Red Wings going nowhere, so why not trade Yzerman?

February 13, 1991|By Keith Gave | Keith Gave,Knight-Ridder News Service

Steve Yzerman is among the world's great hockey players, one of the few who can be called that. In his eight seasons in Detroit, the Red Wings' captain -- whose presence can be measured not only in goals and assists but in big bucks at the box office -- has built a huge following wherever crowds have gathered to watch him.

Perhaps it's time to trade him, though.

Considering his value, and that the Red Wings are going nowhere with him again, why not?

Imagine the holes general manager Bryan Murray could fill in his lineup with one deal. Detroit could get the superstar defenseman it needs and beef up perhaps the worst corps of wings in the National Hockey League.

And the best part is, the hole Yzerman leaves in the lineup might not be that big, primarily because of the fast development of rookie Sergei Fedorov and the presence of Jimmy Carson, both world-class centers.

That is not to say Yzerman would be easily replaced. A team doesn't easily replace 150 points in its lineup.

But are the Red Wings really any better with him than they are without him? Consider, be it coincidental or not, that:

As Yzerman has approached the level of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Detroit has plunged in the standings.

The best stretch the Red Wings have enjoyed since Yzerman joined the team in 1983 was 8-0-1, a string that began the night he suffered a knee injury on March 1, 1988, and missed the final 16 games of the regular season.

With Yzerman sidelined with the knee injury, Detroit advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals and lost to Edmonton in five games. Yzerman returned for the last three games against the Oilers, totaling one goal and three assists. In 1989, with Yzerman healthy and a leading candidate for NHL most valuable player, the Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals and lost to Edmonton in five games.

This season, Yzerman will finish with 50-plus goals and 100-plus points, and the Red Wings likely will finish around .500, third in the Norris Division with close to 80 points.

Murray rolls his eyes and shakes his head when asked of possible trade scenarios involving Yzerman. Murray coached 8 1/2 seasons in Washington, where he never had a superstar of Yzerman's caliber.

Now that he's in Detroit, the new guy on the block, Murray isn't about to entertain such a blasphemous notion.

But sometime in the not-too-distant future, Murray might conclude that Yzerman is, as the accountants would say, a depreciating asset. That's how the Edmonton Oilers considered Gretzky, then 27, when they traded him to the Los Angeles Kings.

After practice Monday, Yzerman, 25, said that rather than getting annoyed at rare trade rumors that mention his name, he gets a chuckle. Then again, when he thinks about it objectively . . .

"Anything can happen," he said. "You expect general managers to make moves that will help the team. Otherwise, teams don't improve. Right now, we have three good centermen. Who is the most marketable?"

The answer, Yzerman knew, is Yzerman.

Carson's knee injuries the past two seasons have reduced his value until he can return to the lineup and produce the numbers he did in Los Angeles and Edmonton, which few doubt he can.

And Fedorov is too young and relatively unproven to bring an overabundance in the trade market.

The NHL trading deadline is March 5 at 3 p.m., but don't look for Yzerman to go to Washington for say, defenseman Kevin Hatcher and right wing Kelly Miller, et al. Those kinds of trades, if they happen at all, take months to complete.

Even small trades take time, such as two weeks of hand-wringing to get Brad Marsh from Toronto for an eighth-round pick.

And the Wings, from owner Mike Ilitch on down, might be a little gun-shy given their luck with major trades recently.

The deal by the previous management that sent Adam Oates to St. Louis was a disaster, and the deal that brought Carson to Detroit looks a little one-sided with Petr Klima and Joe Murphy among the Oilers' top scorers. Then again, because of the ice time Yzerman commands, Oates and Murphy, and Klima to a lesser degree, might never have had the opportunity to develop in Detroit as they have with other teams.

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