The Hockey News - Money & Power




LIKE FATHER, LIKE son? In the case of Chris and Mike Ilitch and their tenure in charge of the Detroit Red Wings, you can definitely see the parallels in the circumstan­ces as each took the reins of this storied franchise.

In 1982, when Mike and Marian Ilitch purchased the Wings for $8 million from Bruce Norris, the team was in the midst of what was known as the Dead Wings era. Detroit didn’t win a single playoff game from 1967 to ’77. Following an appearance in the 1965-66 Stanley Cup final, the Wings wouldn’t win another best-of-seven post-season set until 1986-87.

But by the early 1990s, via a combinatio­n of shrewd talent assessment and a willingnes­s from the Ilitch family to spend big money to fill holes, the Wings evolved into the model NHL franchise and won four Stanley Cups between 1997 and 2008. “When he bought the team they had very limited success, and they build it into a powerhouse organizati­on, winning the Stanley Cup in your rink in front of 20,000 fans,” former Wings forward Kirk Maltby said of Mike Ilitch, who died in 2017. “To be around Mr. Ilitch, he was so passionate, and you knew he was competitiv­e and he wanted to win.”

The same character traits appear to be prevalent in the DNA of Chris Ilitch, the youngest of Mike and Marian’s seven children. And hauntingly similar challenges confront him.

The Wings have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, the first time that’s happened since the year the Ilitch family bought the team. Empty seats are evi-

dent throughout Little Caesars Arena on game night.

Chris Ilitch has made it clear that long-term failure is not an option for his family. “Around these parts, we’re used to be being in the playoffs, we’re used to competing for Stanley Cups, and believe me, that’s where we all want to be,” Ilitch said. “That’s a lot of fun.”

downtown core. “The revitaliza­tion of Detroit wouldn’t have happened without the commitment of the Ilitch family, what they were willing to do, from an emotional, energy and financial standpoint,” NHL commission­er Gary Bettman said.

Even though they built their fortune through the Little Caesars pizza chain, when it comes to business, the Ilitches are a lot more like Burger King. They are used to having it their way.

Before moving into the NHL, the Ilitches were already hockey operators. Their Little Caesars youth hockey empire continues to flourish, with several ex-Wings players serving as They have become the face of Detroit’s resurgence. When other organizati­ons were fleeing the city, they set up their corporate headquarte­rs in the heart of downtown, renovating the venerable Fox Theater at a cost of $12.5 million. In 1992, the Ilitches purchased the Detroit Tigers for $85 million and built Comerica Park across the street from the Fox Theater. Little Caesars Arena, opened in 2017, is a bit farther up the street, and is part of what’s known as the District Detroit, a developmen­t of office, residentia­l and retail spaces. “When you think about what they’ve done – I’ve seen stadiums across the country and normally the team runs the sports events and the city tries to develop the surroundin­g area,” Detroit mayor Mike Duggan said. “This is the first place I know of where the Ilitches came in and said, ‘We’re going to build an entire 50-block area.

AGE 53

LIVES Detroit, Mich.

NET WORTH Estimated $6.1 billion

TEAM PURCHASE $8 million in 1982 by M. Ilitch


Chris Ilitch played for the 1983 Michigan state high school championsh­ip hockey team at Cranbrook Kingswood in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

coaches. Zach Werenski, Mike Modano and Brian Rolston are NHLers who came through the Little Caesars system.

We’ll take the lead in the city’s redevelopm­ent.’ ”

The Detroit Lions constructe­d Ford Field in the same neighborho­od, and, last season, the Detroit Pistons became tenants of Little Caesars Arena, making Detroit the only North American city with all four of its major-league teams playing in the Ilitch, who still skates in a men’s league, recognizes that the hockey team he most needs to get turned around is the one he inherited from his father. “It’s going to be a process,” Ilitch said of the Wings’ struggles. “We’re all going to need patience. We’ve done it before, and we’re going to do it again.”

Like father, like son? Detroit Red Wings fans certainly hope so. – BOB DUFF

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