Before the press conference began, FSN's Trevor Thompson talked with former Red Wings defenseman Larry Murphy about the impending announcement. Murphy, who had talked to Yzerman earlier in the day, confirmed what we already knew, that The Captain was going to retire. He said that Yzerman's plan all along had been to retire after this past season but his strong play down the stretch put doubts in his mind about that plan.
At this point, Yzerman made his way to the front, looking comfortable as he shook hands with people on the way. After shaking hands with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, he sat down with Mike Illitch on his left and Jimmy Devellano and Ken Holland on his right.
He began by thanking everyone for coming down on a holiday weekend, saying it wasn't necessarily a planned thing. He said he had mixed emotions and joked that refs around the league would be doing cartwheels after he made his announcement. After some comments about being drafted and having a set plan involving winning a certain number of Cups, he said he was very comfortable in his decision to retire. It was the first time he'd actually said the word and it was like he stepped over a threshold as he seemingly had to force it out.
He went on to confirm Murphy had said earlier, that his plan all along had been to play just one more season (this past one) and hopefully cap off his career with a successful run at the Cup. He said he enjoyed his final season but that this decision was the right one and that he had no doubts about it.
He then began to thank a number of people, beginning with the Detroit sports media. As he was talking, FSN's audio feed cut in and out as they wrestled with technical difficulties so I missed some of what he said. When they got the sound back, he was thanking them for their fair treatment. He then moved on to thanking the fans for their support, though good times and bad. He called Detroit a special place to play and said he never felt a negative burden of expectation but only a positive one. Apparently, it was more like a "little boy trying to please his parents," than anything else.
He went on to thank the players he had played with and against in his career. He named Kris Draper and Larry Murphy but seemingly only because they were present. He said he had been playing since he was five years old and that he had had so much fun over the years, because of these players.
The next people on his list were Jimmy Devellano, the Illitches and Ken Holland. He thanked Devellano for drafting him and the Illitches for being such a staying force in his life and in the organization. He credited the team's success to them, saying it went beyond the money they were willing to spend. The time and effort they are willing to invest in the organization have made it truly first class.
His comments about Holland were particularly interesting. He said that he'd maybe be working with him in the future and joked about Kenny getting the better of him in past contract negotiations that were done face-to-face. He thanked Holland for his support and said that he nearly had him convinced to come back. So, whatever Mike Babcock's attitude was, the front office wanted him back.
His final thanks were directed at his coaches, from Nick Polano to Mike Babcock, and to his predecessors, players like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, who were present. His closing remarks were that he was looking forward to having more time with his family after giving hockey the priority in his life for so long. He said his family was the best thing that happened to him in his career because they helped him keep things in perspective. He finished up by saying he is looking forward to his future with the team.
They opened the floor to questions and Trevor Thompson was the first to say anything. He asked Yzerman what the biggest reason for his decision retire was. The Captain responded that his intention all along had been to retire but his play at the end of the season and into the playoffs had caused him to hesitate. However, when it came time to make the call to Holland to tell him he'd return, he found he couldn't do it. He said that the condition of his knee was a major consideration since, because of it, he was becoming a "part-time player," one who couldn't participate in a full practice. He couldn't see himself playing a big role because of his knee.
I couldn't quite catch the second question but it seemed to be something about what it was like to be captain for 20 years. Yzerman's answer was short and basically was that he was proud to have been captain of such a first-class organization as the Wings for any length of time.
The third question was about his ability to adjust to a lesser role. Yzerman said it was difficult but he could handle it and went on to say that he had still had an expectation of himself that he'd be the best player on the ice every night. That feeling had begun to fade over time, however, and he had become to have doubts about his ability to be effective on the ice, particularly when it counts, "in the spring." He had given up hope of improving.
The fourth questioner asked for his greatest moment. He said he didn't have one in particular but cited the three Cups and one gold medal as obvious pinnacles. He said the '97 Cup was a relief because the organization had felt an obsessive need to win it that year and that the '98 Cup was much the same way. He said the highlight of his career was playing with the players he did.
He was then asked how much he had wavered back and forth on the decision and how much conversation there had been about his role. Yzerman immediately pointed out Mike Babcock, who was smiling in the corner (indicating a viewpoint opposing Ken Holland's above, perhaps?) and then said he didn't want to regret his decision. He said he just had a feeling and with his health, he knew retirement was the right way to go. He said there had been no specific talks about what role he would play in the organization in the future but said they would "figure it out."
He was asked what it was like to only play in one city and what his place is among the other great athletes of Detroit. He responded that he, like most draftees, felt he would always be in Detroit. He said he was lucky to actually stay here and attributed it to the team's success and to fortunate timing. He said he was grateful for the team's loyalty to him and said Detroit is a great city for athletes. He apparently never had a time where he wanted to play somewhere else, though there were a couple times where he thought he would. He said playing at JLA, and on the road with the sizeable contingents of road Wings fans, made it special.
The last question was about his legacy, which he said he was not particularly concerned about. After that, they got a picture of Holland, Devellano, Yzerman and Illitch together and that part of the broadcast was over as FSN began a number of interviews.
Shireen Saski began with Ted Lindsay, who called Yzerman a great example of an athlete and praised his positional game.
Trevor Thompson followed that up with Ken Holland, who said Yzerman would become part of the Wings' management team, working with him and Devellano. He praised Yzerman's mind, which he said was sharp and said he looked forward to it. Thompson asked how they will replace him and Holland responded that they can't.
Saski talked next with Kris Draper, who said the players had never bugged him about it, knowing he had enough people on his back trying to influence his decision already.
Thompson then talked with Dave Lewis, who compared Yzerman's career with a Hollywood script. He reminded us just how bad Yzerman's knee was by talking about the trouble he had just going up the stairs of the team plane. He called Yzerman the #1 tough player in the league.
Thompson's next interview was with Gordie Howe, who aside from a little nostalgia on his part, said that Yzerman had exceed the standard set by Howe and the other legends of Red Wings hockey. He said that Yzerman may be fine with retirement now but once training camp starts in September, he'll be in for a rough time.
The last interview was with Larry Murphy, who said the Wings may have handed Yzerman the captaincy very early but that it was part of a long-term plan of theirs were he would grow into the kind of leader they wanted. Thompson asked Murphy who he thought the next captain will be and Murphy said Lidstrom was the obvious choice. He did say he thought Henrik Zetterberg was the dark horse candidate. Nothing was said of Kris Draper, who was the only one of Yzerman's teammates to attend. I wondered if there was any significance to that but no one else seems to think so.
Yzerman looked content the whole time and was very calm as he talked. There were only a couple spots where emotion came through and that made it much easier to watch. It's still a little hard to believe but it's happened. We'll have a tribute post up either later today or tomorrow. For now, check out the Freep's 42-picture photo album
spanning Yzerman's career (thanks for Brian for the link) and Kukla's Korner
for all the links to reactions, videos, audio, etc.
FSN will re-broadcast the press conference tonight at 8:00 PM and then at 1:00 AM on July 4th. After the Tigers game tonight, Shireen Saski will have a one-on-one interview with The Captain.