- Jim Kelley
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We'll second that and add the word "eerie." If there's anything we've come to expect from now ex-Red Wing goaltender Dominik Hasek, it's that he's different from most any player we've ever dealt with and that he does things in a strange way.
The eerie part of it is that we've seen this before. Many times before.
In the middle of a crucial game in Ottawa, Hasek, seemingly untouched, fell over backwards, kicked his right leg out from underneath him and stayed down for just a second. He then got up, skated to the bench and walked directly to the training room -- never looking at his coach, his coach never looking at him.
In the interest of full disclosure, we must tell you that shortly after that game Hasek attempted to assault a reporter whom he claimed questioned the severity of that injury.
That reporter was yours truly.
Word around Sabres was that Hasek told friends he would never play another game for Nolan -- and, indeed, that was the case.
The Sabres turned to backup Steve Shields and went on to win the series without Hasek. Though walking normally at the time, Hasek claimed he had a knee injury. And even after it healed he said he was medically cleared to play during the ensuing series with the Philadelphia Flyers, he refused to do so. He left the Flyers' building after a warm-up session and left the team doctor to describe his failure to dress for a scheduled game in Philadelphia as a problem with "residual" pain.
After the Flyers eliminated the Sabres in the second round, Hasek went on to win MVP and Vezina Trophy honors and said "it would be better for him" if Nolan didn't return as coach the following season.
Nolan won Coach of the Year honors on the same day. After a wild and very public debate in which charges flew in every direction, Nolan was eventually offered a one-year contract extension. He declined and has never worked in the NHL again. Teammates were furious. One, Matthew Barnaby, went so far as to publicly state that he was going to run Hasek at training camp.
New coach Lindy Ruff, who mysteriously was offered a three-year contract despite never serving as a head coach anywhere let alone winning the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, smoothed things over. But eventually Barnaby was traded as were several other players fiercely loyal to Nolan.
Fast forward to the end of the 2000-01 season. As the Sabres were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, Hasek was on record saying he was upset that management had not made moves, particularly that they did not re-sign or trade captain Michael Peca who had been gone all season in a contract dispute.
In Game 6, the Sabres were just over a minute away from eliminating the Penguins when a loose puck popped up in the air. Seemingly everyone in the building saw it except Hasek. And as it came down, Mario Lemieux swept it into the net to force overtime. The Penguins went on to win, forcing a Game 7 in Buffalo.
In Buffalo, the game was tied in overtime when Pittsburgh defenseman Darius Kasparaitis let fly with a wrist shot from about 50 feet away. The play was so routine that veteran forward Doug Gilmour didn't even bother to check Kasparititus, and some of Hasek's teammates started heading up ice anticipating a breakout from their zone. Instead, the puck sailed past Hasek and into the net.
The Sabres were stunned. They were also eliminated. Hasek skated off the ice, walked out of the building and was never seen again. Eventually he forced a trade to the Red Wings, going so far as to threaten Sabres general manager Darcy Regier. He told Regier that if he asked for too much in return he would simply retire and Regier and the Sabres would get nothing.
Regier was also faced with having to pick up a $9 million contract option on a player who told him and ownership he didn't want to be there. So he eventually traded Hasek to the Wings for Slava Kozlov (who also later demanded a trade) and a draft pick.
Hasek never played in Buffalo again.
Now focus on Tuesday. Hasek skated out onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena and took a few warm-up shots. He skated off, declared himself unfit to play and said his season was over due to lingering groin problems. The club did not make the announcement. Neither did the team doctor. It was Hasek. He simply declared his season over.
Red Wings coach Dave Lewis, who thought Hasek would on that day announce he was ready to play, instead learned his star player was finished.
Strange? Absolutely. Eerie? Well, when you consider what he did to Nolan and later the Buffalo Sabres, it's difficult to overlook the trend.
There's a school of thought in the NHL that Hasek never was really committed to playing again after winning the Cup with the Wings two seasons ago. His return surprised a number of people, including the Red Wings. Though pretty much forced to re-sign him, reportedly at $6 million for the season, the Red Wings were concerned. There was concern about his health, concern over whether or not he would report in game shape or anywhere close to it, concern about how his return would impact the team, concern how it would impact the bottom line given that the Red Wings had already gone out and replaced him in goal with an $8 million goalie, Curtis Joseph.
Those concerns were obviously well-founded.
You won't get an official comment on it from the Red Wings, but suffice it to say, many in the front office in Hockeytown are unhappy today. Some might even think to themselves that Hasek pulled the proverbial chute.
They paid him a lot of money, they disrupted the team chemistry to accommodate his return, and they went through a lengthy and, at times, ugly, affair with Joseph before soothing it all over and bringing Joseph back from an embarrassing waiver move and exile to the minors.
The Wings also lost on their investment. If the Red Wings are forced to make good on the full $6 million (and there is some question regarding that), they will have paid Hasek $428,571.42 for each of the 14 games he played this season.
They got some wins for that, but they also got hosed. Hasek said Tuesday he expects to be around and that he most assuredly wants to play again next season. But given the number of times he's already retired and un-retired, few people in Detroit will take him at his word. He also said he will likely return to the Czech Republic to visit his family. Many believe that if his legal problems come to an end there he won't be back. If he does return to the NHL next season (assuming there is a season), it almost certainly won't be with the Red Wings.
The repercussions of all this won't easily be dismissed.
Joseph, a decorated pro, along with his family has been forced to endure a great many indignities, some of which will not be easy to forget. Teammate Chris Chelios earlier this season went on the record to say it was unfortunate for Joseph but better for the team that Hasek was in goal. Now the Red Wings have to turn to Joseph to lead them in the playoffs after they both waived him, tried to trade him and exiled him.
Lest we forget, shortly after Hasek returned, the Red Wings thought they had Joseph traded to Boston. An ankle that needed surgery scuttled the deal, and the Bruins turned to Felix Potvin while the Red Wings were forced to keep Joseph. Had that deal gone through, however, the Wings would be facing the remainder of the season with only Manny Legace as a tested pro in goal.
They also didn't get value for their money.
There are people in the Red Wings organization who were skeptical of Hasek's return from the get-go. They were aware he was facing criminal indictment for assault in the Czech Republic and were concerned that his un-retirement (a regular event in Hasek's career) was perhaps motivated by something other than playing again in North America.
Hasek did seem distracted and certainly out of shape when he did arrive. He won his first three games, but then lost three of the next four. His goals-against and save percentage were poor, and he certainly looked more like a 39-year-old who had been away from the game for a year than the Dominator of old.
Then came the groin injuries, which were eerily similar to a time in Buffalo when he had offseason groin surgery in Europe that the Sabres had little knowledge of or input regarding. When he came back, the team doctor, the same doctor who had to explain Hasek's "residual pain" in Philadelphia, expressed concerns about Hasek's fitness and shortly thereafter resigned his position with the team. Hasek, meanwhile, played for a very short time, then took himself out with a groin injury and missed nearly half the season before he deemed himself fit to play.
Like in Buffalo, Hasek in Detroit finally did come back from a long period on the sidelines, but this time reportedly re-aggravated the injury in a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 8. Some two months passed with plenty of speculation about a return, but there was no sign of Hasek even getting close. The Wings turned to Joseph and, finally, Hasek announced he was quitting.
In the end, like he so often did in Buffalo, Hasek just upped and walked away.
In the end he said it was "very sad," but if you watched his career long enough, it was very much like events that took place in Buffalo.
Strange that that would happen again -- eerily strange.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.