.

Mike Modano scores seven goals in the six-game series, leading the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Championship and claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP.

Late June 1998
A series of announcements shake up the structure of the NHL.

On June 19, just days after the close of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Hartford Whalers announce their intent to relocate to St. Paul, Minnesota.  For two seasons they will call Minneapolis’ Target Center home until the new arena in St. Paul is complete.  Team owner Peter Karmanos had intended to move a year earlier but the Whalers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997 led him to hold off.  In the end, an agreement to keep the team in Connecticut couldn’t be reached, though Hartford fans and officials accused him of negotiating in bad faith.

“Proof” of that bad faith is demonstrated three days later, with the NHL announcing it’s delayed expansion plan.  Though no one formally submitted an expansion application on its behalf, Raleigh, North Carolina, is named as one of the league’s new cities, to be owned by Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson.  Raleigh had attempted to woo Karmanos and the Whalers and many view their expansion franchise as a consolation prize.  Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; and Houston, Texas; are also granted expansion franchises.  Portland and Houston will begin play for the 1999-2000 season while Phoenix and Raleigh will join for 2000-2001.  A new league alignment is not announced, fostering theories that another shoe is yet to drop.

On June 26, rumors begin to swirl that the Quebec Nordiques will join the Whalers in relocating.  No arena plan has been announced for the team and Nashville, Tennessee, had been conspicuously left out of the league’s expansion plans.  The next morning, hours before the start of the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, the rumors are confirmed: The Nordiques will be sold and moved to Nashville.  This leads to an awkward position where the team drafts as Quebec while everyone knows the players will never wear a Nordiques sweater again.

July 20, 1998
The NHL belatedly announces new divisional alignments that feature three five-team divisions in each conference.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs will make up the Northeast Division; the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins will play in the Atlantic Division; the Southeast Division will be made up of the Carolina Hurricanes (entering 2000-2001), Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals.

In the Western Conference, the Midwest Division will be the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Houston Aeros (entering 1999-2000), and St. Louis Blues. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Northmen, Portland Navigators (entering 1999-2000), and Vancouver Canucks will make up the Northwest Division while the Pacific Division will consist of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Arizona Scorpions (entering 2000-2001), Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.

For the first season under the new alignment, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play in the Midwest Division to help even out the conferences until expansion evens out the number of teams.

Spring 1999
The Detroit Red Wings head back to the top of the NHL, with the strong defensive triumvirate of Nicklas Lidstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, and a resurgent Paul Coffey helping make up for the average play of goalie Chris Osgood in a relatively weak Midwest Division.

The defending conference champion Dallas Stars claim the third seed for the playoffs (behind Detroit and the Colorado Avalanche, who won their division for the first time) and sweep the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the first round. Unfortunately, Patrick Roy suffers a hand injury and is unavailable as the Stars fall to the Avalanche in the second round.

Game Six of the New York Rangers’ second-round series with the Buffalo Sabres is the last of Wayne Gretzky‘s legendary career.  The Rangers are shutdown by Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek while Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine and free-agent signee Brett Hull carry their team past the defending conference champions.

In what’s technically a rematch of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, the Red Wings eliminate the Nashville Predators in five games, then the St. Louis Blues in six games.  They go on to defeat Colorado and advance to face the New Jersey Devils, who knocked out the Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As it was in the regular season, Detroit’s defense is the difference in the Finals. Even boosted by the trade deadline acquisition of Chris Chelios, the Devils can’t stop the Red Wings, who win the series in six games with captain Steve Yzerman leading the team in scoring and claiming the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Following his team’s championship, Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom announced his intent to return home to Sweden, ending his NHL career on top.

June 24, 1999
Ted Turner buys the bankrupt Pittsburgh Penguins, beating out an offer by former player Mario Lemieux. The team will play one final season in Pittsburgh before relocating to Atlanta to play alongside Turner’s Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. After some legal trouble, the team is christened the Atlanta Thrashers.  The Thrashers will play in the Southeast Division, swapping places with the Washington Capitals.

