SHOULD HASEK RETURN? IT’S MIND OVER GROIN

This is Dominik Hasek’s brain: “I can come back.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s groin: “Are you nuts?”

This is Dominik Hasek’s wallet: “We could use some fattening.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s groin: “I’m feeling a twinge. I’m not kidding.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s ego: “I did pretty darn good this year. We made the Western Conference finals. I was probably our best player.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s groin: “I’ll snap, I swear, you keep this up, I’ll snap right now.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s sense of history: “I’m 42. I’m amazing. If I keep this up, I can be the oldest goalie to ever play in the NHL.”

This is Dominik Hasek’s groin: “OK, that does it. You want old? I’ll show you old …”

Dominik Hasek is a medical marvel. We know it. The Red Wings know it. For all the playoff hand-wringing over losing Mathieu Schneider and Niklas Kronwall to injury – both big losses, both hard to overcome – no one pointed to the extraordinary health luck the Wings enjoyed in keeping Hasek fit as a grizzly bear.

I mean, this is a guy whose body – particularly the lower half – is wound as tightly as a piano string around a cable around a girder. With Ottawa, his last team, he lasted 43 games and was done for the year. He has a history of wanting his body perfect, and when his body is less than perfect, his attendance is not.

And the Wings are looking at next season.

Sometimes he plays, sometimes he retires

“Do you think Dom can play another year?” someone asked coach Mike Babcock after the Wings were eliminated Tuesday night in Anaheim.

“Why not?” he said.

Well. Why not? Look at Dom’s accomplishment. Not only did he dance – relatively – through the regular season, he actually turned it up in the playoffs. No nights of rest. No special time off schedule. He played every minute of every playoff game, including the ones where you finished, got on a plane, flew across the country, crawled into bed, got up and played again.

He never missed a minute. Never even nursed an injury. And he made one incredible save after another, stonewalling good teams like Calgary and San Jose and Anaheim. Why wouldn’t you want that back?

On the other hand. The Wings are within reason to ask how long before the genie retires to the bottle? How long can they dodge that inevitable groin pull that sidelines Hasek and leaves them scrambling? Dom turns 43 in January. Some guys that age pull a groin just thinking about hockey.

“It’s very possible it was my last game,” Hasek told the media after Game 6. “But I don’t know. Two weeks to three weeks, then I’m going to make my decision.”

This how it goes with Dom. He takes his time. He is methodical. Maybe he signs. Maybe he doesn’t.

This is his head: “I am the Dominator.”

This is his groin: “You go where I go, pal.”

Memories of all those early summers

Still, can you imagine what these playoffs would have been without Hasek? They would have been, well, the playoffs we’ve had since his last postseason in the net. The Wings have been sent packing by superior goaltending before. And there is a huge difference in the way they skate in front of Hasek versus how they have skated in front of Chris Osgood, Manny Legace and Curtis Joseph. It’s no accident that 2007 is as far as they’ve gone since 2002 – both Hasek years. Playoff hockey is all about goaltending. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the single biggest reason the Ducks are still playing and the Wings are not.

And it is worth remembering that, before they plucked Hasek out of semi-retirement last summer, the Wings were scrambling to find a netminder – and dealing with names like Ed Belfour and Martin Biron.

So Detroit, on the one hand, would be crazy not to sign Dom – if he’s willing. On the other hand, at some point you have to develop new people, right? Preferably younger people? Wouldn’t it be nice if the Wings one season had a superstar goalie – and he was under 30? Heck. Even under 40?

Dom’s brain: “I can do it.”

Dom’s groin: “Oh, really?”

You be the judge.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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