by | Jul 2, 2001 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

What’s not to like? The Red Wings get Superman, a goalie who can win games by himself, and they give up a guy who is as known for disappearing from games as he is for scoring in them.

What’s not to like? Dominik Hasek isn’t called the Dominator for nothing. He has had stretches in his career — and I mean the last couple of years — in which he was simply untouchable. Cork-in-the-net. A wall of iron. Players shaking their heads and swearing nobody can do what he just did.

What’s not to like? The Wings have been talking every off-season about a defenseman, a defenseman, we gotta get a defenseman. Well, what’s a better defenseman than arguably the best netminder in the business, a guy who has six Vezina trophies as the NHL’s top goalie — including the one for last season?

Hey, if a goalie is the last line of defense, why not take the best — a man who almost single-handedly led the Buffalo Sabres to a Stanley Cup two years ago?

Why not take a guy who was the most valuable player in the league in 1997 and 1998?

Why not take a guy who led the NHL in shutouts last year — and that’s when he wasn’t talking about retiring. Imagine what he can do when he’s concentrating?

What’s not to like about that?

Please, no tears over Slava Kozlov having to go. That’s what trading is. You get, and you give up. But in one swift move, completed around 1:30 Sunday morning, the Wings shook up the snow inside their paperweight, and suddenly, they are looking much more promising than they looked last week.

It’s this simple: Dominik Hasek can win you a game, a series, maybe even a Cup.

Slava Kozlov can’t.

The latter leaves, the former arrives.

What’s not to like about that?

In the Land of Oz?

Now, I hear the concern. “What about Chris Osgood, the Red Wings’ current goalie, the young man who was supposed to be their future?”

Wake up and smell last season, folks. It is not a pleasant odor. The Red Wings were booted out of the playoffs in the first round. Osgood couldn’t stop that. Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup was won by the Colorado Avalanche, who, over the weekend, re-signed Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, and, yes, Mr. Clog-It-Up, goalie Patrick Roy.

If the Wings are going to enjoy a Lord Stanley party any time soon, they’ll only do it by besting the Colorado franchise, and that means, among other things, having a goalie who can do what Roy does, namely, in the vernacular of hockey, stand on his head.

Hasek does that. More important, every player in the league, Red Wings included, believes that Hasek does that.

They don’t feel that way about Osgood.

And though perception is not reality in hockey, it helps. It makes players on Hasek’s teams more fluid, more confident, more risk-taking, and it makes the opposing team more tentative.

So Hasek is here. Osgood is likely on his way out. The Wings can’t afford to keep both on the payroll. (Hasek will earn $8 for this season, and Osgood is scheduled to get $3.75 million.) That’s too much for Mike Ilitch, who should be saluted for once again dumping a fortune into his hockey dreams.

And though Osgood may have more upside in terms of longevity, the Wings are not interested in the years 2006 or 2007 right now. With guys like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom all costing a fortune and not getting any younger, the future is now, right now, this season.

Scotty Bowman may not coach after this season. Lidstrom may leave after this season. Hasek may retire to the Czech Republic after this season.

Now. Now. Now.

Farewell to Kozzie

As for Kozlov? The 29-year-old left wing was a good player for the Wings, a soft-spoken member of the once-famous Russian Five. But his production was slipping the last few seasons, and he had a tendency to evaporate during the regular season. True, this was often countered by his goal scoring in the playoffs. And yes, in the first round loss to Los Angeles, Kozlov had a team-high four goals.

So what? The Wings lost, remember? And, simply put, if a roster that features Sergei Fedorov, Yzerman, Shanahan and Lidstrom has to have Slava Kozlov scoring in order to win, well, that franchise isn’t going anywhere, anyhow.

A natural concern about Hasek is his age, 36. He has been relatively injury free, although two years ago, he was limited by a severe groin injury. Still, the Wings catch him at an interesting juncture, because Hasek takes great pride in his Czech heritage and is already named the goalie for the Czech Olympic effort next February in Salt Lake City.

Hasek was the main reason the Czechs won the gold medal in 1998, and his pride will surely lead him to peak form again. What the Wings need to watch for is any post-Olympic drop-off, but that should be countered by the fact that, for maybe the first time in his career, the team Hasek is playing for has some stars who are as talented at their positions as he is at his.

Besides, Hasek is only eight months older than Patrick Roy. And age hasn’t hurt him any.

What’s not to like? The Wings are surely not done with their tinkering. Osgood will bring something if they trade him, although the Wings are in a weaker position now, with other teams knowing their need to unload a goalie.

Still, the clarion call after last season’s playoff fizzle was “Shake it up! Shake it up!”

Considering it shaken. Consider it stirred. People skate away from Hasek muttering, “Unbelievable…. Incredible…. How the heck did he do that?”

And any time you have a chance to nab a player like that, you do it. Even at 1:30 in the morning.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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