That time Steve Yzerman ripped Detroit Red Wings over trade rumors

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

Show Caption

The following is an excerpt from “The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings,” written by Free Press sports writer Helene St. James and published by Triumph Books. The book is available online and in bookstores.

Steve Yzerman wearing another NHL team’s uniform? It boggles the mind. The Wings did talk to teams about trading The Captain. The first time was in 1992. Jimmy Devellano had been pushed upstairs to a senior vice president role, and owner Mike Ilitch brought in Bryan Murray as general manager and coach. Ten years had passed since Ilitch purchased the Wings, and there was still no Stanley Cup championship. Pat LaFontaine—the Waterford native the Wings really wanted to draft in 1983—had forced the Islanders to trade him in October 1991. He put up 46 goals in 1991–92, his first season with the Buffalo Sabres.

“There was talk between Buffalo and Detroit about LaFontaine for Yzerman even up,” Devellano said in 2019. “There were talks. We didn’t make it happen. But it was considered.” Ultimately, Ilitch nixed the trade.

The second time the Wings explored trading Yzerman was 1995. Scotty Bowman was in charge. Ken Holland was the assistant general manager. The Ottawa Senators were newly minted and having a terrible time; they weren’t competitive and they weren’t a draw. Their arena at that time, the Ottawa Civic Centre, only seated 9,500 —and still there were often more empty seats than filled ones.

“They were an awful team and they weren’t selling tickets,” Devellano said. “Randy Sexton, their manager, made an inquiry to Scotty Bowman telling him basically, we need to improve the team, we’ve got a lot of tickets to sell in the new building. The one guy that would really allow that to happen is Steve Yzerman.”

[ Book excerpt: The story behind Steve Yzerman’s smile when the Detroit Red Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup ]

Yzerman grew up in Nepean, on the edge of Ottawa, Ontario. Just as the Wings coveted LaFontaine because he was from the Detroit area, the Senators saw Yzerman as someone who could fill the seats in the new arena they were building, the Canadian Tire Centre. “Sexton asked Scotty if he would ever entertain such a deal,” Devellano recalled. Bowman did entertain the idea. He would have had to receive permission from Ilitch to trigger such a trade, but it never came to that. What Bowman did was let it be known Yzerman was available. After all, Bowman pointed out, even Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals also expressed interest.

[ Book excerpt: How Chris Osgood built a home in Hockeytown: Detroit Red Wings book excerpt ]

When Yzerman found out his name had come up in trade talks, he fumed to reporters about how much it bothered him.

“I can’t say I’m upset about the possibility of being traded,” he said. “I just expected to be treated like an adult. I would have thought that at some time somebody would have come to me and said, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking. Here’s why we’re doing this.’ I guess they’re not adult enough to do that. I thought I knew people in the organization well enough. I’ve always tried to be upfront and honest and I thought I deserved that in return—the good or the bad. I love this city and I love this hockey team. But life goes on. Hockey goes on. Careers go on. We’ll just wait and see what happens.”

It is unlikely Ilitch would have okayed a deal, but Bowman let it play out until it petered out. “Ken Holland and Scotty were in on the discussions,” Devellano said. “They would report back to me. There were tons of names involved. At the end of the day, that trade didn’t get done because they couldn’t even afford to pay Yzerman. It was a wasted effort.”

Book it!

What: “The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings.”

Author: Helene St. James, who has covered the Red Wings at the Detroit Free Press since 1996. Foreword by Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cups as a Wings goaltender.

Publisher: Triumph Books.

Pages: 336 pages (paperback).

Price: $16.95.

Availability: Available in leading bookstores and online from  Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at

About the book: “The Big 50” brings to life the men and moments that made the Red Wings such a dynamic and iconic franchise for nearly a century. The book features never-before-told stories about the greats such as Howe, Yzerman, Lidstrom and Lindsay, the near-greats beloved by fans and the great memories of Fight Night, the Fabulous Fifties, the Team for the Ages, the Grind Line, The Joe and much more.

Get it signed! For a personalized copy of “The Big 50,” contact St. James at

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

Articles You May Like

Detroit Red Wings: JT Compher needs to be smooth up the middle
Detroit Red Wings: Playoffs is the talk of training camp
Red Wings Prospect Rankings: #5 Sebastian Cossa
1 Trade Candidate From Each Atlantic Team in 2023-24
3 Red Wings Who Need to Step Up In 2023-24

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *