I went away for a while, and now I’m back. I always know when it’s time to come back because I’m usually traveling far from home and I see something on the news that makes me yell, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
So there I was, down in Mexico, the surf rolling in, the margaritas flowing like a Las Vegas lobby fountain. And I picked up a day-old copy of the Los Angeles Times and I saw a report that said Red Wing goalie Mike Vernon, the hero of the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, was about to be traded to the San Jose Sharks for a couple of draft picks.
And, true to form, my immediate reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
(Actually, my immediate reaction was to ask the barman, Jose, if he was making the drinks extraordinarily strong today. My second reaction was to rub my eyes. My third reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding!”)
And I knew it was time to come back.
So now that I’m here, may I ask a question: Has this whole town been in the sun too long? What’s with the laid-back attitude toward this move? This is a big deal! This is a potentially disastrous blunder. You don’t just give away a guy who is arguably your most important player. Not without a little noise, folks.
Let’s face it — and Detroit fans know this better than most — there is, in hockey, the goalie, and there is everyone else. I don’t care how old he is. I don’t care how expensive he is. I don’t care if he whines, cries, sleepwalks or draws smiley faces on his mask. There are only two types of goalies — the ones you know can get it done when it counts, and the ones you have to wonder about.
Mike Vernon is in the former group.
He should still be here today.
Wings had a Hodson choice
Now, before we get into the ins and outs of this, let me put a picture in your mind: It’s next spring. Red Wings in the NHL semi-finals. Chris Osgood pulls a muscle, and in comes …
…Kevin Hodson to take the Wings to the promised land.
Sorry, but that’s a picture you face if you have no choice. The fact is, the Wings had a choice. They could have kept Vernon and Osgood, the same combination that got them a Stanley Cup last season. If you ask me, it’s what they should have done, because if we’ve learned anything in today’s sports world it’s win when you have a chance. Mortgage the next few years if you have to, but grab that brass ring when it’s within reach. It’s the reason the Yankees grabbed Cecil Fielder last year. The reason the Bulls put up with Dennis Rodman for another season. If you have a winning horse, you ride it.
The Wings could have ridden that horse. It would have meant two things. 1) Letting Hodson go in the waiver draft. 2) Paying a lot of money to Vernon.
First, No. 1. It would hurt. I like Hodson. He’s 25 years old, with a handful of games under his belt. It would be a shame to let a guy with such potential slip away.
Then again, isn’t Osgood a few months younger than Hodson? Isn’t he the guy with the future, too? Hey, the only thing Osgood lacks is the same thing that Hodson lacks — and the one thing Vernon has over both of them — Stanley Cup-winning experience.
It’s worth its weight in luxury boxes.
As for No. 2, the money. Come on. There’s no salary cap in hockey. And though I feel for Mr. Ilitch’s purse strings, with the inflated prices he can now get for anything even associated with the Wings, I doubt Vernon’s $2-million salary would break the bank.
Or maybe you haven’t paid for a season ticket lately.
Was Vernon lucky? We’ll see
I called Vernon Monday night. He admitted that the three-year, $8.25 million deal he got from San Jose was what he wanted and that he’d told the Wings “If I don’t get a three-year deal, I’m not coming to training camp.”
Now, I hear you say, “See, he wanted three years and $9 million.” And I say, so what? Just because he asked doesn’t mean he gets it. The Wings were under no obligation to pay Vernon beyond this coming year. And even Mike admitted “I would probably not have sat out a whole season” and blown $2 million. If the Wings lost him as a free agent after this season, well, that’s a risk. But you might have another Stanley Cup by then. Isn’t that the whole point in hockey? Besides, Vernon plays his best when a new contract is on the line.
“I don’t know why they did what they did,” Vernon said. “They kept telling me they wanted to repeat. Isn’t the best way to repeat to use the players who got you there?”
I would say so.
And to those who claim the Wings can take the money they saved and the picks they acquired and package them late next season for a defenseman, I say this: Why are you willing to bet on a good deal coming through next year, while making a bad one now?
No, as I see it, this move was made partially to save money, partially to get Scotty Bowman to play Osgood all the way — something Ken Holland supposedly wants more than Bowman does — and partially because the Wings are betting that Vernon is not that good anymore, he just got lucky last season.
Personally, I’ll take that kind of luck any day.
Then again, if I had it, I’d still be in Mexico.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Tuesdays With Morrie” 7-8 p.m. Friday night at Book Beat in Oak Park, and 11 a.m.-noon Saturday, at Borders on Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills.