Gordie Howe and the Detroit Vipers
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12-01-2012, 02:56 PM
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Lloydminster, AB
Gordie Howe and the Detroit Vipers
I have a couple questions about Gordie Howe. There's a thread on the ECHL board about the oldest minor pro player and I had remembered Gordie Howe doing a publicity stunt with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL at age 69. It had me wondering why? Other than a couple of fabricated records as oldest pro player and playing in 6 consecutive decades, I don't see what Gordie had to gain.
Now for those who were around when he actually played (he retired 3 years before I was born unless you count the Vipers stint), was he an early version of the prima donna, publicity hound that you see in many pro sports? From what I understood, he was never this type. Yes he was a little rough on the ice, but not off the ice from what I know.
I realize he also played when the NHL salaries were quite low and the Vipers may have promised him a good amount of money. But it also tainted Gordie in my mind. He became a sideshow, along the lines of Manute Bol signing in the Central Hockey League or the Harlem Globetrotters. I'm surprised Gordie was willing to taint his legacy doing this.
From the Detroit Vipers side, I completely understand why they made the offer, ticketsales and publicity. I doubt most hockey fans would even remember the Detroit Vipers, if it wasn't for the Gordie Howe stunt. On this note, I've often wondered why did the Vipers not join the AHL when the IHL "merged" with the AHL following the 2001 season? If it was basically being the 5th pro sports team (and probably more like 8th after Michigan and Michigan State football and basketball teams) and thus bleeding money? If that is the case what has the AHL's Chicago Wolves done to keep themselves alive that Detroit didn't?
The biggest thing likely is that the Vipers were created by the ownership of the Pistons, which did not get along with the Red Wings. This is why the Pistons didn't play at the Joe and instead spent time at the Silverdome before building the Palace at Auburn Hills. So this would mean that the Vipers wouldn't be the AHL affiliate for the Red Wings. However, the Wolves have survived in Chicago without being the Blackhawks affiliate.
My last question on this tangent, is would the IHL have been more viable in the NHL cap era? I know the IHL had tried to become more than simply the AHL's equivalent and more like a WHA in a sense (though the IHL never went after NHL free agents to compete head to head). What I mean is now with the cap, I'd think more NHL players nearing the end of their careers are not being offered deals to play as they are worth more than their performance would dictate. A league like the IHL that was trying to attract these types would give a home to these players instead of retiring or moving to Europe for a season or two. I have a feeling at least a few of these players who have gone to the KHL or Switzerland would have stayed in North America if an equivalent league still existed.
Also, I don't remember the IHL doing this with underage (i.e. not NHL draft eligible) North American players, but I do remember them bringing in underage European players. Had the IHL survived in this vein, I do think you would see an IHL version of the Birmingham "Baby" Bulls would have existed with several 17 year olds playing. In fact, you might actually have seen a few of the players who are "stuck" in the CHL instead of being AHL eligible playing in the IHL with their NHL team's unofficial blessing. Seems like in this era, it would have been more viable.
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