My case for Detroit ... 10 years' worth
What is your problem with the Red Wings? If you are not a fan of them, fine, great, that's your right. But try not to let your feelings about them show TOO much in your columns.
A decent-sized clump of Detroit Red Wings fans is like that girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who gets 99 compliments but remembers the one measured comment/opinion that didn't inject sunshine into the other half's body.
I think it's important that Red Wings Nation and I get things ironed out before the postseason begins. This is the last week of the regular season, and we all want to be in a good frame of mind as the greatest tournament in sports begins next week.
With that in mind, I have gone back to my very first NHL column here on ESPN.com and found some of the nice things I've said about the Red Wings throughout the years. This is not all of the nice things I've said, just a sample. So Detroit, put on your Snuggie and smell the bloggy bouquet of flowers I've sent you as we all prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
• Steve Yzerman, Detroit: He's never won an MVP, but he's everything an MVP is. He's the centerpiece of one of the best teams of all time. Eight Hall of Famers, the Gretzky of coaches, and the fulcrum of it all is a man who is 5-10, 180. What Bono is to U2, Yzerman is to the Red Wings.
Detroit diddy: 'A star is born'
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: He's just ol' dependable St. Nick. Never misses a game. Never a minus. Never takes a dumb penalty. One of the classiest players in the league. Maybe the classiest.
Detroit diddy: 'Best time of year'
Certainly, not a lock, but, the most likely to win it all. Could they lose in the first round? Sure. But, I feel they are the smartest team in professional sports. I feel their intellect, talent and savvy will carry them through. They will get better with each round. The concerns are Steve Yzerman's knee and Dominik Hasek's brain. He's been acting goofy in net recently. But, that usually means he's really into it, so perhaps that's a good sign for Red Wings fans. Can they just "turn it on" and bring their "A" game after finishing so uninspired? Yes. They displayed a greatness THAT NO OTHER TEAM CAME CLOSE TO MATCHING for much of the season. Again, they may not reach that level again and they could be bounced, but until then, they are the odds-on favorite to win.
Detroit diddy: 'Playoffs preview'
Detroit vs. St. Louis: The Red Wings are still my pick to win it all. It took them two games to get going, but now they are ready to bleed for the Cup. They just won four in a row against the team that scored the most goals in the NHL during the regular season and they didn't seem to burn much fuel in doing so.
Detroit diddy: 'Inspiration ... dreams'
We all need inspiration. Someone and some things to lift us toward our dreams. I have dreams and you have dreams and since we both spend way too much time assuming they will never come true, I suggest you watch these NHL playoffs and closely inspect the desperation, courage and perseverance the players show every night. For me, Steve Yzerman inspired me to never give up no matter what during my long day on the golf course. You might connect with a different player. Whoever it is and whatever you wish for, you will likely find the keys to achieving in the eyes of your player or players. Smarts, sacrifice, patience, enthusiasm, and a will to JUST GET IT DONE.
When I watch Yzerman on TV and when I saw his name on my golf ball it reminded me of Tennyson:
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Detroit diddy: 'It's your birthday!'
I find myself shoving the same CDs into the car CD player, and Lord knows nothing on the radio will move me. "... It's your birthday. We gon' party like it's your birthday. We gon' Darren McCarty like it's your birthday ..."
Detroit diddy: 'Mail call'
Is there anything better than Ben Harper and Eddie Vedder on stage together entertaining fans?
When Pavel Datsyuk makes 47 moves in a three-foot area, and then makes one more to cause the goaltender to internally combust.
Detroit diddy: 'A look into the future'
• A week earlier, the Detroit Red Wings won their 15th Stanley Cup and fourth under the direction of president and GM Steve Yzerman, who retired after the 2003-04 season, a year in which he played the entire postseason on one leg. After scoring 23 goals, Yzerman finished the regular season in such pain that he chose to have the leg amputated. He finished the playoffs with 11 goals and 16 assists, the Conn Smythe and his fourth Stanley Cup. His career ended with his double-overtime, Cup-winning goal in Game 7 against the New York Rangers and their so-called Trade Deadline line. With his patented "row boat" style skating, Yzerman weaved past Jaromir Jagr and his linemates, Alexi Yashin and Pierre Turgeon, and beat goaltender Tom Poti five-hole. When Glen Sather was asked why started the startled 42-year-old defenseman in net, Sather responded, "Dude, I'm Slats."
• When I was senior at Heidelberg College, I cut a 2-inch by 1-inch picture of Steve Yzerman out of the newspaper and hung it on my dormitory door. I wasn't a Wings fan and had never seen Yzerman play. This was the mid-'80s, I lived in Eastern Ohio, and the NHL was on SportsChannel. I wasn't one of the 47 people who had that network as part of their cable package. But his eyes mesmerized me. I thought, this is a person who has big dreams. Big visions. He has a plan and a focus to see it through and stick it out. I knew nothing about him, had never seen or heard him speak, but something moved me to hang that picture on my door as inspiration that life's biggest joys and awards come from dealing with and overcoming pain and discomfort. Those eyes said, "Nothing good comes easy." Have a vision and stick it out.
