by | Oct 7, 1996 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This much they agree on: Scotty Bowman called Paul Coffey into his office Saturday afternoon. He told Coffey he didn’t want him playing in the Red Wings’ season opener that night against the Devils. He said, “We’re trying to trade you, so it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Coffey said, “Well, can I work out?”

Bowman said, “No, no!”

Coffey said, “Stop yelling. What are you yelling for?”

After that, it’s all in whom you believe.

Bowman says he told Coffey he could stay with the team or he could fly home on his own. Coffey says that’s “an utter lie.”

Bowman says Coffey tried to sabotage a deal that would have sent him to Hartford. Coffey says he did no such thing.

Bowman says he’s “tired of being vilified” for selfish players. Coffey says he’s “never been treated like this in my life.”

And here’s the amazing part: This morning, these two go back to work together.

At least that’s the plan, now that the deal with Hartford — which would have sent Coffey, disgruntled center Keith Primeau and a No. 1 draft choice to Hartford for rugged forward Brendan Shanahan — has, in Bowman’s words,
“collapsed. It’s over. It’s done.”

Of course, that could change at any minute with this team.

But if you believe Bowman, that collapse is due, in part, to Coffey, who said he wouldn’t show up if traded to Hartford, and who phoned Primeau to urge him not to agree to a deal. Bowman also claims Coffey called the Whalers to let them know he wouldn’t play for them. A player does that, why on earth would a team want him?

On the other hand, Coffey — who admits calling Hartford GM Jimmy Rutherford but says “he didn’t call me back” — claims he has a perfect reason not to want to go east. “I have a wife and child now. I don’t want to go somewhere where I’m just gonna move on two years later. I’m not in my 20s like Primeau.”

Hmm. A coach who wants to move two players but can’t. A player who feels he has just been shown the door. And later this morning, they are supposed to rejoin a march to the Stanley Cup? Together?

Wow. And it’s only the first week of the season!

No love lost between these two

Now, I am not God. I cannot tell you who is lying and who isn’t. But Coffey flew home Saturday on a Northwest flight, and he was so livid when he heard Bowman said it was Coffey’s choice, he called a TV station to deny it. Having now spoken to both at length, here’s how I see it:

Bowman is a brilliant coach and a master manipulator, but he doesn’t often worry about his players’ feelings. So it wouldn’t surprise me if his
“suggestion” that Coffey go home was more than subtle. And to my way of thinking, that’s wrong, because whether you like the guy or not, Coffey has played a lot of games for the Wings, he’s a four-time Stanley Cup winner, and it’s just a simple courtesy to say, “You are part of this team until a trade comes through.”

Instead, Coffey endured the embarrassment of having to pass his teammates heading for the ice, asking why he wasn’t joining them. And he had to sit at home Saturday, missing an opener when there was no physical reason to do so.

Having said that, let’s be clear on something else: There is no love lost between Bowman and Coffey. Bowman didn’t like the way Coffey played in the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago. He didn’t like the way he played in the conference finals last season. He doesn’t like Coffey’s rich and complicated contract. And, don’t forget, he’s already traded Coffey once in Pittsburgh.

Bowman feels burned by Coffey’s squelch on Hartford — a deal many felt would help the Wings — and Bowman really feels burned that Coffey called Primeau and Rutherford. “That’s close to insubordination,” said the coach.

If Bowman were an admiral, he’d send Coffey to the brig.

Business as usual

As for Coffey? Well. He’s a veteran, a great offensive talent, and a good quote, but he is looking out for himself here. No one is trying to cut his salary. They’re just trying to trade him. He doesn’t want to go, and I don’t blame him, but trades are part of the game, and refusing to report is not a behavior we should celebrate.

(For the record, according to sources, it wasn’t Coffey who broke this deal but Primeau, who suddenly wanted a sweeter piece of the Hartford pie. And the biggest reason Coffey is even involved is because the Wings need to dump his salary to get Shanahan.)

But OK. Let’s say the whole trade is dead. What happens now in Wing Land?

“I’ll show up at 11, put on the sweater, and go to work,” Coffey said.

And coach, are you worried about this rift having an effect on the other players?

“There’s no more of a rift than there was before,” Bowman said. “There was once a player who split my skull open in a game, and a few years later, I picked him up for my team.”

So we know how hardheaded the coach can be. We’ll find out about Coffey’s head today. Remember, a year ago, Steve Yzerman went through similar grief: He stayed and had a marvelous season.

But, as of today, Detroit has not improved its roster. It has a tempest in its locker room. And the season is a ticking clock, if not a time bomb.

Never let it be said the Wings don’t keep you entertained between periods.


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