| Detroit Free Press
Video: Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman on challenges of 2021 season
Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman on challenges of COVID-19 shortened 2021 season. Dec. 22, 2020.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Red Wings normally relish the Christmas break, coming right around the midpoint of the season, as a chance to relax and reboot. But the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all sense of normal, and instead the Wings are gearing up to start the 2021 season in mid-January.
When they do, it will have been 10 months since they last took to the ice at Little Caesars Arena. Instead of celebrating New Year’s Eve by playing a home game, the Wings will mark the last day of 2020 by starting training camp.
The NHL has not scheduled a game on Christmas Day since 1970. The break has allowed for high jinks, hanging at home and hope. In this challenging year, here’s a look at the Wings’ past, present and future.
Cheers to the past
Time was, the Wings would step into Christmas on a merry note. They cherished Festivus, the Dec. 23 holiday made famous in one of the all-time classic “Seinfeld” episodes. For the Wings, it was all about “the Airing of Grievances.”
Here’s a gem from 2009, when Chris Osgood sounded off on Jimmy Howard and Kirk Maltby: “I have a grievance against Jimmy for calling me five times a day. It’s like I have three kids — two daughters and a really old and immature son. He has his own dad, he has a grandpa. I’d like to see him call them more and me less. And Maltby, I mean, his lips are always flapping — just non-stop. I wish he’d get a muzzle.”
Osgood was in top form again in 2010, when he had a grievance, with, basically, all his teammates. “The guys always take my toothpaste and my hair products out of my kit I use on the road. Always. I don’t know who or why, but it’s annoying.”
That, in turn, led to Kris Draper’s grievance: “Ozzy steals my toothpaste and puts it in his kit. Happens all the time — I buy it, he takes it.”
Darren Helm took advantage of Festivus 2010 to air grievances against Osgood, Todd Bertuzzi, and especially Kris Draper. Draper delighted in framing Helm and Justin Abdelkader as the characters from the movie Dumb and Dumber (think hairdos – Helm as Lloyd Christmas, Abdelkader as Harry Dunne).
Here was Helm at the time: “Everybody for always telling me to slow down. Everyone for calling me ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ Ozzy for always having different nicknames for me every day. Drapes, same thing. Ozzy and Drapes for always ganging up on me and Abby. Bert’s perfect, except he makes me get tape for him, and then he says it’s ‘for us’ but there is no ‘us.’ There’s just him.”
Of course, no player embodies Christmas quite like Tomas Holmstrom. Once teammates found out he was from Piteå, Sweden — not far from the Arctic Circle — they delighted in handing him their wish lists in December, figuring he was practically neighbors with Santa Claus. Holmstrom did dress up as Father Christmas and surprised Nicklas Lidstrom’s children when they were toddlers.
“I limped a little bit because I was pretending to have been on this long trip,” Holmstrom said in 2001. “They thought I had come all the way from Sweden with presents for them.”
At least Lidstrom repaid the favor: Asked what he’d get Holmstrom for Christmas in 2007, Lidstrom replied, “an ice scraper, so he doesn’t have to use his credit cards when he’s scraping his windshield.”
That was also the year Pavel Datsyuk shared his Christmas wish: “When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to drink a lot on Christmas and be drunk.”
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Here’s to the present
Steve Yzerman said this week he was anxious and excited to see the Wings play. Considering he’s only 21 months into his tenure as general manager, Yzerman already has put quite an imprint on the team. He signaled that being a veteran won’t buy a player leeway (Jonathan Ericsson was put on waivers last season; Justin Abdelkader was bought out in October) and brought in new faces in defensemen Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher; forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov; and goaltender Thomas Greiss.
The Wings won’t be contenders, but the additions suggest they will be more competitive than the team that won 17 games last season.
While we wait for the Wings to begin play, there’s the World Junior Championship, which starts Christmas Day. The pandemic means there won’t be any fans at the event at Edmonton’s Rogers Arena, but every game will be shown on NHL Network. The highlight of opening day has the U.S. taking on Russia at 9:30 p.m..
The Wings don’t have any players on either of those teams, but you should recognize Russia’s coach — it’s former Wings great and Russian Five pivot Igor Larionov, fondly known as The Professor for his cerebral tastes (chess and wine).
The Wings of course, have a bunch of players on the Swedish team, though. Most prominently there’s Lucas Raymond, their fourth overall pick in 2020, as well as fellow forwards Theodor Niederbach and Elmer Soderblom and defensemen Albert Johansson and Gustav Berglund. Sweden opens play on Saturday with a game against the Czech Republic, which features Wings goaltending prospect Jan Bednar. The other Wings prospect at the tournament is Finland defenseman Eemil Viro.
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The tournament ends Jan. 5. To tide you over until the NHL begins Jan. 13, you can read up on the Wings’ tremendous history in my book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings. It’s available in bookstores and online via, among other outlets, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. If you want a personalized copy, please email me at Hstjames@freepress.com.
Hope for the future
The World Juniors offers an opportunity to get an eyeful of players eligible for the 2021 draft. While the changes made by Yzerman should make the Wings more competitive this season, they still project to finish near the bottom of the standings and, in turn, be in the draft lottery again. Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin is at the event.
Michigan forward Matthew Beniers (USA) is one of the higher-end prospects at the tournament. Michigan did not, however, release defenseman Owen Power to Hockey Canada. (Because of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, Power would have had to quarantine in Canada for two weeks before the start of Canada’s camp.) Forward Aatu Räty, was left off Finland’s roster, and Sweden left behind forward William Eklund after he tested positive for COVD-19 and cut defenseman Simon Edvinsson.
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Closer to home, the rebuild looks like it will get a boost from recent draft picks as soon as the autumn. Defenseman Moritz Seider (sixth, 2019) has 12 points in 19 games for Rögle in the Swedish Hockey League; it’sthe 19-year-old’s third season in a men’s league. Forward Jonatan Berggren (33rd, 2018) has 24 points in 23 games with Skellefteå. Raymond has 12 points in 22 games with Frölunda. All project to make the Wings’ future better and brighter.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.