June 26, 1999
In a messy and public ordeal, the Red Wings and Paul Coffey part ways as Coffey is traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Detroit gets Toronto’s second and third round draft picks in that day’s NHL Entry Draft, using them to select local forwards Adam Hall and Mike Comrie.  With Lidstrom and Coffey gone, alternate captain and Norris Trophy winner Vladimir Konstantinov is left as the leader of the Red Wings’ blue line.

July 1, 1999
Though he was initially hesitant to enter free agency at all, defenseman Chris Chelios is convinced by US Olympic teammates Pat LaFontaine and Brett Hull to sign with the Buffalo Sabres.

March 6, 2000
The Dallas Stars acquire future Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque from the Boston Bruins for Brendan Morrow and two draft picks.  The longtime Boston captain had requested a trade to a contending team in an effort to end his career with a Stanley Cup Championship.

Spring 2000
The Dallas Stars return to the Stanley Cup Finals, surviving a grueling Western Conference Finals matchup with the Colorado Avalanche.  Dallas’ Patrick Roy and Colorado’s Nikolai Khabibulin deliver a goaltending duel for the ages while the series also showcases a physical matchup between the two teams’ captains: Derian Hatcher of the Stars and Keith Tkachuk of the Avalanche.

While the Western Conference feature an epic goalie showdown in its final series, the Eastern Conference is full of them.  With names such as Curtis Joseph in Toronto, Olaf Kolzig in Washington, Mike Richter with the New York Rangers, Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, and Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, this should have been expected.  Brodeur’s Devils emerge from the East, having shut down the Sabres’ mini-Team USA of Pat LaFontaine, Brett Hull, and Chris Chelios in the conference finals.

For the second consecutive season, the Devils fall short in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Down 3-2 in the series, a double-overtime goal by Jason Arnott forces Game Seven and keeps New Jersey alive, but Roy cements his clutch status with a shutout in the deciding game as Dallas earns a 2-0 win.

As expected, Ray Bourque announces his retirement immediately following the game.  The image of Hatcher handing Bourque the Stanley Cup becomes iconic.

Spring 2001
The Colorado Avalanche knock off the Dallas Stars as Western Conference Champions.  While Dallas’ Patrick Roy generally outplays Colorado’s Nikolai Khabibulin, the depth of the Avalanche is just too much for the Stars to handle.  It’s a team effort from Colorado, with the blue line led by Teppo Numminen and summer free agent signing Gary Roberts easing the load on Keith Tkachuk and Shane Doan up front.

In the Eastern Conference, the Team USA reunion in Buffalo would not be denied.  Pat LaFontaine and Brett Hull combine with Miroslav Satan for a dominant forward unit.  Chris Chelios anchors the Sabres’ blue line.  To say nothing of Dominik Hasek.  The Sabres blow through the first three rounds with hardly a speedbump presented by the defending conference champion Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Stanley Cup Finals games are close but not many of them are needed.  The Avs simply can’t solve Hasek and the Sabres end the series in five games, claiming their first Stanley Cup Championship.

July 19, 2001
After months of rumors, Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux returns from retirement, signing with his hometown Montreal Canadiens.  Two months later, Saku Koivu relinquishes the team captaincy to Lemieux while announcing that he would miss the season recovering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.


Some notes…

As I said when I originally posted this, it’s pretty general and has some faults but I still think it’s interesting.

I had to cut it off in 2001 because it’s just too hard to see what players would be where by then.  It’s easy to assume that each team would mostly have it’s core intact six years after the point of departure but what draft picks would they have made?  I originally had a comment about Jiri Fischer learning from Vladimir Konstantinov but would the Red Wings have even picked Fischer in a 1998 where they have a higher draft pick?  Can I count on Maxim Afinogenov being part of the 2001 Stanley Cup Champion Sabres?

Additionally, by delaying expansion the entire 1998 draft is thrown into flux.  How would things look without a 27th team in 1998 impacting trades and free agency?  How would it look without that year’s expansion draft?  Do we have Vincent Lecavalier of the San Jose Sharks and David Legwand of the Tampa Bay Lightning?

