Thursday, December 01, 2005

Out-of-Towners, Relax -- Yzerman Isn't Going Anywhere

Yzerman and coach Babcock have an understanding

National media, apparently, are wringing their hands over the status of Red Wings' captain Steve Yzerman. A garden variety sampler is this, from Bob McKenzie of, in a piece titled "Is The End Near For Stevie Yzerman?":

The truth is these must be difficult days, on and off the ice, for Yzerman, a Detroit hockey icon if ever there were one.

On the ice, his ravaged knee has been a pain, forcing him to ask for a day off on Saturday and raising serious questions about his ability to get through this season. Off the ice, it can't be too much fun either, trying to wrestle with the emotional issue of precisely when is the right time to say he's had enough.

As private and proud a person as Yzerman is, this is clearly Stevie Y's call to make. But between the pain of his knee and the limited minutes, likely to be less than 10 on most nights, he's been getting from the Wings, the writing appears to be on the wall.

McKenzie goes on to say that he wouldn't be surprised if Yzerman called it quits as early as this week, or next.


True, Steve Yzerman, at age 40, isn't the impact player he once was, but that's not his role anymore. He is content with that, or else he wouldn't have come back for his 22nd season.

On the one hand, Yzerman is the kind of player who wouldn't want to continue playing if he felt he was hurting the team. He would, I believe, absolutely call it quits in the middle of a season, if that were the case.

But Yzerman is also the kind of player who wouldn't have bothered putting himself thru hell to play again if he didn't truly believe he could gut it out for a full campaign. And that's the point I think Bob McKenzie, and others, are missing.

It's easy to look at Yzerman's production (3 goals, 5 assists) and his playing time, which sometimes is less than 10 minutes per game, on a fourth line, and come to the conclusion that "the writing is on the wall." But that's making an assumption that Yzerman came back to be one of the top six forwards, which I don't think he really intended upon being. Steve Yzerman is not a fool. He knows that his role has changed, and he seems content with that.

Plus, isn't a Steve Yzerman who is 40 years old, a Steve Yzerman who may not be the player he once was, still better than more than half of the players in the league currently?

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock should get accolades, in my mind, for handling the Yzerman situation the way he has. That is to say, he hasn't really "handled" it at all. Simply put, Babcock plays Yzerman as much as he feels the captain can, and allows for some additional rest, whether during games or in practices. There seems to be an understanding between coach and player, which are the only two people who truly matter in a situation such as this.

So tell Bob McKenzie and the other national folks who are getting a bee in their bonnet over Steve Yzerman's playing time and production to chill out.

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