Departing Red Wings Fill Joe Louis Arena With Memories, Not Wins

It would be a quiet end to the Wings’ 25-year streak of postseason appearances, the third longest in league history. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the second longest active streak, 10 consecutive appearances.

Thomas Vanek, the veteran left wing who signed with Detroit in the off-season, said the players do not talk about the streak, but “everyone knows about it.”

“Obviously, the history of this building is so great, you want to close it out right,” he said. “And right now it’s not looking good. But we’re a team with a lot of character and just look at it game by game.”

Normally raucous, the Joe has felt somber lately, and not only because of the team’s struggles. On Feb. 10, the team’s owner, Mike Ilitch, died at 87.

Ilitch, a Detroit native, started the Little Caesars pizza chain and became a billionaire. He bought the Wings in 1982, and 15 years later they won the Stanley Cup, ending a 42-year drought. He bought baseball’s Tigers in 1992 and saw them lose the World Series twice, in 2006 and 2012.

Ilitch’s philanthropy and work to revitalize Detroit made him a beloved figure. Wings employees and fans refer to him as Mr. I.

“We’re not retiring the Joe in a manner that befits its legacy, and Mr. Ilitch won’t ever see the fruits of his labor in the new building, and that’s pretty sad,” said Jeff Silverman, a lawyer from West Bloomfield and a longtime season-ticket holder.

Little Caesars Arena is a palatial complex with a practice rink and gleaming shopping concourses. As a building, Joe Louis Arena is not much to brag about.

It is a giant concrete cube, cramped on the inside and plagued by strange odors in heavy rains. Its sight lines are fine, but after it opened, the team realized it had been designed without a press box. After the Wings leave, it will most likely be…

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