Since when did Hockeytown turn into the Second City?
What is happening here? The Red Wings being left at the altar? GM Kenny Holland having to return Mike Ilitch his checkbook?
No press conference? No blood red jersey with the name SUTER or PARISE stitched on the back in that very Red Wings font?
What free agent says no to the Red Wings? Who looks at 21 straight years in the playoffs, four Stanley Cups since 1997 (and almost a fifth), more tradition than Christmas, a packed house every night and says, “Thanks but no thanks”?
Who looks at Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and says there’s not enough to work with here? Who looks at Danny Cleary and Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi and decides there aren’t enough role players?
Or is it what they’re looking for and not seeing?
Nicklas Lidstrom? Well, he’s retired. This is true.
Brad Stuart? Gone, to San Jose. California kid returns home.
Jiri Hudler? Twenty-five goal scorer, off like a cheap suit, to the netherworld of Calgary.
The Minnesota Wild?
Since when do the Red Wings lose out to the Minnesota Wild? Since when does anyone?
It’s like ice cream losing out to spinach. The high school quarterback losing the girl to the class nerd. The Israeli Army losing out to the Italians.
The headline should read “Sun to Set in East.”
The Red Wings would never say it publicly, but when Holland, special advisor Chris Chelios and owner Ilitch flew to Suter’s Wisconsin farm to give the official Hockeytown How Do last week, armed with a hefty contract offer and a diamond stick pen, they likely expected Suter to fly back with them.
Instead, Suter heard everything the Red Wings’ brass had to offer, looked over the 13-year, $90 million job offer, and said, “I’ll call you.”
As for Parise, the Red Wings made a pitch to him, too, but it was Suter into whom they were putting forth their best effort and faith.
It should have been a red flag—no pun intended—when Suter wasn’t a Red Wing by the end of the first day of free agency (July 1). In fact, it should have been a red flag that the Red Wings had to board a plane.
In the salad days of acquiring other teams’ defects, the Red Wings looked at their watch, waited for 12:01 a.m. to hit and placed a phone call to the agent of their quarry.
Back then, the player boarded a plane, not the Red Wings.
Yet here were the Red Wings, flying out to Wisconsin—Wisconsin!—playing the role of Suter’s suitor to help them absorb the loss of Lidstrom. They brought it all except a dozen roses and a 10-pound box of chocolates.
Suter and Parise, both with family connections to Minnesota (Parise’s dad, Jean-Paul, played for the North Stars in the 1970s), went with the Wild.
“We lost out to family,” Holland said. “It’s hard to beat out family,” and you wondered if he was trying to convince the press or himself.
Ahh, family, shmamily.
Did Luc Robitaille, with roots planted in southern California deeper than the black hole, let something silly like family stop him from signing with the Red Wings in 2001? Lucky Luc, with a singer/model/wife whose career screamed Hollywood, considered one thing and one thing only: Where can I get a Stanley Cup?
That’s why they all came to Hockeytown.
That’s why Brett Hull came, the same summer as Robitaille. Hull won a Cup with the 1999 Dallas Stars and wanted that feeling one more time before he retired.
That’s why Curtis Joseph came, the superstar goalie who signed in 2002, trying to hoist hockey’s Holy Grail for the first time in his brilliant career.
The Red Wings didn’t need but a few hours of free-agent time to land big defenseman and hometown kid Derian Hatcher (Sterling Heights) in 2003, the 6’5” behemoth who left the Stars so he could win another Cup, in Detroit.
The list goes on and on.
The Red Wings didn’t have to work as hard, with all of them combined, as they had to work to get Suter. And they still lost out.
The family thing is a convenient out for Holland and the Red Wings organization when it comes to missing out on the two biggest fish in the 2012 free-agent sea.
But family hasn’t mattered in so many past free-agent signings the Red Wings have orchestrated.
The Red Wings, since appearing in the 2009 Cup Finals, haven’t been past the second round of the playoffs. This spring, they had the ignominy of being the first team drummed out of the postseason, lasting a measly five games against the Nashville Predators, of all teams.
They lost Lidstrom to retirement, Stuart to—you guessed it—family as well.
Players are retiring and fleeing the Good Ship Red Wing; are they doing it because they sense a capsizing?
Did Suter and Parise look at the Red Wings’ chances for a Stanley Cup in the near future and not see anything that they couldn’t see with half a dozen other teams?
The Minnesota Wild haven’t made the playoffs since 2008—and that was just their third time since joining the NHL in 2000. They have been, until signing Suter and Parise, one of the NHL’s most irrelevant franchises.
But the Wild beat the Red Wings in this free-agent frenzy. Dewey defeated Truman this time.
This is foreign soil for the Red Wings. They almost don’t know how to react. In the past, money + Red Wings has = player of their choice.
Not this time.
So cancel the press conferences. Hold off on the jersey stitching. Put the checkbook away—it won’t be needed.
The Red Wings put up a goose egg. Suter and Parise threw a shutout at them.
It wasn’t supposed to go down this way. Because, for two decades, it hasn’t.
Hey, Hey, Hockeytown—there are at least two stars who don’t think you’re so nifty. Stick that in your five hole.