Out of tune in Motown

Dave Lewis is the one who will be blamed if the Detroit Red Wings don't start playing up to their payroll.

Originally Published: November 10, 2003
By Al Morganti | Special to ESPN.com

The writing is on the wall for Washington Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy and, perhaps, Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. One coach who could be in the same sort of peril before too long is Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis.

Curtis Joseph
Curtis Joseph's season started with a 5-3 loss at Nashville on Oct. 30.
It is not flight of fantasy to think that if the Wings don't regain their posture as head and shoulders above the great middle of the NHL, that Scotty Bowman would be asked to return behind the bench. Despite clear words that he has coached his last game, it would certainly be difficult for Bowman to decline a plea from Detroit ownership to return if the ship with a payroll of about $75 million is still taking on water late in the season.

It was a tough enough job taking over for the legendary Bowman at the start of last season, which ended in the Wings being swept in the first round of the playoffs by Anaheim Mighty Ducks goalie Jean-Sabastien Giguere and his marvelous playoff run. You get a pass when you are beaten by the hot goalie.

But this is a different season and a different story.

The Wings are bumping along at around a .500 pace, simply not good enough in Detroit. The main objective is to make sure this elite team does not slip too quickly, to the point where all the upstarts are racing past them in the standings.

Lewis is dealing with some difficult situations, not the least of which was caused when Dominik Hasek decided to come back and forced Curtis Joseph to the bench. The whole dynamics of the post-Bowman locker room has been scuttled and the Wings are now in the throes of a messy goalie glut.

BROKEN WINGS
Category DRW Rank
Goals for/game 2.93 8th
Goals allowed/game 2.86 T24th
Power play 25.8 1st
Penalty kill 83.3 T18th
Hasek is expected to return Monday against Chicago after missing the previous four games with a groin injury. Joseph, who was suffering from a minor groin strain, stopped a five-game winless streak with a 3-0 win at Calgary on Tuesday, then followed it up with an embarrassing loss to Nashville on Saturday, during which the Predators scored four times in the final period for a 4-3 win at Detroit.

Even if the Wings had wanted to wait for the goalie market to get hot to trade Joseph, it now appears they might have to move him just to settle a locker room and take away any excuses for the poor showing this season.

Lewis has also had to deal with the loss of free-agent addition Derian Hatcher, who will be out until at least March because of knee surgery for a torn ACL, and the loss of skilled forward Henrik Zetterberg, who was recently shelved for about a month with a broken leg after being slashed by Vancouver's Bryan Allen. The Wings rushed to sign free-agent veteran Steve Thomas to fill Zetterberg's position, but they still look a long way from where they should be on the ice.

The Wings held a team meeting before practice on Sunday and discussed their poor defensive coverage.

"Our strength has been our weakness," Lewis told Detroit reporters.

Players can be shifted, but if things don't get much better, their strength will be Lewis's undoing.

Minds made up?
If you had any doubt that the NHL owners and general managers are spoiling for a work stoppage to get finances in order next season, consider the ill-timed words of Chicago's past-present-and-who-knows-about-the-future GM Bob Pulford this past week.

When asked if it was true that Dale Tallon was being groomed to take over the job as general manager, Pulford told the Chicago media:

"Right now, I'm going to do it the rest of the year, and then we're in a lockout year. If we're in a lockout year, then there is nothing to do anyway."

More and more signs are pointing to a work stoppage -- and they're all situated on the owners' side of the road. If teams start making trades and personnel moves with the belief there will be no hockey in 2003-2004, will it become a self-fulfilling prophecy? And won't those teams be in a position of voting to shut down the league unless the NHLPA is totally beaten in the negotiating?

Just as an aside: shouldn't the NHL tell Chicago's ownership to simply pay fired GM Mike Smith the money he is owed and stop being an embarrassment to the whole league?

When does it become official?
The situation in Washington with Jaromir Jagr has reached the point of no return. Talking to players in the locker room, Jagr's often sour attitude has made it almost impossible to generate any sense of team. There is also the matter of Cassidy. Yes, the Caps are young on defense. However, in today's NHL even expansion teams are kept in games by coaching defense, yet the Caps look woeful in that area. The ownership broom is likely to sweep things clean in Washington, but the broom is going to have to include Jagr in its path.

Unlikely to play on Broadway
Would the Rangers dare risk acquiring Jagr? General manager and coach Glen Sather has taken risks before by hiring Bryan Trottier and trading for Eric Lindros. Even the Rangers would want some financial relief from the Caps for Jagr's contract, but the bigger issue would be the matter of continuing the parade of other-people's problems on Broadway.

Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN. Click here to send Al a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.