General manager Ken Holland is one reason Detroit is again in the driver's seat
In late February the pressure was mounting on second-year Detroit general manager Ken Holland. The Red Wings were barely over .500 and seemed unlikely to win a third straight Stanley Cup, in part because Holland's off-season signing of free-agent defenseman Uwe Krupp had failed. ( Krupp played just 22 games this season because of a back ailment.) Holland was responsible for doing something drastic to revive Detroit. The trade deadline was a month away.
Then, on Feb. 21 Holland's mother, Lee, called and told him he had better come home to Vernon, B.C. "My father had fallen," says Ken, 43. "He just had a broken arm, but because of his condition we knew it was serious." Ken's father, Rienie, was suffering from Parkinson's disease, and the broken bone began a series of complications that caused his body to fail. For three days, from 8 a.m. until past midnight, Ken sat with his younger siblings, Diane and Dennis, by Rienie's bed at the hospital in Vernon. At 2 a.m. on Feb. 26, Rienie died. "That week was the first time I can remember Ken putting something before hockey," says his wife, Cindi, who has been married to Ken since 1980.
On March 2 Ken delivered the eulogy at Rienie's funeral. Three days later he was with the Red Wings on a road trip. He turned his cell phone back on; the trade deadline was 18 days away. "While I was with my father, there was no hockey in my life," says Holland. "I needed to grieve and to sort things through. When I came back, life was marching on. I had to march on too."
On March 23, in the most significant cluster of trades by any team this season, Detroit acquired winger Wendel Clark and goalie Bill Ranford from the Lightning and, more important, landed hard-hitting defensemen Chris Chelios (from the Blackhawks) and Ulf Samuelsson ( Rangers), who transformed the Wings' defense from suspect to fearsome. The Red Wings responded by winning nine of their final 12 regular-season games and sweeping the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. "Even if we don't win another game, I feel the trades were right," said Holland last week. "We're back in the picture. We were kind of falling out"
Hired as a western Canada scout in the autumn of '85 by Jimmy Devellano, the former general manager who is now the team's vice president, Holland became Detroit's chief scout within five years. Under Holland the Wings drafted such essential players as goalie Chris Osgood and forwards Slava Kozlov, Martin Lapointe, Darren McCarty and Keith Primeau, the last of whom was traded for star wing Brendan Shanahan.
In 1994 Holland was named assistant general manager, and when he succeeded Devellano as general manager in the summer of '97, he immediately made a gutsy move by trading Cup-winning goalie Mike Vernon, who was 34, to the Sharks to make room for the 24-year-old Osgood. Osgood rewarded Holland by winning the Cup last year. "Trading Vernon was very hard," says Holland. "After that, it's been smooth sailing."
The Postseason Is Just a Dream
The Ducks, Oilers and Senators endured first-round sweeps, but at least their players felt the warmth of the postseason spotlight. For Islanders right wing Ziggy Palffy, a three-time 40-goal scorer, this has been another cold spring. Palffy has played 331 regular-season games without appearing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the most among active players. "I'm not having fun, and I want to be in the playoffs," Palffy said when New York's season ended last month. "I've been here five years; that's a long time."
Given the Islanders' poor management Palffy could be in for five more long years. That's how much time he needs to reach the standard set by forward Guy Charron, who played for four teams between 1969-70 and 1980-81 and holds the NHL record for having played in the most games (734) without setting a skate onto playoff ice.