Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Wings Are Now the Rodney Dangerfields of the NHL

Well, how do you like the rest of the NHL? They’re showing their true character, these teams.

Look what they’re doing to the Detroit Red Wings these days.

Someone must have hung a sign outside Joe Louis Arena: “Free licks! Get ‘em in—limited time offer.”

The Joe used to be a House of Horrors for opponents. You flew into Detroit, got your requisite butt kicking, and moved on. They weren’t hockey games, they were wakes.

The Red Wings might stumble or lose interest enough to let five or six games, total, slide into the “L” column in any given season at JLA. They toyed with opponents, like an ape with a piece of Samsonite.

Now everyone is coming into Detroit and winning hockey games, like it’s part of a new world order. Even Florida and Atlanta have done it this season, and they win in Detroit once a decade.

The Red Wings are being treated shabbily on the road, too. It used to be that when the Red Wings came to town, you bought a ticket to see your team play the role of the Washington Generals to the Detroit Globetrotters. And you enjoyed it. The Red Wings were so special, it was an honor to see your team get clocked by them.

But look at what the league has the gall to do nowadays.

First they strip the Red Wings of their key goal scorers via free agency, in the summertime, then conspire with the hockey gods to rain injury and pestilence on them during the season. Finally, they’re acting like vultures, picking at the Winged Wheel carcass.

These are the Detroit Red Wings, folks. A little respect, please!

You don’t treat the Red Wings like this. These are the Popes of hockey. They’re practically royalty. You wouldn’t invite the Queen of England over and let the dog play with her crown, would you?

This is disgraceful, what’s going on in the NHL this season? I want to lodge a complaint.

All you teams are playing the Red Wings brave now, aren’t you? It’s like Jerry Quarry having a shot at Muhammad Ali with one of Muhammad’s arms tied behind his back.

They’re even shutting the Red Wings out now, which used to happen only during leap years or something. Five times the Red Wings have been blanked, and twice it’s happened two games in a row.

Of course, you knew team scoring would be down, seeing as the Red Wings lost a bajillion goals vis-à-vis players traipsing to other cities to play hockey in the offseason. It was the biggest mass exodus since the Exodus.

Players don’t leave Detroit to play hockey elsewhere, as a rule, unless they’ve been shipped out of town. But the Red Wings lost Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, and Jiri Hudler off last season’s Stanley Cup Finals roster. Even the backup goalie, Ty Conklin, skipped town.

OK, so the economics of hockey dictate that you just can’t keep all of your good players. Fine. But what about all of the injuries?

The Red Wings have been hit so hard by injuries that the Detroit Medical Center opened a kiosk behind Section 212 at The Joe. The first thing you do when you enter the Red Wings dressing room is scrub up.

As far as injury bugs go, the Red Wings are dealing with a humdinger of a cockroach. I’ve seen flies drop with less frequency than Red Wings players this season. Mike Babcock isn’t coaching the Red Wings, he’s trying to keep them animated. The best shot on the team is cortisone.

But does the rest of the NHL care?

I thought hockey players were the kindest, most down-to-Earth of all the professional athletes. Turns out they have a mean streak of a serial killer and are as opportunistic as a personal injury lawyer. I’m surprised at them—taking advantage of the league’s First Family like this.

This is kicking a team when it’s down—and they’re wearing skates while they’re doing it.

The Red Wings have a record of 18-14-5, which is really 18-19. They score about 2.6 goals a game. The Red Wings of old would have 2.6 goals before the game was 29.5 minutes old.

The Chicago Blackhawks recently played the Red Wings twice in four days, and the Hawks treated the Wings like Rodney Dangerfield. Normally, a home-and-home series between the two teams would be just another chance for the Red Wings to remind the young Blackhawks who was the Stanley Cup-contending team and who was the smart aleck kid.

The Blackhawks skunked the Red Wings twice, by identical 3-0 scores. It didn’t matter that the Red Wings were hurt, depleted, and miserable. This is pro sports; the next team that feels sorry for you will be the first.

“They’re just better than we are right now,” Babcock said of the Blackhawks after the second whitewashing.

And healthier, and younger, and more confident.

The Red Wings haven’t been getting much sympathy around the league. It’s open season on them now, and even the 98-pound weaklings have been getting their shots in. The Red Wings have been league bullies for years, and now it’s their turn to get their lunch money taken by force.

What a crazy, mixed up hockey season this is. The Phoenix Coyotes, practically wards of the league—a team that Wayne Gretzky didn’t even want a part of—are battling for supremacy in their division. The defending Cup champs play in the Eastern Conference. Now THAT’S something.

And the Detroit Red Wings are being defiled like a cheap floozy in Times Square.

But check back in May. That’s only five months away in normal time, but in the NHL that may as well be a galaxy far, far away.

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