Allen: Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch was always a fan at heart

Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings and founder of Little Caesars, died at the age of 87.


When Steve Yzerman decided to leave the Detroit Red Wings to become general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, he drove to Mike and Marian Ilitch’s home to tell them personally.

The act said much about who Yzerman is as a person, but it may have said even more about who Mike Ilitch was as an owner.

When Ilitch, 87, died Friday, his teams and his community lost a person who always made his ownership count.

Ilitch was a players’ owner. He was also a fans’ owner. He had the proper blend of loyalty and passion. He understood the value of his players and took care of them like they were family. But in his heart, he was always a fan. He had a desirable mixture of impatience and drive to push the Red Wings to become an organization that opponents have long admired.

The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008) under his ownership and his fingerprints were all over that success.

When Ilitch bought the Red Wings, they had missed the playoffs 16 of the 18 previous seasons. This season, the Red Wings are trying to qualify for the playoffs for the 26th consecutive season.


It is almost forgotten now that when Ilitch bought the team, it was both a managerial and competitive mess. At that time, the name attached to the Red Wings around town was “Dead Things.” The Red Wings only had 2,100 season-ticket holders.

Ilitch earned the players’ respect by paying…