Competitive drive still fuels Yzerman
By Aaron Rennie
SportsTicker Staff Writer
A shoo-in for the Hall of Fame once he retires, Yzerman is back for the grind of a 22nd NHL season. The 5-11, 185-pound center often will be banging with defensemen six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier - a difficult task to begin with, but especially so when one considers the native of Ontario is 40 years old.
Yzerman has nothing left to prove on the ice. He has collected a staggering 1,721 points - 678 goals and a franchise-record 1,043 assists - in his 1,453-game career and helped lead the Red Wings to Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Yzerman also won a gold medal with Canada in the 2002 Olympics.
Further, the last time he suited up for the Red Wings, in Game Five of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against the Calgary Flames, he was hit in the face by the puck. He suffered a fractured orbital bone, underwent a lengthy surgery and missed Game Six as Detroit was eliminated.
So why come back?
Detroit left wing Kirk Maltby thinks Yzerman didn’t want his last on-ice memory to be a negative one.
“Not that you should have to have any extra motivation, but yeah, I guess especially since the way his season ended … with the eye injury taking a puck to the face,” he said. “Then having the lockout and not knowing if he was going to get a chance. You don’t want to have to see anyone retire on the lockout or anything like that.
“A guy Stevie’s caliber and the career that he has had and the type of person that he is, you really want to see him try and come back and have one more year. It’s good that he is, and definitely that might be a little more inspiration and motivation to try and do as well as we can this year.”
Red Wings center Kris Draper, the 2004 Selke Trophy winner, has another theory.
“I think the main reason Stevie came back is because he liked our team,” he said. “We obviously just signed (center) Pavel Datsyuk and you look up front, we feel we have a very strong team up front. Our defense is going to be really good and we like our goaltending, so I think Stevie came back thinking that he has another chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“It’s obviously only training camp and you realize there is a lot to be done to get to that point, but I don’t think he would have come back if he didn’t think he had a chance to win another Cup.”
Yzerman, who trails only Gordie Howe (1,809) on the franchise’s all-time points list and is 50 shy of Marcel Dionne for fifth place all-time in NHL history, said the reason was simple: general manager Ken Holland and senior vice president Jim Devellano wanted him back, and he felt he had something left.
“They want me to come back and play and do what I can do, just come and play and try,” Yzerman told ESPN.com. “Hearing that from them, I’d like to play another year, go year by year with this thing, play and see how I do. That’s what it came down to.
“Just knowing that I’m walking in there, not because of what I’ve done in the past but because they want me to be a part of it. Hearing that, I’m happy to be back.”
But, as Draper insists, Yzerman - who is slated to see time at right wing this season - will not be displeased with the quality of the team, which will be playing under first-year coach Mike Babcock.
Despite the departures of Brett Hull, Dominik Hasek, Darren McCarty and Derian Hatcher, the Red Wings - who won the Presidents’ Trophy with 109 points in 2003-04 - should win their fifth straight Central Division title behind Yzerman, Datsyuk, former Norris Trophy-winning defensemen Niklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios and the return of goaltender Chris Osgood.
But even if Yzerman does not bring a fourth Stanley Cup under his watch to “Hockeytown,” the married father of three daughters has no qualms about retiring.
“You know, I’m comfortable with it and in some ways I look forward to it,” Yzerman told ESPN.com. “As much as I’d like to compete, it’s difficult. It gets old. You’re battling; guys are big and strong and fast. You’re fighting time.
“So in some ways, when it’s over, I’ll have a sense of relief. It’s a lot of work and I enjoy doing it, but again I look forward to when it’s over as well.”
The sentiment among North American hockey fans certainly is not the same.