With completely different organizations joining the fold in 1999 and 2000, who can say who they would pick?

We start seeing “butterflies” pretty quickly.  With no Roy-led Avalanche in 1996, there’s no one to stop the Red Wings.  With Osgood leading the Wings, Vernon becomes expendable and Coffey isn’t needed in the Shanahan trade (which, I admit, I mostly included because I still want Shanahan on the Red Wings).  Having won in 1996, the Red Wings have less motivation in 1997, and because they’re not celebrating a Cup that spring there’s no limo accident for Vladimir Konstantinov.

I don’t think you can prevent the Jets or the Whalers or the Nordiques from moving.  The original version of this timeline did but I don’t think the butterflies are that strong.  Karmanos wanted out of Hartford, one winning season on the back of Mike Vernon isn’t going to change that.  Meanwhile, losing Joe Sakic just proves to emphasize that there’s not enough money in Quebec to support the Nordiques.

Would the NHL actually delay expansion?  I think that might be the second-biggest stretch in this.  I imagine a lot of back-room handshake deals.  The delay enables Houston and Portland to improve their positions while Columbus drops out.

The biggest stretch is Raleigh getting an expansion team without bidding, especially with Turner in Atlanta denied.  This is akin to St. Louis getting the Blues in the Great Expansion.  My thought is that with no Raleigh-based bid, the league recruits Bill Davidson to own the team, preempting his efforts to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Would he want to do that without controlling the arena, though?

With butterflies to the schedule, Pat LaFontaine never suffers his concussions, leading him to continue as a dominant force.  The Rangers get Sakic so they don’t trade for him and the Sabres build around him with his Olympic teammates.

Another player who might be profoundly impacted by butterflies in this timeline is Steve Chiasson.  He won’t be playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, so the accident that killed him doesn’t happen.  That said, given his actions prior to that incident, it’s entirely possible some other event comes along.

The rise of the Jets/Avalanche comes on the back of Nikolai Khabibulin, who doesn’t hold out and get traded to Tampa Bay.  In fact, the Lightning are probably in a bad place since Bill Davidson owns the Hurricanes in this scenario.  Or maybe at some point Davidson pulls a Craig Leipold (who’s probably a co-owner of the Minnesota Northmen in this universe) and swaps the Hurricanes for the Lightning since he really wanted that arena.

Other teams in a bad place?  Without local ownership, the Hurricanes will probably have difficulty.  Assuming Atlanta’s ownership takes the same path it did in real life, the Thrashers won’t last long.  I see two of Winnipeg, Quebec, and Pittsburgh getting teams back, eventually.

One thing that could save the Thrashers: Captain Jaromir Jagr.  Theoretically these Thrashers don’t have to sell off their players like the Penguins did, so they should be able to rebound more quickly.  Would a better team in Atlanta have gotten more support?

The Scorpions?  Someone submitting an expansion bid for Phoenix with the Jets having gone to Denver.  Their future is tied to whoever that new owner is.  But they’re “Arizona” from the start because by the time they come into existence, the Arizona Diamondbacks are around and “Arizona” has become the place-name for Phoenix teams.

Is there a lockout in 2004?  I’m sure of it.  Do we get a Las Vegas expansion for 2017?  Probably.

Jaromir Jagr of the Atlanta Thrashers.  Joe Sakic of the New York Rangers.  Keith Tkachuk of the Colorado Avalanche.  Peter Forsberg of the Nashville Predators…  in 1998.  Alternate history is weird.

Anyway, this was fun to revisit.  If you’ve got any thoughts, feel free to post them in the comments.

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.

Seventeen

I have the tendency to wax nostalgic about the site and/or make grand statements when DetroitHockey.Net’s birthday comes up. Nothing makes me feel quite as old as this date, though I’m told my kid’s birthday will do it as well.

Today DH.N is seventeen years old. I’m not going to do my Old Man Rasmussen spiel, though. Because the biggest news out of the Red Wings for the last couple days has been about jersey numbers, I’m going to talk about seventeen for a bit.

