By Brad Lee and Sean Gallagher, St. Louis Game Time
Gary Bettman walks into a somber room inside Joe Louis Arena, decorated with dozens of red helium balloons. Several boxes of Little Caesar's Pizza are on a table along one wall behind a small gathering of people affiliated with the organization. Kid Rock is passed out in the corner. Bettman goes to the microphone.
Hello everyone! Welcome to the retirement party for Nicklas Lidstrom, which is also doubling this year as a celebration of the 2011-12 season for your Detroit Red Wings!
Waits for applause. There is no applause.
I'll take silence over boos any day of the week. It's such a pleasure to be your host today. While most of you will probably want to forget this season, we could not let this occasion go without a celebration of one of the best defensemen to ever play in the National Hockey League. We've got some special guests today, some surprises and hopefully a lot of great memories. Just not of this year.
This season Nick, you played your 1,500th career game. While many of your fans believe the Red Wings started in 1996, the team was actually one of our original six franchises in the league. You've played the fourth most regular season games in team history. The man who is first on that list with an amazing 1,687 career games is Gordie Howe. And as soon as he remembers where Joe Louis Arena is located, I'm sure he'll be here to congratulate you on your career. Or wish you happy birthday.
Let's move on.
Over the years, you've played with some great, great players. And I'm not just talking about Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Thanks for coming fellas. Both of you are a testament to dirty play being a fine substitute for skill in making surprisingly long, undistinguished hockey careers. Sergei Federov could also not be here. Most of the fans of the Winged Wheel still think he plays on the team.
Most of them, coincidentally, have never actually lived in Detroit.
Did you know that this year's edition of the Wings had no 30-goal scorers? Only four men of Motown topped 20 goals this season. Still, the team finished the season with 239 goals — ironically, that's seven more goals than Nashville scored. We asked the Predators to be here tonight since they seemed so at home the last week here at Joe Louis Arena, but they are busy getting ready for the second round of the playoffs.
Speaking of your home arena, Nick. We've got some gifts. The first is your own seat from the fifth row of Section 105, Seat 5. We just pulled it out of the seating area this morning. They had to dust it off, which I thought was odd since the team says it has sold out 71 consecutive games, but whatever. It's shiny and looks almost never used. I'm sure it will look tremendous in your Detroit home.
You are staying here in the Detroit metro area, right? I think you can stay as long as you find a job. Otherwise, you're just adding to the unemployment numbers for the city.
Don't become a statistic, Nick.
You were a fifth round pick out of Sweden way back in 1989. Sidney Crosby was 2 years old. I'm sure you all join me in praying for the Penguins to save the playoffs now that you've been eliminated. Our ratings are going to be lower than Jimmy Howard's save percentage if both our marquee teams miss the second round. And as you know, that's pretty darn low. And I'm sure that with all the low draft picks Ken Holland has had to work with the last 10 years, more superstars of your caliber are only a few years away to take your place.
Or, I could rig an arbitrator's decision to award you one of the best defensemen in the league. It's happened before. I'm sure many of your fans think Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are ending up here over the summer.
I have to hand it to you, Ken and coach Mike Babcock, for what you did with the roster this year. You turned a cheap shot artist like Todd Bertuzzi into a shootout specialist. You've put third-liners Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm into position to replace Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. I'm sure that will work out splendidly.
And without Lidstrom in the lineup this year with a few injuries, the Wings were still a force, fighting for second in the Central Division but falling a bit short.
I'm sure when you're gone, Nick, all the loyal Wings fans across the country won't jump on the bandwagon of a successful team like they did when they became Detroit fans.
Nick, we've got another surprise. A lot of your teammates have already left the area. Apparently they didn't want to spend any more minutes in Hockeytown than they had to. My private plane's engines started before I came up here, so I can relate. But up next is one of your mentors with the Red Wings.
No, it's not Steve Yzerman. Your team alienated the best player in franchise history — the guy who taught you to be a winner — and drove him to one of our true hockey hotbeds, the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
Our next guest is ...
(Ed. Note: This originally ended with a joke about a paralyzed player that, in hindsight, is a little too harsh even for the Eulogies. So we've spiked it.)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Detroit Red Wings
- Joe Louis Arena
- Nicklas Lidstrom