Sunday, May 01, 2005

May Day: Yzerman's 2004 Injury Can't Be The End -- Can It?

So far, these are the last images of Yzerman as a player

It may not quite be to the magnitude of "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?", but for any Red Wings fan watching television May 1, 2004, it may have been the hockey equivalent.

"Where were you when Yzerman got hit?"

One year ago today, Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman was felled -- no better word for it, really -- by a deflected slap shot that smacked directly into his left eye. It was Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, against Calgary in Joe Louis Arena, and Yzerman's collapse to the ice, followed by horrified gasps and then virtual silence, kept everyone who was watching at home glued to their sets. Suddenly, the game, the series, the playoff run, all lined up behind the concern for Yzerman's well-being.

The episode sucked the life out of the Red Wings, who hadn't played such a spirited game up to that point anyhow. They lost the game, then the next, and so were blasted out of the playoffs in the second round, in six games. But that hardly mattered. Whether Steve Yzerman would see out of the eye again, much less play hockey, became the primary issue. Only after a few days, when it was determined that the vision would indeed be saved, could we all get back to the business of raking the team over the coals for an early postseason exit.

But then, like a monster in a horror movie who comes back from the dead, Yzerman's future became front and center again, months later. The good news: he could see, and even play. The bad news: there was nowhere to play -- certainly not in any NHL arena. The NHL's total cancellation of everything -- preseason, regular season, playoffs, the whole enchilada, due to labor strife -- meant that the future of older players like Yzerman, who will be 40 this month, was very much in doubt.

How ironic, then, that Yzerman should recover from such a horrific eye injury, yet still may never play again because of the league's labor woes.

Thanks to league labor woes, Yzerman's playing future is in doubt

For the record, Yzerman says it is still premature to make a decision about his playing future, but he also admits that the longer the stalemate lasts between owners and players, the less likely it is he will ever step onto the ice again. If you think that is hardly the way a career such as his should end, you are in the same boat as millions of hockey fans -- Red Wings or not.

For what it's worth, I still don't think we've seen the last of Steve Yzerman, the player. My gut tells me the NHL will get its act together -- finally -- and there will be hockey next season, and on time. And that means Yzerman, who will probably be in his final season as a player, will get the proper send off, in Detroit and other NHL cities.

Steve Yzerman recovered from his black eye. Let's hope the NHL recovers from its, too.

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