Steve Yzerman returns to the Red Wings lineup tonight, and it’s oh-so-wrong.
Not the return, of course -- but rather, its venue.
That we should watch Yzerman skate with the Wings for the first time (not counting those silly exhibition games) since taking a puck to the eye on May 1, 2004, in front of an enemy crowd in Los Angeles, isn’t proper. His return should be at home, in front of the 20,000+ regulars at the Joe, complete with the three-minute standing ovation. Then he should go out and score the winning goal in overtime and feel fit as a fiddle. Such heroes should be accorded storybooks, shouldn’t they?
Yzerman, when we last saw him in a game that mattered, had collapsed like he’d been shot -- which he had, by an errant slapper -- and only skated off the ice after several horrifying minutes lying on the ice, his entire career flashing before our eyes. The lasting image was of him being assisted into the dressing room, a bloodied towel pressed against his damaged eye. It was doubtful whether he’d skate back out -- ever.
It’s not the eye that bothers him now. He plans to wear a protective visor this season, most likely his last as a player. It’s been an annoying groin injury that has delayed Yzerman’s 2005-06 debut. Groin injuries can be lethal poison to hockey players, especially goalies. Naturally, goalie Chris Osgood is battling a groin injury as well. Remember how Dominik Hasek’s groin acted up a couple years ago? So Yzerman now fights through a groin problem, and once again we are left to wonder how much hockey is truly left in #19’s 40 year-old body.
All this is why Yzerman should be suiting up in Detroit, in front of the Hockeytown loyalists. Heck, he’s already missed four games -- why not a few more? Wait til the team gets back from this road trip and then stick The Captain into the lineup. Sure, he’ll get an enthusiastic welcome when he steps out onto the JLA ice, regardless if it’s his first game back or not. But it will be even more so if he does it as the Official Return. Hey, maybe the rest of the team will be so jacked up that it may prove to be a bonus to the cause.
I’m sure that if you were to poll him, Yzerman would tell you he couldn’t care less where he plays his first game in a Red Wings uniform this season. He’ll just be glad to be on the ice after that brush with career death 5/1/04. He never got caught up in all that hero worship baloney. But that’s okay -- that’s what we hero worshippers are here for.
And we say bring Stevie back on the riverfront, in front of the crazies with their Wing Nuts and their Yzerman jerseys and their $12 beers. Insert him into the starting lineup, complete with laser images on the ice before the game and a short video montage on JoeVision to boot. Do it all, and party like it’s the Cup Finals. For Stevie Yzerman is back and he’s going to give us one more go around and if the only thing that’s different in him is a plastic protective visor, after the puck he took to his eye 17 months or so ago, that ain’t nothing.
Are you listening, Mike Babcock? Come on, loosen up.