The Detroit Red Wings are the bad guys of the National Hockey League in more ways than one.
The Red Wings' 10-34-5 record is the NHL's worst. Their penalty total of 1,581 minutes is 250 more than runner-up Calgary's, and they have been slapped with seven suspensions, ranging from one to eight games.
The latest to feel the league office's wrath is Brad Park, the club's coach of less than a month. He received a six-game sentence for ordering his players to leave the bench and escalate a brawl in Toronto on Jan. 13.
Park, whose record is 2-11-1 since he replaced Harry Neale Dec. 30, has chosen to begin serving his suspension Friday, when St. Louis comes to Joe Louis Arena.
He could have started it Saturday in Boston, but elected to wait and in the process took some of the sparkle out of Tuesday's game here against the Washington Capitals. The man who will replace Park for those six contests is assistant Danny Belisle, who guided the Capitals for 13 months and admitted today that "I would have enjoyed that tomorrow. That would have been fun."
Park said he chose to wait a week because, with an eight-man injury list, the Red Wings have summoned a number of young players from Adirondack, including million-dollar bonus baby Adam Oates, and he wanted to guide them against Boston and Washington.
"I looked at the team and I knew we'd be a healthier club in a week, with (John) Ogrodnick and (Petr) Klima coming back," Park said. "Meanwhile, we have some young people up who have played great and done a terrific job. I felt it was better to spend time with them now than abandon them for a week, especially since we were playing two good teams."
Park had no complaint with NHL President John Ziegler's decision, although he did stare fixedly without comment at a Detroit writer who suggested he was lucky to get off that easy.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did know that whatever decision came down, I'd have to live with it," Park said. "For me to comment on it wouldn't accomplish anything. The NHL has a job to do and I have a job to do."
Park does not consider that job an impossible one, despite the club's status. The Red Wings have some good forwards, although they obviously are short on defense. They have been blitzed for a league-high 266 goals.
The combination of a runaway penalty total and the NHL's poorest penalty killing (69 percent) is a tough one to overcome. It doesn't help that Greg Stefan, the team's best goaltender, has sat out 14 games as a result of two suspensions for stick swinging.
Left wing Bob Probert sat out four games for a head butt, right wing Lane Lambert missed three for leading the bench charge in Toronto and Joe Kocur was suspended twice, for a total of three games, as a result of four game misconduct penalties.
"This is a better hockey club than three weeks ago," Park said. "Maybe the record isn't better, but I'm talking player-player relationship and team effort.
"When I took over the club, I felt it was better than its record, and I still feel that way. Sure, we have to cut down on the penalties, but we have some talented players."
There was a notable falloff in the Red Wings' penalty total while Ziegler was weighing Park's punishment. Once a decision was reached, Detroit got nasty again and served 70 penalty minutes in Boston on Saturday.
There is reason to believe Tuesday's game could be a rough one, with Washington's Bengt Gustafsson a possible target. Gustafsson dumped Stefan during the Capitals' 4-3 victory Jan. 7, and the goalie has been out since with lower back problems. In the same game, Gustafsson caught Chris Cichocki in the mouth with his stick, cutting Cichocki's tongue and throat.
Asked about those incidents, Park said, "Well, if he's sent Chris a letter of apology, I haven't seen it. But right now we're more concerned about winning a hockey game."
Cichocki, who still has a bit of trouble talking, said, "I looked at the tapes and I know it was an accident. But I wouldn't mind saying hello to him along the boards if I get a chance."
Washington probably will be without tough guy Dwight Schofield, still recuperating from minor leg surgery. But Coach Bryan Murray felt his club could handle anything that came up.
"It's possible that there might be some trouble," Murray said. "It's not hard to see, looking at their lineup, that they have more tough guys than skill players. But we're fine. We do all right in those situations."