Playoffs? Where are fans? Where is excitement?
April 27, 2007
BY MICHAEL ROSENBERG
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
Hey, hey ... Hockeyvillage?
The Red Wings lost the opener of their second-round series Thursday night, which used to send waves of panic throughout the city. Some highlights, for those watching something else at home: The Wings had a horrible stretch in the first period. San Jose scored twice in 25 seconds. Kirk Maltby hit a post. The Sharks blocked 18 shots and the Wings blocked one. The crowd yawned.
The Wings outshot San Jose, 23-9, in the final two periods, but they rarely threatened to score. Only one Wing went to the penalty box -- and that was Nicklas Lidstrom, of all people. The Sharks won, 2-0. The crowd booed.
And this brings us to ... what, exactly? Game 2, obviously. The Wings need crisper passing and more energy. But where does it leave the Red Wings and the city that loved them completely?
Surely you remember the Red Wings. Hockey team ... perennially in the playoffs ... the guys like to skate around with the Stanley Cup every few years ... does any of this ring a bell?
There were thousands of empty seats at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday. The Wings gave the official attendance as 18,712, but I suspect they meant limbs.
We saw this kind of attendance in the first round, too. I really thought that if the Wings made it past Calgary, they would convert some skeptics, and the atmosphere would change by Round 2.
And the atmosphere did change.
It got worse.
It was the worst environment for any pro playoff game I have ever attended in this state, for any sport. It was so quiet you could hear the puck drop -- and that was before the Sharks took a 2-0 lead. It was a mid-January atmosphere at the end of April -- and the Wings gave a mid-January performance.
Between the second and third periods, I went online to find tickets to Game 2. Just my luck: I could get 12 seats together in Section 225B. Unfortunately, I can't possibly find 11 friends who want to spend $90 a pop to sit in the corner of the upper level (and pay a $5.75 "convenience charge" for the privilege).
Of course, if my buddies don't mind standing, they can pay $77 each -- plus that same $5.75 convenience charge. (Whoever heard of a convenience charge to stand up?)
I don't blame people for staying home. People can spend their money however they'd like. It is just too bad that Mike Ilitch has chosen to alienate his fan base like this, by acting like the economy is still thriving and the Wings are still the only winner in town.
In the last few years, we have seen the state unemployment rate rise, the Pistons become one of the best franchises in sports, the Tigers make the World Series, Steve Yzerman retire and the Wings' payroll drop from almost $78 million in 2004 to $44 million this year. Yet the Wings expect fans to open the checkbook as they did in 2002.
Playoff ticket prices have dropped 10% from their peak, but they remain too high.
The Wings have clearly misjudged the market. And it's sad, because -- all kidding aside -- I think a lot of people would jump on this bandwagon if the prices were reasonable.
Lidstrom was asked twice afterward about the atmosphere in the building. Both times, he answered by talking about the team. Perfectly understandable -- Lidstrom, the new captain, didn't cause this problem, and it's not his job to solve it.
Instead, Lidstrom talked about adjustments. He talked about having "the pace picking up." The Wings also need a greater presence in front of the net -- that's why Tomas Holmstrom is on the roster, but he is out with an eye injury.
San Jose is an excellent team, a clear Cup contender. Yet the Wings can play much better than they did Thursday. If they play the kind of physical yet smart game they played against Calgary, the Wings can turn this series around.
It is possible for the team to recover quickly, but what about the franchise?
Contact MICHAEL ROSENBERG at 313-222-6052 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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