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FEBRUARY 7TH, 2020
Gallant-Yzerman reunion is anybody’s
guess – because one guy isn’t talking
By KEITH GAVE
DETROIT – Kirk Maltby saw the news first on his phone, and all he could do was hold it up for everyone else to see.
“What’s going on?” someone asked the former Detroit Red Wings’ Grind Liner, now a scout for the beleaguered hockey club.
“Gerard Gallant is out in Vegas. They just fired him,” Maltby announced to the group of team scouts and executives, meeting well in advance of the looming trade deadline.
“What the (expletive)! That cannot be true,” an angry Jim Devellano shouted. The team’s senior vice president – the first person Mike and Marion Ilitch hired when they bought the team in 1982, was visibly upset.
The guy running the meeting, general manager Steve Yzerman, had little reaction. Which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has spent any time around him. To say he holds his cards close to his vest is a colossal understatement. But he did offer up the question suddenly on everyone’s mind:
“How long do you think it will take for the rumors to get started that he’s coming here?”
I’m guessing the rumor mill already was in high gear before Yzerman finished his sentence. And the question still lingers.
Only one man knows the answer, of course; two if Steve Yzerman has already reached out to Gallant and asked him to hold tight until the off-season before doing anything – if Gallant is even remotely interested in the Detroit gig. And the sorry state of this team could well be a factor for the NHL Coach of the Year winner just two years ago.
To many, another homecoming of a prominent former Red Wings star is a no-brainer. But Yzerman isn’t talking. He isn’t even talking questions.
In fact, Steve Yzerman has become a kind of ghost since he returned to Detroit last spring to accept the gig for which we all thought he was destined. He hasn’t spoken to the beat reporters of the two Detroit newspapers that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars traveling around the continent to cover the Red Wings since last summer.
Zero availability. Zero accountability from the man making all the decisions that matter with this hockey club. Rather mind-boggling, to be honest, not to speak to the GM at least several times a
week during the course of a 10-month hockey season – which starts in September, ends in June, and dribbles into July with some serious newsworthy events.
In fact, Yzerman’s only public statements about the team, its historically bad season – and any reasons for optimism among the dwindling fan base (season-ticketholder numbers are approaching historic lows as well) came during an in-house interview with radio play-by-play man Ken Kal. In a well-choreographed sit-down, Kal served up a number of softball questions that Yzerman naturally knocked out of the park.
The Wings released the video on its website. There were no headlines; the interview might have fulfilled what the club recognizes as a PR obligation, but it provided precious little news.
This snub of local media that has been so generous with their coverage over the years is disgraceful, and already it is beginning to tarnish the legacy of a guy generations of fans know lovingly as “The Captain.”
This is a far, far different Steve Yzerman than the guy I covered since before then-coach Jacques Demers pinned the “C” on his Red Wings’ sweater. But those who remained to cover the team and the remainder of Yzerman’s career after I left say they saw this coming.
In his final days as captain, they say, Yzerman was rarely available to the media even after games, preferring instead to let teammates do the explaining after wins and losses. That’s in stark contrast to what we saw in the men who followed. Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg were there after nearly every game, present and accountable, staying amid the scrum of notebooks, microphones and cameras until the last question.
Which is what you need to do in times like these, when empty seats outnumber fans at the Pizz-Arena. Fans need reasons to be excited; they want explanations when things go sideways and they’re frustrated. Reporters covering the team have the questions and capabilities through various information streams to get fans the information they might need to keep from jumping off the bandwagon.
This isn’t the late 1990s, when The Captain was kicking up a rooster tail on his wave runner on Lake St. Clair with the Stanley Cup riding shotgun. The Detroit Red Wings are dead last, by a country mile, among the NHL’s 31 teams. They need the media far more than Steve Yzerman and Little Caesars’ CEO Chris Ilitch want to acknowledge.
Bringing Gerard Gallant – Yzerman’s pal and linemate for several seasons on those joyful teams of the late 1980s – won’t change a lot on the ice, at least immediately. It’s more of a PR move similar to Yzerman’s homecoming. Hell, brining Scotty Bowman back to coach this team wouldn’t change much. It’s not Jeff Blashill’s fault; he doesn’t have enough actual NHL players to compete from night to night.
The prevailing wisdom – and again we have no idea because Yzerman refuses to talk – is that the Wings won’t make a coaching change until the off-season. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Then Yzerman can say he gave Blashill a shot, and can name his own coach.
But this much we do know: Gallant has proven NHL coaching chops. His team’s play fast and hard, with a chip on their shoulders – just the way he played in Detroit. Like Bowman, Gallant has a knack for getting the most out of every player in his lineup, and a little extra. They find ways to win, while in Detroit in the final years under Mike Babcock and through most of Blashill’s five seasons, they find ways to disappoint.
Those days have to end. Soon.