The first Detroit #17 I remember was Gerard Gallant. Like probably any kid who became a Wings fan in the 1980s, for me, his is a name tied closely to Steve Yzerman as the pair helped lead the team out of the “Dead Wings” era.

After Gallant went to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the number went unused until Doug Brown picked it up during the (original) lockout-shortened 1995 season. Brown would go on to become an honorary member of Detroit’s Russian Five. He was integral enough to the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup Championship teams that when he was claimed by the Nashville Predators (who talked about naming him their first captain) in the expansion draft, the Wings traded to get him back. Detroit was the only stop in Brown’s career where he wore #17, though it wasn’t the only number he wore in Detroit. During a comeback attempt at training camp in 2002, Brown wore the #71 recently adopted by Daniel Cleary because Brett Hull had claimed #17.

Hull took #17 straight from Brown in 2001, as Brown wasn’t brought back that summer and Hull was brought on. Hull was briefly listed as #16 for the Red Wings, taking the number he’d worn for most of his career. The team’s unofficial retirement of that number for Vladimir Konstantinov held, though, and Hull ended up with #17 instead, another case where Detroit was the only stop where a player wore that number. I disagreed with the Hull signing at the time (what do I know?). Detroit’s Stanley Cup win in 2002 combined with Dallas’ in 1999, while Hull was wearing #22, gives Hull the distinction of winning two Cups while not wearing the jersey number he was famous for. Like Brown, Hull would go on to wear a different number in one training camp, adopting #80 in honor of Herb Brooks in 2003.

Brad Norton would be assigned #17 for his six forgettable games early in the 2006-07 season before trade deadline acquisition Kyle Calder claimed it when his usual #19 was – of course – unavailable. A trend continued, as for both players it was the only time in their careers where they had the number.

Returning to Detroit for the final season of his career that summer, Dallas Drake took on #17 as the #28 he wore in his first go-round with the Red Wings was in use by Brian Rafalski. The #18, #11 and #10 he’d previously worn in his career were also taken, marking yet another time #17 went to a player who had never worn it before and never would again. Drake would close out his career with a Stanley Cup Championship that season.

Number 17 sat dormant for two seasons before being assigned to its current holder, Patrick Eaves, in 2010. Eaves joined the Red Wings after the Boston Bruins (for whom he never played a game) bought out the contract they acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in return for former Red Wing Aaron Ward. During his stints with the Ottawa Senators and the Hurricanes, Eaves had worn #44 but his arrival in Detroit coincided with Todd Bertuzzi‘s return to the team. Bertuzzi took #44, putting Eaves in need of a new number. Due to the Wings’ glut of forwards, Eaves’ future with the team is currently in doubt. If he doesn’t wear the number again he would be the sixth consecutive player to don #17 in Detroit and nowhere else.

On Tal Pinchevsky’s Breakaway

A couple weeks ago, Justin Bourne of The Backhand Shelf posted his recommendation of Tal Pinchevsky’s new book, Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL – The Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes.  Having finished it last weekend, I’m finally getting around to posting my thoughts.

I’ll admit, I was a little underwhelmed, though I think that has to do with having heard parts of the stories before.  Growing up a Red Wings fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it’s easy to have already heard (at least parts of ) the defection stories of Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, or Petr Klima.  The story of how European players were contantly tested and were percieved as too soft for the NHL was the story of the Russian Five era Red Wings.

I would have liked to know more about Konstantinov’s defection, in particular.  How do you go about bribing a doctor to give a cancer diagnosis in a collapsing Soviet Union?  Of course, with Konstantinov unavailable as an interview, that story becomes much harder to tell.

Negatives aside, there were a few things that really stuck with me from each of the stories.

With the early defections – Vaclav Nedomansky, the Stastnys, Klima – it’s amazing just how much the representatives of the North American teams had no idea what they were doing.  It really was a case of just flying over to Europe with a bag of cash and then figuring it all out on the fly.

The flip side of that is just remarkable: These players were willing to leave their homes with no plan, just a goal.  With that in mind, it’s not a surprise how often the hold up for a player was finding a way to get his significant other to North America as well.  You can’t just leave everything behind.

