The coffee tastes a little better today. The birds are chirping a little louder, traffic was lighter coming downtown on 75–it’s like something in the world has balanced the scales that have felt off for so very long.
The Captain is coming home.
I woke up today, fresh from a week of fighting the plague, and looked at my phone like I always do, and the DSN Slack was BLOWING up. Cries of STEVIE came from every corner, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE, GET IT UP. From an editorial standpoint, days like today (on 4/19/19 no less!) are like Mana from Heaven. From a personal standpoint – it means so much more.
Growing up, there were 2 givens in my house. The Lions and Barry Sanders owned Sunday afternoons, every other day was filled with the sounds of the Red Wings, with Mickey Redmond and Dave Strader until Ken Daniels took over in 97. Watching the Red Wings develop from the Dead Things to winning 4 cups is part of who I am and central to that development is Steve Yzerman. I have carried the lessons I have learned from watching Stevie play throughout my entire adult life, applying it in how I lead my teams and my company (servant leadership), how I approach relationships and business deals (humble and calm, patient but focused and determined). The Captain leads more than the team that played on the ice, for fans of the Red Wings between 1983 and 2006, he influenced a generation.
Having a hero that is an athlete doesn’t always work out. It’s just not a good idea. More times than not, you are setting yourself up to be let down, as the inevitable scandal or the reality of life finally sets in and you realize that in the end, this superhero that you have put up on a pedestal your whole life is in fact, a normal human. Fallible and flawed just like the rest of us. I think that is why Steve Yzerman is such an important and beloved figure to so many here in Detroit. It is his flaws and his sacrifices, even his failures, that have endeared him to this city, and it is why having him come home right now, more than any time, is such a big deal. This city has never stopped fighting for herself. The grit and determination that was ignited by the Grind Line still persist today, as once again ironworkers prepare the foundations of the newest skyscrapers that will redefine the Detroit skyline. The determination, skill and sheer power of will that Yzerman showed during his years playing, playing on one leg, with one eye, sacrificing his body, his everything for this city has earned him our adoration and respect. What he has accomplished in the years since with the Tampa Bay Lightning has earned him the right to helm this great organization, more, it has earned him the unforgiving and thankless title of GM of the Detroit Red Wings, the savior of one of the most storied franchises in NHL history.
You see, what Stevie brings is something that can’t be measured in wins and losses, although he has plenty of both to go around. What Stevie brings is more than nostalgia for a better time, though, we could always use a little more of that around here. No, what Stevie brings is a quiet calm, a determined grit. A fearless but fierce stoic presence that will face the most overwhelming odds without a second thought. A soldier that knows the mission, and will do whatever it takes to see it done. An unsung hero that will never be so brazen as to celebrate his own accomplishments aloud (and boy there are a lot of them).
“Very few would have played through what he played through,” says Wings GM Ken Holland. “He would leave the rink dragging his leg behind him.”
When everything in the world was against Yzerman, he put his head down and pushed through. From the early years of playing on a team that averaged facing being traded from the Wings in 91, 93 and 95, to taking a 6 million dollar salary cut in order to survive the Lockout in 05, to facing the utter destruction of his body, Yzerman put his head down and pushed through. He put the job first. He put the team first. He put this city first.
I wanted to take the time to try to put my feelings into words today, and frankly I could spend the rest of the day chronicling the history and impact Yzerman has had on this city, but I don’t think I have the eloquent words that would do it justice, and I want to get outside and enjoy the positive energy the rest of today will bring, so the rest of this letter is to Stevie.
The rest of you can stop reading, it’s about to get sappy.
I know this decision had to be a tough one for you. It can’t be easy walking back into this city, taking the GM role and the responsibility of rebuilding a championship caliber team, knowing that you have a solid gold legacy that can only be tarnished from here, I know you aren’t afraid of the challenge and couldn’t give a damn about legacy, but I wanted you to know that we believe in you. I wanted to say thank you for showing me how to be a servant leader, showing me that no matter the odds if you stay focused and determined; if you are willing to help grow the strengths of those around you, you can accomplish anything. I wanted to say thank you for showing me how to be humble through my accomplishments.
Thank you for the 20 years you gave to the people of Detroit, and for showing us how to be Champions again.
Thank you for making this Hockeytown.
I’ll admit, after you left in 06, things around here just haven’t felt the same for me as a fan. Lidstrom was great, Z too – but for me, something has always been missing. Today feels like something missing has been found – and I’m excited to see what it brings for the franchise, and for the city of Detroit.