HELLO AGAIN, LOYAL READERS! I should have told you before I went on hiatus that, well, I was going on hiatus. The reason was a good one: deep in the writer’s cave to finish my next book, OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football. You can pre-order now from amazon or your local book store. We’re setting up the book tour now, which will include a big launch on Tuesday, September 3, 7 p.m., at Michigan’s Hill Auditorium, hosted by Literati, and introduced by WTKA’s Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub. Bring 3,000 of your best friends!
INTRO: The Detroit Red Wings’ historic streak of 25 years making the playoffs ended three years ago, and they’ve not been back since. Something had to give. This spring longtime general manager Ken Holland graciously stepped aside to welcome back Detroit’s legendary former captain, Steve Yzerman, to take Holland’s place as general manager.
[Click play for audio version below.]
The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs again this year – the third year in a row. Not that big a deal, except the team had just come off A 25-year streak of playoff appearances — the third longest in NHL history. During that streak they won four Stanley Cups. Nobody won more.
Not a bad run – especially when the Wings had to adapt to constantly changing rules, from new interference penalties on the ice to new salary caps off it.
A lot of people contributed to this long run of success, including the Ilitches, who bought the franchise in 1982; Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman; and Jimmy Devellano, the general manager who got the players who started that streak.
But no short list would be complete without Ken Holland, who took over for Devellano as the team’s general manager in 1997, and Steve Yzerman, who started playing for Detroit in 1983.
Holland’s teams won three of those four Stanley Cups. In 2009, Sports Illustrated ranked him North America’s second best executive — in any sport.
That’s worth remembering. When Holland stepped down last month, a lot of commentators focused on his last three seasons in Detroit, all failures, and some of the decisions he made that led to those losses.
But none of that erases Holland’s 19 straight playoff appearances, and three Stanley Cups. Perhaps his best move was his last: putting his ego aside to recruit the legendary Steve Yzerman to replace him.
Yzerman served as the Red Wings’ captain for so long – two decades – that it became his nickname: The Captain, noted for his quiet class. After he retired in 2006, he went to work in Detroit’s front office, mentoring under Holland. Four years later Yzerman became the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was so good at it that the NHL named him General Manager of the Year in 2015. It was no fluke: the squads Yzerman put together for Team Canada in the World Cup and the Olympics won three gold medals. He was that rare man who was just as good off the ice as on it.
While the Lightning were riding high, the Red Wings were laying low, in need of a rebuilding effort.
Ken Holland knew just what to do. In December a friend of mine saw Holland and Yzerman having breakfast at Oakland Hills Country Club. We now know what they were talking about: Holland stepping aside with his own measure of quiet class so his protégé, Yzerman, could take his spot.
And that’s just what happened– one of the rare decisions in the sports world that was praised by everyone. Yzerman takes over a program that has a few pieces worth keeping, but he’ll have to find the rest. If past is prologue, only a fool would bet against Yzerman. He simply hasn’t failed – at anything.
Don’t feel too bad for Ken Holland, either. This week the Edmonton Oilers announced they have hired him to run their front office for five years — for a cool 25 million dollars. I don’t care if those dollars are American or Canadian – that’s a lot.
But the winners here, for the first time in four years, are the Red Wings – who just made their best pick-up since signing 18-year old kid back in 1983 named Steve Yzerman.
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The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, a National Bestseller, is now out in paperback. We’re on our third printing of the paperback. Get ’em while they’re hot! You can order signed copies from Nicola’s Books and Literati.
My latest book, “The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts,” is on its second printing.
Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later, I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.
I also join Michigan Radio’s great Cynthia Canty on her afternoon Stateside show every Monday for a few minutes, and occasionally on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the afternoon Here & Now show. Check ’em out!
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