It shouldn’t be a shock (though I say that only after having read the stories) that some defectors aren’t willing to talk about their entire experience.  To them, it was something they had to do, not something they want to share.

Also surprising was just how isolated some of the early defectors were once they made it to North America.  Yeah, we heard a lot about Fedorov when he came over, but the thing to remember was that some of his relative success adapting came from what the Red Wings learned when Klima came over.

We’re talking about people who may not have spoken the language, may not have seen a supermarket, may never have had a checkbook or a credit card.  It’s one thing to adapt on the ice, it’s another thing entirely to change your way of life.

It’s incredible what some of these trailblazers were able to accomplish and what it took for them to do it. The NHL we know today would not exist without their efforts.

Red Wings, Maple Leafs Each Add Four to Alumni Showdown Rosters

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Thursday the addition of four players to each of their rosters for the Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park on December 31.

The Red Wings have added Petr Klima, Dallas Drake, Garry Unger and Paul Ysebaert to their alumni roster.

Klima was one of the Red Wings many eastern European draft selections of the 1980s.  He was selected in the fifth round of the 1983 draft and defected from then-Czechoslovakia in 1985.  He played in 293 career games with the Red Wings before being dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in 1989.  After stints in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh, he ended his NHL career with a return to the Red Wings for 13 games in the 1998-99 season.

Drake also started and ended his career with the Red Wings.  Selected by Detroit in the 1989 draft, he made his NHL debut for the 1992-93 season.  Drake was traded to the Winnpeg Jets the following year and moved with the team to Phoenix.  He played six seasons for the St. Louis Blues before returning to the Red Wings to close out his career with a Stanley Cup in 2008.

Like Drake, Unger also played for both the Blues and the Red Wings.  Acquired from the Maple Leafs during his rookie season of 1967-68, Unger would play parts of four season with Detroit before being dealt to St. Louis.  He played nine seasons with the Blues and closed out his career with campaigns for the Los Angeles and Edmonton.

Ysebaert played parts of three seasons with the Red Wings from 1990 to 1993.  He started his career with New Jersey before being traded to Detroit, then moved on to Winnipeg, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

The four players added by the Maple Leafs were Joe Niewendyk, Borje Salming, Frank Mahovlich and Mats Sundin.

The following players are confirmed to appear at the Alumni Showdown:

Red Wings
Red Berenson
Jimmy Carson
Dino Ciccarelli
Alex Delvecchio
Dallas Drake
Kris Draper
Sergei Fedorov
Petr Klima
Joe Kocur
Martin Lapointe
Igor Larionov
Ted Lindsay
Kirk Maltby
Darren McCarty
John Ogrodnick
Dennis Polonich
Mickey Redmond
Garry Unger
Luc Robitaille
Paul Ysebaert

Chris Chelios
Paul Coffey
Mathieu Dandenault
Jiri Fischer
Viacheslav Fetisov
Mark Howe
Vladimir Konstantinov
Larry Murphy
Aaron Ward

Chris Osgood
Mike Vernon

Maple Leafs
Dave Andreychuk
Wendel Clark
Russ Courtnall
Vincent Damphousse
Bill Derlago
Tie Domi
Ron Ellis
Doug Gilmour
Gary Leeman
Kevin Maguire
Frank Mahovlich
Brad May
Lanny McDonald
Joe Nieuwendyk
Gary Roberts
Darryl Sittler
Mats Sundin
Darcy Tucker
Rick Vaive
Tiger Williams

Dave Ellett
Jim McKenny
Bryan McCabe
Bob McGill
Borje Salming

Johnny Bower
Curtis Joseph
Mike Palmateer
Felix Potvin

Wings, Leafs Announce More Alumni Showdown Additions

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs announced seven more players who will appear in the Alumni Showdown between the two teams in December on Thursday.

The Red Wings added Aaron Ward, Red Berenson, Jimmy Carson and Dennis Polonich.

Ward started his career with the Red Wings in 1993-94 and played seven seasons with the team, winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998 before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2001.  He won another Cup with Carolina in 2006.  He closed out his career with four seasons split between the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, another stint with Carolina, and the Anaheim Ducks.

