SUN Hockey Pool

NHL out of sight, not out of mind for Redden

Wade Redden skates during a team practice with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey...

Wade Redden skates during a team practice with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:21 PM ET

HARTFORD, Conn. - He admits now, standing in front of his stall in the quiet and almost empty Hartford Wolf Pack dressing room, that he thought about quitting.

Rather than suffer the indignity of coming here, demoted along with his $6.5-million US a year salary to the minors, Wade Redden thought about packing it in and saying: 'Enough!' It was his first reaction when the demotion was confirmed before the NHL season started, when he was told by the New York Rangers they were sending him down to get his cap hit off their books (though he is still getting the cash), the victim of his own declining play and president and general manager Glen Sather's years of questionable signings and salary cap mismanagement.

But now, after several conversations with ex-teammates and some soul-searching, Redden is here, standing in front of his stall which sits between youngsters Ryan McDonagh and Jyri Niemi, 33 years old and playing the first games of his career in the minors.

"It crossed my mind," he said of quitting. "After thinking about it for a bit, I'm sure glad I didn't. I think there's more hockey left in me. Getting out of New York and getting a fresh start is the best thing for me."

This isn't a city that immediately gets you thinking fresh start. The downtown is lined with vacant storefronts, their windows like dead, unblinking eyes. Go for a walk in the evening and the feeling is one of desolation. But this is where Redden will try and resurrect his career.

He once played in the Olympics and the World Cup, wearing the maple leaf.

Now he skates out on to the ice at the XL Center - a rink that is part of a mall in the quiet downtown - wearing the Wolf Pack (soon to be the Connecticut Whale) colours and there look to be about 1,000 people in the stands when the home side takes on the Manchester Monarchs on Wednesday night.

As much as Redden tries to put a positive spin on things, this is a bad time here. The Wolf Pack will lose its seventh consecutive game and when Redden is on the ice for the Monarchs' third goal, a fan wearing a Kevin Dineen Hartford Whalers sweater stands up from his seat.

"Way to earn your money, buddy," he screams at Redden, flashing a mock thumbs up.

"If there is anything that will benefit me, it's playing well here."

That is Redden's reality now.

When he was at his crossroads and thinking about quitting, Redden turned to his friends.

"He was pretty down on himself," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a teammate for a decade. They grew from rookies to become among the best players in the world together.

"He was questioning what he had done and should do and whether he should even be playing hockey. We all live the game. I thought he should try Europe or the minors and get the fire, the excitement back. We're pro athletes, hockey players. This is what we know. This is what we do."

The input was appreciated.

"Alfie has always been a guy I looked up to as a teammate and as a friend," Redden said. "He's pretty sharp. He sees things and has a good perspective.

"His advice was the same as lot of the other people I spoke to: 'Keep playing and a lot of good things can come from it.'"

From retired ex-teammates such as Curtis Leschyshyn, Lance Pitlick and Jason York and friends Kelly and Brad McCrimmon, the message was the same: When it's over, it's over. If there is a chance to still play, take it.

Looking at it now, getting out of New York was a necessity for him.

"I went to New York with high hopes," he said. "It didn't work out and it was difficult for me. It weighed a lot on me.

"I kind of got into a negative spiral, myself and everything around me. I let it get the better of me. Now, I'm getting away from that, getting a fresh start and seeing where it takes me."

The Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and the Columbus Blue Jackets all expressed interest when Redden became a free agent in the summer of 2008.

He chose the Rangers.

"I had a feeling about New York," he said. "I always liked going in there and playing there. It's a great building, when things are going well. I can't look back on the decision because that doesn't get you anywhere."

He got $39 million over six years from the Rangers, even though it looked as if the changes in the NHL since the lockout - more speed and a trend towards youth - were not kind to Redden. As the league got faster and younger, he looked slower and older.

"Right away, they wanted results, especially in that town," he said. "We had a decent team, but we didn't light it up. Things got negative and they were getting on me and it affected me. The money and the contract, the expectations changed. I don't think my game changed a whole lot, but the expectations changed. I was my own worst enemy. I started thinking about it too much and it had a negative spiral effect."

For Niemi, a 20-year-old rookie defenceman, having Redden around is a thrill.

Somebody is happy about Redden being in Hartford.

"As soon as I was asked where I wanted to be seated in the locker room and I saw Wade's name, I said: 'Right there, beside him,' so I could learn what he does every day. He's a phenomenal hockey player and it's a good experience for me in my first year pro.

"I've learned so much from him. He's a really good teacher and I've enjoyed my time with him," Niemi said. "I was really surprised and then I was really excited because I get to play with this guy who has been playing in the NHL for the past 12 years. I was excited about him coming here. In my opinion, he should be playing in the NHL, but that's the way things go and I've been enjoying my time with him on the ice and off the ice.

"It's great to see what he does before every practice, before every game, how he handles himself off the ice. What he does in the games. You pick up so much stuff and bring it to your own game."

"Nice play, old man."

It was a jibe from an opposing player after the puck hopped over Redden's stick during a recent game. He's heard stuff like that and shots about how much money he makes (about $81,000 a game, or more than a typical AHLer makes in a season).

Redden chuckles when telling a story over lunch at a restaurant a couple of blocks over from the XL Center. A couple of miles up the road is the rented townhouse into which Redden, his wife Danica and month-old daughter Leni, moved into the day before. He is resigned to playing the season here. With a baby on the way, trying to find a job in Europe wasn't an option for this season, but it might be for next year.

Dumping Redden and his deal here became Sather's remedy to the club's salary-cap problem. The problem is Redden's now. He is trapped by his salary, boxed by the system. The Rangers can't afford to buy him out and take the approximately $4-million hit on their cap for the next six years.

They can't call him up and risk some team taking him on re-entry waivers, sticking the Rangers with half his salary cap hit.

So, he is in Hartford. Indefinitely.

Few will have sympathy for him. He still plays a game and still receives a magnificent sum of money for it.

But just about everybody has pride.

To his credit, Redden has taken ownership of the situation.

"Most of it is my doing," he said, digging into a grilled chicken breast over a salad. "The way I played wasn't what I needed it to be, I guess. I try not to pout about it. It's not ideal to come down here, but it can lead to something better. The challenge is to play well and get back."

The restaurant is quiet. Bright sunshine pours in through the window next to our table.

Does he feel any of this is fair?

"You can discuss the way things went - fair or not fair. I don't know what's fair."

There's only one answer, one way out of here for Redden, one possibility.

Play better.

The reality is even that might not be enough.


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