Red Wings executive Jimmy D headed to Hall of Fame

Nov 5 2010 - 5:21pm

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings were in rough shape nearly three decades ago when Mike Ilitch bought the NHL franchise.

They were irrelevant enough in the Motor City that cars were given away to fans who bothered to show up to see the team known as the "Dead Wings" likely lose.

Jim Devellano changed that.

Ilitch hired Devellano to be the team's general manager in 1982 and he helped turn the franchise into one of the best in sports, winning four Stanley Cups during a still-active streak of 19 straight postseasons. Of course, he knew what he was doing: He earned three of his seven Stanley Cup rings with the Islanders as their assistant GM.

In a builder category that seems to fit perfectly, the Red Wings senior vice president will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night in Toronto along with Dino Ciccarelli, Cammi Granato, Angela James and the late Daryl "Doc" Seaman.

"It's a nice culmination of a pretty long career -- 44 straight years in the NHL with three teams," said Devellano, who started as a scout in 1967 in St. Louis. "As long as the Red Wings want me to continue to work, I'm happy to do it."

It's difficult to imagine Ilitch ever telling the man known as Jimmy D that his services are no longer needed.

Devellano shaped the future of the franchise by drafting Steve Yzerman in 1983 and Nicklas Lidstrom six years later. He hired current GM Ken Holland and helped get coach Scotty Bowman to work behind Detroit's bench.

"He's been critical to the success of the franchise," Yzerman said. "Very quietly, he worked behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for the success that started to come in the mid-1990s."

By then, the man Devellano groomed to take his job -- Holland -- was ready after gaining experience as a scout and assistant GM.

Holland said one of the reasons the Red Wings have had success was Devellano's open-minded approach to adding Russians such as Sergei Fedorov and Swedes such as Lidstrom.

"Other GMs at the time thought you were wasting a pick if you drafted a European," Holland recalled. "When we took Sergei, Jimmy said let's draft him even if it takes 10 years to get him here. Within a year, he defected."

Devellano grew up in Toronto and worked his way into the NHL as a volunteer scout for the Blues when the league expanded. The Islanders got Devellano as a scout in 1972, and he became head scout two years later. He was promoted to assistant GM in 1981 during the team's championship streak.

Soon after Ilitch began building his sports empire with the Red Wings in June 1982, Devellano was the first person he hired to help him build a winning franchise.

"Although Jimmy never played professional hockey himself, he was born with an intense love for the game and has devoted his life to hockey," Mike and Marian Ilitch wrote in the foreword of Devellano's book, "The Road to Hockeytown." "He lives and breathes the game. Hockey is better off because of Jimmy Devellano."

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