Hang on. Hockeytown is not dead yet. Reports of its demise have been premature and, in some cases, pretty silly. Ryan Suter, a fine player, isn’t worth this much hand-wringing. He has never won a Stanley Cup. He won’t win one on his own. His spurning Detroit doesn’t kill this franchise, any more than Tom Cruise’s spurning Nicole Kidman killed her career. Two years after they divorced, she won an Oscar.
The Red Wings will win again, too. Yes, they made Suter and Zach Parise big offers. In the end, those two friends chose to play together in Minnesota and get even bigger money: $98 million each over 13 years. So what? Had the Wings shelled out that much for these two, there would be serious screaming about them overpaying and handcuffing their future.
Instead, there is talk about Detroit losing its luster as a destination. Really? For Minnesota – which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008? You could play with a perennial winner, with superstars like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, with a coach who’s won a Cup and been to three Finals, and instead you chose a mediocre roster, a losing record, and a coach that was in the AHL two years ago?
That doesn’t speak to Detroit.
That speaks to Suter and Parise.
And they are no longer the Red Wings’ concern. The fact is, had Nick Lidstrom played one more year, this would not be a discussion. Had Suter signed and not Parise, this would not be a discussion. Neither happened.
It’s still not a discussion.
Enthusiasm can’t be capped
“If you look at the length of these contracts, you can’t be in the free agency market every year,” Ken Holland said Friday from Traverse City. “When we made a decision to keep Zetterberg, that was 12 years. Johan Franzen was 11.
“You can afford one or two more of those and the rest has to be drafting and developing. …
“It’s great to have a press conference, but you might only have one press conference every decade.”
Wings fans are spoiled. The years when names like Hasek, Robitaille, Hull or Lang could be added because Mike Ilitch spent more than other owners are gone. Everyone has the same money now. It’s a salary cap world.
But Detroit is still a star on the map.
Consider how many NHL cities have to fight for fans. Look at how attendance dips in places like Colorado and New Jersey, despite their successful histories. Look at Phoenix or Dallas, which always battle warm weather and distracted fan bases.
Then look at Detroit, with four Stanley Cups in the last 15 years, a committed owner and a rabid fan base. Hockey players are a big deal in this town – they don’t even need to be All-Stars. Their post-career options are strong. And it’s an Original Six team.
“We’re still Hockeytown,” Holland said. “There’s still sex appeal to play here.”
These Wings aren’t broken
Let’s be honest. Losing Lidstrom has shaken confidence. So has losing Brad Stuart to free agency and Brian Rafalski to retirement. We’re used to stars on that back line – Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Vladimir Konstantinov – and we wanted Holland to slide in Suter to keep it that way.
He almost did. Holland said only Detroit and Minnesota got private visits with Suter and Parise. He also said he was told by their agents, early on, that they didn’t care if they played together. In the end, they did. But their package, at that price, is less attractive than Suter alone.
So Minnesota – whose owner recently complained about his struggling finances – got to write the check, thanks in no small part to family that both players had in the area. OK. That doesn’t mean Detroit is suddenly just another team.
“I’m disappointed,” Holland said, “but there’s free agents in 2013, 2014, 2015.”
As for whispers that Mike Babcock might be scaring away players because of his tough reputation, Holland said, “I’ve heard that. There’s no doubt Mike pushes the players. But that’s part of why we’re successful. Mike is one of the most respected coaches in the business. I don’t believe anybody makes a decision not to come to Detroit on account of him. The fact is, in contracts this long, you may play for three or four coaches anyhow.”
Hey, we all like to shop with an owner’s money. But it’s not a defeat when the bag comes back empty – it’s just a development. In a league where the No. 8 seed wins the title, chemistry, unity and a hot goalie count more than one superstar anyhow.
The Wings deserve patience and belief, considering their last two decades. And Hockeytown deserves better than a premature funeral.