Detroit diddy: 'Draper'
Kris Draper, C, Detroit Red Wings: Throw me a bone here. He skates like he really loves the game. Bloated plus/minus, more goals than Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, only one of his 19 goals is on the power play, great faceoff guy, great personality. They would have made this guy's year.
Detroit diddy: 'The Wings are flying'
Mike Babcock has really tightened this team defensively. Sprinkle in creators up front and the beautiful-to-watch Nicklas Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider on the back end, and the Wings are flying.
Detroit diddy: 'Impressed'
I saw the Red Wings play in person in Columbus and I came away very impressed. They looked like the Minnesota Wild from the spring of 2003. Skating, surrounding the puck carrier and difficult to tell one line from the next. Also, their two best players, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, played hard every shift. This backbone of character will carry them a long way.
Detroit diddy: 'The awards'
Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom. Quarterbacks the best power play in the league, plays 28:34 a night, gets the puck on net low. You don't hear the puck smack off the back glass when Nick Lidstrom shoots it from the point. A calming, classy influence. If actor Jimmy Stewart came back as a hockey player, he would be Nicklas Lidstrom.
Detroit diddy: 'Stevie Y's future'
• I do think Stevie Y will retire after this season. He would never announce his retirement now because it would be a distraction to the team and he's not a rocking-chair-retirement-ceremony-while-he-is-still-playing kind of guy. After he retires, I would then make him the head of Hockey Canada for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Hey Johnny boy,
Why do you hate the Islanders?
Middle Village, N.Y.
• I swear to Yzerman I don't hate any team. I have stated here many times that broadcasters and referees don't care who wins games. If I covered a local team, they would be my favorite team, because I would create relationships within the organization and I am a sucker for the human touch. And broadcasters of teams get paid by the game, so the more playoff games a team wins, the more money they make. But since I am essentially an international columnist (Hello, Guam!), I have to look at the league and teams equally. I do tend to root for my predictions and the four-legged parlays I played in Vegas last week (boy, I did well), but my love for the 30 NHL teams is platonic. Speaking of Plato, he would have been a Red Wings fan.
Detroit diddy: 'P.D.'
I agree Datsyuk is mesmerizing. Maybe the most visually correct player in the league, especially on shootouts. The Red Wings will have a difficult time winning the Stanley Cup without a healthy and productive Datsyuk. I hope he is, because there is no player in the NHL who makes one go "holy $%#$%" more than P.D.
Detroit diddy: 'Predictions'
• Norris Trophy prediction: For 28 minutes a night, nearly every slap shot on goal, outlet pass, power-play goal and regal air -- Lidstrom is simply the best.
• Jack Adams prediction: There were many outstanding coaching performances this season. In fact, one could argue the depth of quality NHL coaching has never been better. Hence, the tight races down the stretch. But it's truly amazing how Mike Babcock elevated the play of so many players after he stepped into the culture of Detroit, with its heavy air of tradition and recent habits.
Detroit diddy: 'Yzerman's call'
Steve Yzerman said he will make his decision on retirement soon. I believe he will retire. If he wants to come back, that is fine, but I believe his knee just isn't well enough to stand up to the NHL. He's still a joy to watch and there is still so much there to take in as a fan, but I do believe retirement is best. And I believe he should be named the man in charge of Canada's Olympic team for 2010.
Detroit diddy: 'The constant'
Nicklas Lidstrom: The Red Wings are always good because he is always good. Do you know how many times the Red Wings have missed the playoffs since his first season, in 1991-92? That would be, uh, zero.
Detroit diddy: 'Worth the admission'
The majesty of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg is still worth the price of admission for the hard-core hockey fan. They take your breath away on occasion.
Detroit diddy: 'The characters'
• Dominik Hasek: For the "Hey There, Delilah" crowd, he has won six Vezinas and two MVPs.
• Nicklas Lidstrom: When I think of him, I think of the first two lines of one of the 10 songs I would take to heaven ... or hell. It's still up in the air at this point. The song is "Mary's Prayer" by Danny Wilson. And the lines are: "Everything is wonderful; being here is heavenly."
• Henrik Zetterberg: A high-powered European sedan weaving through the pylons of life.
• Chris Chelios: The Mike Wallace of the NHL.
Detroit diddy: 'Best-coached club'
So far this season, the Detroit Red Wings are the best team. They are by far the best-coached club. Mike Babcock is hands down the best coach in the NHL. He has to be Canada's coach at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and Steve Yzerman should pick the team. Synergy, people.
They score, they check and simply control the game. They are a little top-heavy scoring-wise and, for this game (at least at the start), will split up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Jiri Hudler is coming on and has been playing at about a point-per-game rate. You can see his confidence growing.
