The Detroit Red Wings are going nowhere fast. The same could be said of the Wings' general manager, Jimmy Devellano.
After Devellano's car had been stolen three times and returned by police, he bought a new one. Sure enough, it quickly vanished, too.
The one thing that concerns Devellano more than his car these days is his job. With the team having won only twice in its first 15 games, reports have surfaced that owner Mike Ilitch is pressuring Devellano.
If the club's misadventures are worthy of a soap opera, Ilitch has no desire to sponsor it. Besides, who would believe that in addition to Devellano's transportation problems, the Wings already have experienced two airplane engine failures this season? More pertinent, who would believe a 2-9-4 start by a team that in the last six months has spent more than $10 million on new contracts?
"A lot of people can't believe the things that have happened to this team," said Bill Jamieson, the director of public relations. "We find it hard to believe ourselves, particularly our seven-for-79 power play."
Ilitch, once a shortstop in the Detroit Tigers' farm system, wanted to buy the baseball team, but his bitter rival in the pizza franchise business, Tom Monaghan, beat him to it and then celebrated with a World Series winner.
Ilitch therefore spared no expense in trying to build a Stanley Cup champion. But his knowledge of hockey is limited to basics, such as ice and skates, so it was Devellano who distributed the largesse.
Devellano signed eight free agents to huge contracts that left other NHL general managers gasping. Then he figured he'd better make the resident Red Wings happy, too, so he lavished multimillion dollar contract extensions on high scorers John Ogrodnick and Steve Yzerman.
The results have left a lot of people chuckling, none of them connected with the Wings. In winning two of its first 15 games, the club has been outscored, 78-42, losing by embarrassing margins such as 9-2 and 10-1.
The leading point producer is Gerard Gallant, who was chosen in the fourth round of the 1981 draft. His 11 points are the fewest by any team leader in the NHL; eight Washington Capitals have more.
Meanwhile, the millionaires apparently have been too busy keeping one hand on the wallet to use two for scoring shots.
Warren Young, signed from Pittsburgh for $1.2 million over four years, has yet to score a goal. Adam Oates, a collegian who received $1 million for four years, has managed one. That puts him one up on another high-paid collegian, Ray Staszak, whose checks for a $1.4 million, four-year pact are being forwarded to the Red Wings' farm club in Glens Falls, N.Y.
Yzerman, secure for seven years on a new $3 million contract, has two goals. Defenseman Mike McEwen, plucked from Washington to spark the power play, has not approached last year's form, after hurting his back while shoveling topsoil during the summer.
Petr Klima's adventures in defecting from Czechoslovakia have thus far proven more exciting than his exploits on the ice. Although he has six goals, the prevailing joke is "he must be a Slovak, because he sure doesn't check."
"It hasn't been a jolly time," said Coach Harry Neale, who has variously been reported as sliding upward into Devellano's shoes and joining his boss on the unemployment line. "The last few games we've been a little better, so at least we seem to be heading in the right direction.
"I knew things should turn around, but I can't say I knew they would. We were allowing way too many shots and at the same time our goal scorers weren't producing. You don't win many like that. Our offense and defense were like two trains heading in opposite directions. The space got pretty big pretty quick."
Danny Belisle, an assistant coach once with the Capitals, said, "So far the season has been one long training camp. There have been injuries and a lot of new guys we didn't really know what they could do until the regular season started. The worst part was not having a goaltender."
Greg Stefan, the Wings' No. 1 goalie, was suspended for the first eight games of the season because he swung his stick at Chicago's Al Secord in the playoff finale in April. His replacements were Corrado Micalef and Ed Mio, whose goals-against averages are 6.65 and 7.00, respectively. However, they are hardly the only reasons for the sorry start.
"The last three or four games we've been more cohesive and we're tightening things up," Devellano said. "We need to play with more determination. Our start could have been worse, I guess, but not much."
The only way it might have been worse would be if Detroit were in another division. The Norris, however, is so sorry that the Wings with eight points are in fourth place, a mere five points from first.
The blessing for Norris members, of course, is the presence of Toronto, which won only 20 games last year and has one victory in 15 games this time.
"If we could win one more game by Christmas, we could clinch a playoff spot," Belisle said.
Although he was kidding, he might not be far from the truth.