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Stevie's Wonder Years

For 22 seasons in Detroit, Steve Yzerman was the consummate franchise player who saved Hockeytown.

Posted: Thursday July 27, 2006 11:56AM; Updated: Thursday July 27, 2006 1:42PM
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The rugged Yzerman bled -- figuratively and literally -- Detroit red.
The rugged Yzerman bled -- figuratively and literally -- Detroit red.
Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

I don't necessarily want to start a tribute with bathroom material, but this story must be told:

A short time after Detroit Red Wings general manager Jim Devellano had trudged up to the podium to announce that he was pleased to select Steve Yzerman with the fourth pick in the 1983 entry draft, he was in a restroom at the Montreal Forum muttering imprecations about the hockey gods and the New York Islanders, who, one spot ahead of the Red Wings, had snatched an honest-to-goodness Detroiter, Pat LaFontaine, the perfect fit, a man-child seemingly capable of resuscitating his moribund hometown franchise. (Over the years Devellano has steadfastly denied that the Wings preferred LaFontaine to Yzerman, but I was in the room. I was, er, privy to his thinking.)

In the end, Plan B worked far better than anyone dared dream. LaFontaine went on to score 468 goals in a Hall of Fame career spent principally with the Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres, but he never had the chance to do what Yzerman did. Yzerman took a franchise from Dead Things to Hockeytown.

You can distill everything from Yzerman's 22 seasons in Detroit -- 692 goals, 1,063 assists, three Stanley Cups, immeasurable grit -- and it comes down to that: The team was the Dead Things when he came in, and Detroit was Hockeytown when he went out.  He didn't win Cups until the Red Wings assembled a suitable supporting cast more than a decade later (Nick Lidstrom, the Russian Five, Brendan Shanahan and the others), but the revival had to start somewhere.