The proud Lindsay has always been intensely loyal both to the Red Wings, for whom he played for 14 seasons, and to Detroit, where he has lived since 1944. And Lindsay kept in touch with hockey during his retirement. He still skates three times a week in a league where the games are played at 7 a.m. For fun, he coached at Detroit Country Day School and at Hillsdale College. For three seasons he served as color man on the NBC telecasts, and he always came to the defense of the aggressors. "That's the way to lay the lumber on him," he would say. He also regularly attended Red Wing games. "My company used to have 16 season tickets," Lindsay says, "but the last couple of years we cut down to four. We couldn't even give tickets away to see those sleepyheads."
How bad were the sleepyheads that Lindsay inherited? Last season, after more than a decade of crackbrained trades, terrible drafts and inept management, the Red Wings hit rock bottom, finishing 91 points—or 45� games—behind Montreal and had the fewest victories (16) and goals (183) in the league. Maloney, Detroit's only stand-up-and-be-counted player, broke a shoulder blade on Dec. 23, and the Red Wings won only four of 46 games the rest of the season. In one late-season stretch of 81 power-play opportunities, they were outscored 6-1 by the penalty killers. The crowds, which were always SRO in the salad days of Lindsay and Gordie Howe—the Red Wings finished first from 1949 to 1955 and won four Stanley Cups—dropped to an announced 7,500 a night. "There were too many nights when we announced more than 8,000 and there were less than 5,000 in the building," says Lindsay. Worse, the Olympia, a decaying, 50-year-old building, was in a depressed neighborhood few people dared visit. In all, the Detroit Red Wings lost $2.6 million in 1976-77.
This was the mess Lindsay inherited. He fired two scouts and inspected the junior amateur players himself. The local press urged Lindsay to bring the Howe family, which had been sent packing en masse by a previous Red Wing administration, back to Detroit. "That would have been the easy public-relations move," says Lindsay, "but not the right move for what I'm trying to do. I'd love to have Mark, but the cost was too high. Anyway, there can be only one boss."
Lindsay tried to make trades, only to find that "you have to have something someone else wants." In Lindsay's case, Detroit had two things every other team wanted: the combative Maloney and the Red Wings' No. 1 pick—the first overall—in last June's amateur draft. Lindsay kept Maloney and the draft choice, selecting Center Dale McCourt from St. Catherine's. He also signed a batch of pugnacious free agents and acquired Goalie Ron Low from Washington, although the compensation, to Lindsay's chagrin, was Center Walt McKechnie, Detroit's top scorer last year.
Says Lindsay, "We can't contend with Montreal overnight. We know that. Right now I'm stuck with a lot of big contracts. What I promised was effort, and now we have competition at positions." The Wings had long closed their eyes to college kids and particularly to Americans. For instance, World Hockey Association MVP Robbie Ftorek, a Boston native, was rudely released after a short trial. Lindsay held a tryout camp, and 83 players came from such places as Replin, N.H. and Trail, B.C. Some 27 were held over for the regular camp, which opened with 82 players. "My owner is willing to spend anything to get a winner," says Lindsay. "I don't know the exact figures, but I do know that Montreal, Philadelphia and Detroit will spend the most on their organizations this season. The Canadiens and Flyers have done it this way for years. Check their records."
Not everything has gone smoothly. Lindsay ran into some typical Red Wing confusion last April when he announced that Larry Wilson would be rehired as coach, only to discover that the previous administration had hired Winnipeg's Bobby Kromm, effective with the termination of Kromm's Winnipeg contract in June. Kromm showed up and got the job, and Wilson took over the farm team in Kansas City. For now, Lindsay and Kromm claim to "think alike." Most important, say the players, Lindsay has stayed away from the dressing room, making it clear that Kromm is the coach.
Lindsay and Kromm hope the cornerstone of the new Red Wings will be McCourt, a graceful playmaker whose deft passes set up three goals in Detroit's 4-2 victory at Minnesota last Saturday night. McCourt isn't the only newcomer in Detroit. Ten of the 20 Red Wings played elsewhere last October. Lindsay's open-door policy made room on the roster for both a 12th-round pick, Center Rob Plumb, and a fourth-round choice, Defenseman John Hilworth. Eight of Detroit's 20 regulars have not reached their 23rd birthday. They have made a couple of youthful mistakes, but they also have hustled, checked and hit. No fights. No Hanson or Durbano, either. The former went to Kansas City, the latter was placed on the bench.
"This is the best hockey town in America," Lindsay says, "and the fans know what they're talking about. Marty Pavelich and I have been sitting up there with them for years, eating our hearts out the way they have. The difference now is that I'm being paid to do something about it. And I'm trying."