By Jason Menard
You don’t need to be a Red Wings’ fan to appreciate the team’s captain — you just need to be a fan of the game itself. But his appeal is not restricted to his on-ice talents, his longevity will come from being an icon of the game as we want it to be.
Following Detroit’s unceremonious ouster from the National Hockey League playoffs, the expectation is that Steve Yzerman will finally hang up his blades and move off into retirement. But as superlative as his efforts were on the ice, what most hockey fans love about Yzerman is that he represents an iconic presence to which we want all players to look up to.
Free agency has brought many good things to the league and its players. In fact, it can be argued that fans also have benefited in knowing that their team is just a few savvy signings away from contention. However, the one thing that free agency has taken from the game is the sense of affiliation between a player and their team.
The game is a business and longevity is but one factor in a player’s decision to stay with any franchise; family, location, taxes, and ancillary opportunities all play a part. That’s why many of us look to Yzerman as a throwback to years gone by.
Yzerman was a player who spent his entire career with one team, growing with it through the “Dead Things” bad times, taking a leadership role during the glory years, and playing the role of elder statesman as the transition to a new generation took place. For 23 years, no matter what else happened in the league, you could be certain that Yzerman would be pulling on the Red Wings’ jersey.
His career stats speak for themselves and manage to spell out Hall of Fame on their own: 1,514 games played, 692 goals, 1,755 points, and a career +/- of +202 attesting to his commitment at both ends of the rink. Add to that 185 points in 196 playoff games and you’ve got the statistical embodiment of an all-around star.
The Red Wings’ first-round choice in the 1983 Entry Draft paced the three players taken before him in career points combined (Brian Lawton’s 266, Sylvain Turgeon’s 494, and Pat LaFontaine’s 1,013). And while LaFontaine watched his number rise to the rafters earlier this year in Buffalo, Yzerman continued to pull the number 19 over his head 61 more times in the regular season.
But beyond everything on the stats sheet, Yzerman embodies loyalty. While Colorado’s Joe Sakic has also spent his career with one franchise, the fact that it’s been in two cities confuses the issue. And Stevie never signed a loaded offer sheet from another club designed to force his team’s hand into retaining his services. We, as people, understand the business aspect. We, as fans, applaud loyalty.
Loyalty is the tie that binds fans to their teams, despite the unbelievable gap of salary and lifestyle. It’s what makes the average Joe scrimp and save to take the family to a game, or buy a replica jersey. It’s what makes people far and wide live and die with every flickering image on a TV screen. And when you have a player that displays the faithfulness and loyalty that Yzerman has shown during his Red Wings’ tenure, then that sense of validation is palpable.
Of course, it’s easier to be loyal when you reap the rewards that Yzerman’s been able to during his career. In addition to always receiving a salary befitting his status, the Red Wings’ captain has hoisted Stanley Cups and worn Olympic gold. And he’s earned the respect of hockey fans far and wide. Yet, while stars are often polarizing by nature, it’s hard to imagine one person who wouldn’t wish that Yzerman suited up for their favourite squad.
Fittingly, Yzerman passes the torch to a new game, with a new collective bargaining agreement that goes a long way into stemming the mercenary nature of the sport and assuring that teams and core players will have the ability to grow and develop together.
As a 20+year with one franchise player, many looked upon Yzerman as being the last of a breed. However, as he passes the torch to new players in a new game – with a collective bargaining agreement that goes a long way into stemming the mercenary nature of the sport, thereby assuring that teams and core players can grow and develop together — Yzerman may, in fact, go down as the bridge between eras.
And, in the end — even though we may not be Detroit fans — we’ll remain faithful to him because he always remained faithful to us.
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