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Goalie glut: Hasek forces Wings' hand

10/9/2003 - Detroit Red Wings

Fact of the matter is, Dominik Hasek has never promised anything.

All the enigmatic goalie ever said was he wanted to play hockey again. How was he to know it would set off a chain reaction of events that would set Detroit on its ear?

"Seriously, I can't think about all of those things, all of the questions,'' Hasek said recently. "My answer is I don't know what will happen; we will have to see. My answer is all of these things have to come out day by day.''

And they will. All too soon, they will come out.

When Hasek made the decision to come out of retirement, it forced the Red Wings into a monumental decision, and now the aftereffects are rumbling through the league.

"The ramifications of his decision are pretty huge,'' said ESPN analyst Darren Pang, a former goalie partner of Hasek's in Chicago. "This has put (Detroit GM) Kenny Holland in a tough situation and the players in a tough situation. And while Dominik probably realizes that a little more now, I'm sure he never even thought about it before.''

Hasek's return forced the Red Wings into a tough call. They could pick up his option at $8 million or they could allow him to walk and become an unrestricted free agent. The Wings obviously picked up the option. But in doing so, they created a logjam in goal where they already have Curtis Joseph with a no-trade clause and a guaranteed contract for $8 million over each of the next two seasons.

The Wings have expressed a desire to trade Joseph (and he has indicated he would waive his no-trade clause for the right team), but Joseph had to have ankle surgery last month to remove bone chips. He was scheduled to return to the ice for his first practice Tuesday, and it is clear that the Red Wings have a definite situation on their hands.

They have to be able to play Joseph to prove he's healthy and help facilitate a trade. But they also have to prepare Hasek, who said he still feels rusty and wants to play as many games as he can.

"I like to play and need to play,'' Hasek told The Detroit News. "From my previous experience, I need to play a lot of games and feel comfortable. From what I know about Cujo, he's played 60 or 70 games (a season), too. It will be difficult to please both of us.

"I can say this: I always feel better at the end of the season than I do at the beginning. This is the hardest time of year for me.''

That said, nobody is expecting a problem when the two get together off the ice. Joseph has been professional throughout the ordeal and has plenty of friends in the room. Hasek has the respect of every person in the organization for winning the Stanley Cup in 2002.

"It'll work itself out,'' Holland said. "We're confident in that.''

Still, the machinations of the work could be complicated. As previously stated, Hasek wants ice time. He said Saturday he would like to play the majority of the last four preseason games. Yet, those games might be the perfect time to showcase Joseph for a potential trade.

"We're just going to feel our way and get our practices in and then move forward. We sort of have a plan, and it might have to alter,'' coach Dave Lewis said.

But c'mon, this isn't going to be easy. Lewis is going to be asked to not only try to prepare his team to win during the regular season, but also to help solve a management situation by deftly juggling the playing time of two goalies who might not agree with his decisions.

"You try to do what's best for the organization, but you also have to win hockey games,'' Lewis concluded. "It's a fine line.''

And one he will have to walk precariously.

The Red Wings have already said they will not protect Joseph in the waiver draft, and it's pretty clear nobody will take him at $16 million for two seasons. But that means the team will have to carry three goalies during the season. Manny Legace, who is scheduled to make $1.1 million this year, would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, and he would be snapped up, so he's sticking around. Sending Joseph to the minors wouldn't help at all in getting him to waive that no-trade clause, so that's probably not an option.

The only real answer is to keep three goalies until a trade partner can be found.

And Hasek is at the heart of all of this. Had he not decided to come back, the Red Wings wouldn't have been forced into such a difficult choice. Did he consider all of this when he was thinking about a return?

"Watching the playoffs, I just decided I wanted to play,'' he said. "I didn't have motivation to play when I left. At the time, I say I don't want to play hockey. But after a year off, I decided I want to try one more time.''

And, in his mind, it's that simple. Retire one year, come back the next. Lose your motivation, find your motivation.

"I spent some time with him when he decided to retire, and I still didn't fully understand his decision then,'' Pang said. "I know there was the desire to go back to the Czech Republic, but he seemed on top of his game. The only thing I can say is I imagine if felt like a good idea at the time, and then the competitive juices got flowing around the playoffs last year.''

And for Hasek, that was the only excuse he needed to return. That's how he lives his life, that's how he plays the game -- from moment to moment, from situation to situation. Don't worry about being in perfect position for the second save. Just worry about stopping the first one.

"I think his brain processes things differently than we do. I think that's the way it is with true artists,'' Pang said. "He has certainly put a lot of pressure on himself, but that's nothing new to the Dominator. He's lived his whole life that way.''

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.