Why Steve Yzerman must delay naming next Detroit Red Wings captain

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman may want to change the plans he made last May, because his decision is worth more pomp and circumstance than the pandemic allows.

Yzerman, the longest serving captain in NHL history, has wanted to put a “C” on a Wings player before the start of the 2020-21 season, but that seems unlikely as COVID-19 continues to dominate every aspect of our lives.

It isn’t even so much that 2021 will be a shortened season, but that the announcement can’t be garner the attention it deserves.  If it’s done at a news conference, it will be via Zoom. If it’s before a game, there’ll be few — if any — fans to cheer the team’s first captain since 2018.

The Wings have relied on rotation of alternate captains since Henrik Zetterberg retired before the start of training camp two and a half years ago, with Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening and Justin Abdelkader wearing an “A.” Larkin, whom the Wings drafted in the first round in 2014, was the clear choice to be the next captain, but then-general manager Ken Holland didn’t want to burden Larkin with answering for a team that everyone within the organization knew would struggle. At the time, Larkin was 23.

The thought was that Larkin should be allowed a year to get acclimated, and that he would be named captain before the 2019-20 season.

Then management changed.

How Steve Yzerman and Dylan Larkin bonded during tough Detroit Red Wings season ]

When Yzerman succeeded Holland in April 2019, he decided to get to know his players before making an announcement on the captaincy. In September 2019, Yzerman said, “when we eventually do name a captain, I intend that person to be the captain for a long time.”

In May, Yzerman sounded ready to reveal his choice, saying, “the plan is to name a captain prior to the start of our next season.”

Yzerman still could decide to do so, of course, but history shows it’s an announcement that deserves a degree of formality and celebration not possible during a pandemic.

Yzerman was appointed captain on Oct. 7, 1986. He was 21 years old, the youngest captain in franchise history. Coach Jacques Demers presented Yzerman a Wings sweater bearing the “C” at a news conference after a practice in Oak Park. “The captain has to be a guy who can play, a guy who on and off the ice shows some class; a guy who wears the Detroit Red Wings sweater with some pride, and a guy who the other players look up to and respect,” Demers said. “He doesn’t have to necessarily be a rah-rah guy, but someone who will stand up when times get tough and say, ‘Let’s go, guys. This is it.’ ”

Former teammate Gerard Gallant recalled Yzerman’s reaction as muted. “He was pretty excited, but he didn’t show it much,” Gallant said. “That’s just the way Steve is. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion.”

When it was time to name Yzerman’s  successor, Nicklas Lidstrom, the Wings made a big deal out of it, too. During warmups before the season opener in 2006, Lidstrom wore his familiar red No. 5 sweater with an “A” on it. But when the pregame festivities began with an introduction of each player, Lidstrom stepped onto the ice to a standing ovation as he was introduced as the captain.

[From stealing apples to winning 4 Stanley Cups: Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom is 50 ]

Fans erupted a second time when Yzerman — who had retired in July 2006 — walked onto the red carpet for a ceremonial puck drop.

When Lidstrom retired in 2012, Henrik Zetterberg was the obvious successor. A labor dispute delayed the announcement until January, but then it was made at a news conference, hours before the annual Red and White game that concludes training camp. It was held at what was then Plymouth’s Compuware Arena, where the Wings held their training camp that year.

The 2021 season will be another rushed affair, and will be overshadowed by playing under the pandemic. Far better for Yzerman to delay the announcement of the next captain until, when — hopefully — it can get the attention history shows it deserves.

A Perfect Holiday Gift

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 booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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 hstjames@freepress.com

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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. 

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