Berenson, the legendary University of Michigan head coach, spent parts of five seasons with the Red Wings in the 70s.  He also played for the Montreal Canadiens, Rangers, and St. Louis Blues over 987 career NHL games.

Carson played part of four season with the Wings in the early 1990s.  He started his career with the Los Angeles Kings before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in the Wayne Gretzky deal.  The Oilers traded him to the Red Wings early in the 1989-90 season and the Wings sent him back to LA in 1993.  He closed out his NHL career with stints in Vancouver and Hartford, then retired from hockey after two years with the IHL’s Detroit Vipers.

Polonich played his entire NHL career in Detroit, serving as team captain during the 1976-77 season while Danny Grant was injured.  He was famously injured by Wilf Paiement of the Colorado Rockies in a 1978 game when Paiement smashed him in the face with his stick.  Polonich was sent down to the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings in 1983 and never made it back into the NHL.  He closed out his career with two season’s with the IHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks in 1986 and 1987.

The Maple Leafs added Tie Domi, Brad May, and Dave “Tiger” Williams.  May and Williams also spent time with the Red Wings over their careers.

The following players are confirmed to appear at the Alumni Showdown:

Red Wings
Red Berenson
Jimmy Carson
Dino Ciccarelli
Alex Delvecchio
Kris Draper
Sergei Fedorov
Joe Kocur
Martin Lapointe
Igor Larionov
Ted Lindsay
Kirk Maltby
Darren McCarty
John Ogrodnick
Dennis Polonich
Mickey Redmond
Luc Robitaille

Chris Chelios
Paul Coffey
Mathieu Dandenault
Jiri Fischer
Viacheslav Fetisov
Mark Howe
Vladimir Konstantinov
Larry Murphy
Aaron Ward

Chris Osgood
Mike Vernon

Maple Leafs
Dave Andreychuk
Wendel Clark
Russ Courtnall
Vincent Damphousse
Bill Derlago
Tie Domi
Ron Ellis
Doug Gilmour
Gary Leeman
Kevin Maguire
Brad May
Lanny McDonald
Gary Roberts
Darryl Sittler
Darcy Tucker
Rick Vaive
Tiger Williams

Dave Ellett
Jim McKenny
Bryan McCabe
Bob McGill

Johnny Bower
Curtis Joseph
Mike Palmateer
Felix Potvin

Four of “Russian Five” to Appear at Alumni Showdown

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday that four members of the famous “Russian Five” will appear at the Alumni Showdown on December 31 at Comerica Park.

The Russian Five was the first group of five Soviet-trained players to play as a unit in the NHL.  Assembeled by coach Scotty Bowman – who will be behind the bench at the Alumni Showdown – in 1995, the line consisted of Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov.

All but Kozlov will be at the outdoor game against alumni from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In addition to the four Russians, the Maple Leafs announced six new players who will appear: Gary Leeman, Russ Courtnall, Bill Derlago, Bob McGill, Vincent Damphousse, and Dave Ellett.

Confirmed participants for the two teams are now as follows, with more to be announced:

Detroit
Chris Chelios, Dino Ciccarelli, Alex Delvecchio, Kris Draper, Sergei Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Mark Howe, Joe Kocur, Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Larionov, Ted Lindsay, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, Larry Murphy, John Ogrodnick, Chris Osgood, Mickey Redmond, Luc Robitaille, Mike Vernon

Toronto
Dave Andreychuk, Johnny Bower, Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall, Vincent Damphousse, Bill Derlago, Dave Ellett, Ron Ellis, Doug Gilmour, Curtis Joseph, Gary Leeman, Kevin Maguire, Bob McGill, Jim McKenny, Mike Palmateer, Felix Potvin, Darryl Sittler, Darcy Tucker, Rick Vaive

On Unretiring Jersey Numbers

I’ve had my head in code all week so I’m getting to this a little late but I wanted to take the time to say a few words anyway.

On Wednesday night, Jamie Samuelsen posted to his blog at the Freep that maybe certain numbers currently retired by Detroit-area sports teams should be unretired to allow new players to honor those who the numbers were retired for in the first place.  Yesterday, Michael Petrella over at TPL touched on it as well.

Personally, I’m against unretiring numbers unless the number never should have been retired in the first place (subjective, I know).  Sometimes teams do stupid things and there should be an option of undoing that.  I hate the fact that the Minnesota Wild have #1 retired in honor of their fans, for example, and would love to see a player go there and wear it.

As much as I’ve complained about what goes in the rafters at the Joe, the Red Wings have a higher standard for jersey retirement.  Maybe too high, as Larry Aurie’s #6 isn’t up there and should be.  As such, I can’t see any reason for one of the Wings’ six (or seven once you include Aurie) retired numbers being returned to use.

Samuelsen asks of a hyothetical question from his six-year-old son…

But if I have a hard time explaining to Josh why the second baseman doesn’t actually stand on second base, I’ll have a much harder time explaining the theory behind a retired number. Wouldn’t I?

And I say that’s your opportunity to teach your team’s rich history.  You explain that there was a player so important to the team that his number has been reserved for him forever.  New players wearing an past great’s number doesn’t teach that

That said, I have a specific case where I think the Red Wings should open up a currently-unavailable number for use again, and given what this week is I expect it to be unpopular.

I think that when Tomas Holmstrom eventually retires as the last of his remaining teammates, Vladimir Konstantinov‘s #16 should be returned to circulation.  Not handed out to some rookie at training camp, but available if an established player came to the team and wanted it.

Konstantinov’s injury was tragic and clearly inspired his teammates on their 1998 Stanley Cup run, but he’s not Gordie Howe or Ted Lindsay or Terry Sawchuk or Alex Delvecchio or Sid Abel or Steve Yzerman or Larry Aurie.

If tragedy is enough to inspire a permanent number retirement, why is Brendan Smith wearing #2 in Detroit?  Jiri Fischer may have a better life than Konstantinov but his career ended just as suddenly, with the added impact of coming in the middle of a game.

Coming the week of the fifteenth anniversary of the car crash that ended Konstantinov’s career, it feels wrong to suggest that the Wings’ honor him less.  That said, I’ve always felt like his number being held out of circulation was more about keeping him a part of the team he was pulled away from.

When Holmstrom retires – whether this year or next – the last remnant of that team will be gone.  It’ll be time to make #16 available again.

Thoughts on the Lokomotiv Plane Crash

I’ve been trying to come up with the right words to explain what I’ve been feeling since hearing about the plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire roster of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv today. The problem I keep coming back to is that the ones I want to use are losing meaning.

When Derek Boogaard died earlier this year, I said, “Anytime something like this happens it’s a terrifying reminder of just how human our hockey heroes are. I’ve said it before, we think of them as invincible but they’re just men.”

I feel like this should have hit me when Vladimir Konstantinov was nearly killed in 1997 but it was too easy to chalk that up as a car accident, something that happens every day. Instead, it’s an idea that I first really realized when Chris Pronger collapsed after blocking a shot during the 1998 playoffs. It’s been reinforced with every death or major injury since, most notably Steve Yzerman‘s eye injury in 2004 and Jiri Fischer‘s 2005 collapse on the Detroit bench.

So it was easy to break out that line in May, an idea that’s always there but you never want to think about. But then in July you have Rick Rypien’s death, so soon after Boogaard’s. The words that came so easily don’t have the same meaning after so little time.

Two weeks later and Wade Belak is gone. Isolated incidents or an epidemic?nbsp; There’s almost panic in the feeling of “This is not supposed to happen.”

Three deaths in a single summer. It’s pretty much unprecedented. The idea of this being the worst offseason in NHL history is being thrown around.

And then an entire team is wiped out at once.

There are no words anymore because this is not how it’s supposed to be.

No, our hockey heroes are not invincible, they are just men. They are men in their prime, however, and it makes no sense for them to be cut down. There is no understanding it. We can only hope to come to terms with it.