Detroit diddy: 'Lidstrom/Flavor Flav comparison'
I LOVE Sergei Zubov. But ... not only should Nicklas Lidstrom win the Norris, I think it's time he wins the MVP. He controls a game like Flavor Flav controls Public Enemy. Yes, that's the first Lidstrom/Flavor Flav comparison. Unless Mickey Redmond already beat me to it.
Detroit diddy: 'Belichick's influence?'
• The Red Wings are King ... so far. The Red Wings are dominating the NHL, much the same way the Patriots dominated the NFL during the regular season. Their coach, Mike Babcock, confesses to reading Bill Belichick's Web site. Babcock is a much better interview, however, than Belichick and is neck-and-neck with Kings coach Marc Crawford for the league's best head of hair. We care about these things in the NHL. Hair is part of the history of the league; Derek Sanderson and the Big Bad Bruins of the '70s helped break the mold of no long hair and facial hair in hockey.
• Any Red Wings fan who has seen Detroit play this season has marveled at Pavel Datsyuk's ability to strip opponents in the neutral zone. The Red Wings are playing with machine-like efficiency. I expect them to make a major move at the deadline, if they can, and really make a hard run at the Cup. I'm a big "Ryan Kesler for the Selke" guy, as well. But keep an eye on Datsyuk during games and watch how he strips players around the blue line and turns that turnover into points.
• Detroit has been far and away the best team in the NHL, Major. If I had a vote, I would vote Mike Babcock as coach of the year and Nicklas Lidstrom as MVP and Norris Trophy winner.
Detroit diddy: 'Once-in-a-half-century knight'
• Any franchise would have basked in that success, but the Red Wings augmented the winning with interesting characters. Steve Yzerman is a once-in-a-half-century knight. Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Darren McCarty, Nicklas Lidstrom, Igor Larionov, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Scotty Bowman, Chris Chelios, Tomas Holmstrom, Martin Lapointe, Joey Kocur, Vladimir Konstantinov, and so on. This was an interesting group of characters who gave the Red Wings' success texture and depth to last a lifetime. Theirs was an interesting story. Talented, physical, mysterious, confrontational, comedic -- this team had it all.
• Datsyuk has the uniqueness and flair of Crosby. He lacks the physical play Crosby exhibits around the net of the opposing goalie, but he is better at defensively stripping opponents of the puck and has that knack to know when to hover and when to pounce. Datsyuk would be very adept at killing wild game if he put his mind to it. I could see him killing raccoons with ease.
• Zetterberg is a complete player who is hybrid efficient. He can create, score and provide the spectacular. His goal-scoring rate does not change in the postseason. I love that. That means his game has depth.
Detroit diddy: 'NHL's most complete team'
The Red Wings are still the most complete team in the NHL. They are a great skating team with a defense that has skill and mobility, much more so than the Hawks saw against Vancouver. The Wings' offense is a touch deeper than the Blackhawks, and Pavel Datsyuk will be more comfortable playing against the Hawks' defense than Anaheim's.
Detroit diddy: 'NHL's best, when healthy'
• I believe wholeheartedly the following statements are quite possibly absolutely true: When completely healthy, the Red Wings are the best team in the NHL.
• Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will retire with between 600 and 711 coaching wins and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Detroit diddy: 'Lidstrom? Kobe?'
• And when Nick [Lidstrom] senses a big moment, he turns into Kobe Bryant without the trash talk and false bravado. He is a silent assassin. He stalks, he sees, he pounces. He is one of the best of all time at that. There has never been anyone like him.
• He [Zetterberg] does everything well. And, most important, he plays hard all the time with no arrogance. He is making a late charge for the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Red Wings win the Cup. He got a late start to his career at age 22 and then lost a season to the lockout. He turns 29 this fall, but has played just 432 regular-season games. He should be able to get to 1,000 NHL games if he stays healthy. That will get No. 40 to the Detroit rafters and the man to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Detroit diddy: 'A new page'
The Wings needed a new arena 10 years ago. Joe Louis Arena is the equivalent of 1982 Chrysler K-car. I love the intimacy of The Joe and long for the days of smaller arenas, but it's time for a new home for Detroit. Imagine what kind of creativity and care could be put into a new cathedral for the Wings and Michigan hockey. I have not been to the Palace or the surrounding area to have an opinion on that. I would hope a new arena could be built downtown. I know things look bleak now, and in the immediate future, in Detroit. But there have been plenty of examples in which cities have come back strong over time.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010!And one more, fresh sentence: I love you, Detroit. ;)
On the wings of love
Up and above the clouds
The only way to fly
Is on the wings of love
On the wings of love
Only the two of us
Together flying high
Upon the wings of love
-- "On The Wings of Love" by Jeffrey Osborne
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shot of the Week
It's back. You know how it works: We present an NHL photo and Bucci provides a caption. E-mail him your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state), and we will use the best ones and provide a new photo the next week.
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Matthew C. (Fort Erie, Ontario)
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