NEAR MISS ON YZERMAN DEAL CREATES SENSE OF ‘ WHAT IF’
This is a story that still has many hockey fans and pundits shaking their heads 11 years later. In hindsight, it is almost too absurd to comprehend that it was even contemplated by the Detroit Red Wings. Then again, the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, didn’t they?
This story, though, never got around to a trade. Thankfully for Wings fans, it ended on several high notes, thanks, in a large part, to the guy the Wings were thinking of trading to the Ottawa Senators: Steve Yzerman, one of Detroit’s most revered athletes who eventually led his team to three Stanley Cup championships.
Not acquiring Yzerman was probably tough luck for the Senators and their fans. Had their team been able to acquire Yzerman way back when, they might have celebrated at least one Stanley Cup parade by now. Maybe they would have also seen Yzerman’s No. 19 raised to the the rafters of Scotiabank Place rather than the Joe Louis Arena, as was the case last night as the Red Wings retired his number after 22 NHL seasons, all of them with Detroit.
In trying to acquire Yzerman, the struggling Senators saw a player whose star power and local roots would fill a lot of seats at their new arena in Kanata. It was October 1995, and the Palladium ( later the Corel Centre and now Scotiabank Place) was three months away from completion.
The Senators apparently had more than a few players in whom the Red Wings had interest: Alexei Yashin, Martin Straka, Alexandre Daigle, Radek Bonk, Bryan Berard and Stan Neckar.
The Wings were especially keen on Yashin or Straka, or a combination of the Ottawa players/ prospects, all of whom are now playing elsewhere or are retired. According to some reports, the Senators eventually told the Red Wings that not one of those players, with possibly the exception of Straka, was on the table for Yzerman.
Not the spoiled Yashin, who was well into his second of three AWLs with the team over his greed for money and whose antics led director of player personnel John Ferguson to leave the team. When rumours began to swirl that the Senators had had enough of Yashin and were contemplating a trade, Ferguson said Yashin was too talented to let go. Ferguson was warned by general manager Randy Sexton to keep his mouth shut, prompting Ferguson to quit. Yashin, meanwhile, became so unpopular over his bitter contract disputes with the team that he was finally traded, in 2001, to the New York Islanders.
The Senators weren’t letting go of first overall draft pick Daigle, either, even though he was showing signs of being a bust. Daigle — a bust — was traded during the 1997- 98 season to the Philadelphia Flyers. He now plays in Switzerland.
The Senators felt the same way about Bonk, who was virtually chased out of Ottawa at the end of 2003- 04 after too many inconsistent seasons. He plays for the Montreal Canadiens. They also weren’t letting go of Berard, who had already expressed cold feet about playing for the sad- sack Senators, and was traded months later to the Islanders in a deal that brought Wade Redden to Ottawa.
And certainly not Neckar, a journeyman defenceman at best whom the Senators eventually dumped in 1998- 99 for that other stud, Bill Berg.
True, Straka was an exciting young player when the Senators acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1994- 95, and he eventually went on to have a stellar NHL career, but to say he was ever in the same class as Yzerman would be a stretch. The Red Wings were interested in him just the same, maybe because he was making less than one- quarter of Yzerman’s $ 3.7 million U. S. salary. One report said that if the Red Wings couldn’t acquire Straka in a trade for Yzerman, then they wanted the Senators to arrange a three- way trade to get Detroit a similarly skilled player and some draft picks.
There was also a theory that the Wings weren’t at all interested in trading Yzerman, that the trade talk with Ottawa and other teams was a ruse by coach Scotty Bowman to get Yzerman to improve his defensive game instead of just relying on his offensive prowess. Still, that was a pretty strange way of treating a popular star player and the team captain who had already broken various Red Wings scoring records and had been with the team for 12 seasons.
To some, Bowman seemed more interested in building the Wings around his Russian stars such as the speedy Sergei Fedorov. With Yzerman already 30 — one report called him an “ aging gun” — his rich salary and still no Stanley Cup, some felt he was expendable. Yzerman, who at one point wasn’t speaking publicly to Bowman, was convinced a deal was going down and asked his team to trade him to a “ competitive” club. Although he never mentioned Ottawa by name, everyone knew what he meant because the Senators stunk at the time.
No matter. As Senators fans found out, those trade talks surrounding Yzerman turned out to be nothing more than a tease. Yzerman stayed put, ending his career after 10 more seasons with Detroit. Yzerman, a 10- time all- star, had 692 goals and 1,063 assists for 1,755 points in his 22 seasons, leaving him No. 6 on the all- time NHL scoring list. He also played a major role in Detroit’s 1997, 1998 and 2002 Cup championships, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 1998 playoffs and was a major contributor to Canada’s gold medal win at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
At least Senators fans can say the guy once lived in Nepean, even if he never wanted to play here as a pro. Can you blame him?
Steve Yzerman’s No. 19 is raised to the rafters during last night’s ceremony in Detroit.