Shortly before the team took the ice for warmups before a game that wound up a 6-4 Toronto preseason victory, Brent Sopel told Detroit coach Mike Babcock that he couldn't play. Sopel, a free-agent tryout, had come to terms with the Chicago Blackhawks with what is reported as a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
It might be the first reported case of a Canadian traveling to Canada to defect.
So the Red Wings, who brought six defensemen with them, played the game with five and went home with five. Sopel left the arena shortly after the game began to make his way home.
That Sopel was with the Red Wings -- from the start of training camp to the brink of their eighth preseason game -- when he signed with Chicago makes the situation quite unusual.
"This is the first time it's happened to us," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland.
Sopel, an eight-year NHL veteran who made $2.4 million last season, was fighting for a roster spot with Detroit prospects Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson.
That fight ended Thursday when the Red Wings offered Sopel a contract, according to Holland. The team upped its offer Friday. Holland, however, got a call from Sopel's agent Friday night, that a deal was done with another team.
"I'm hearing from others that it's Chicago," said Holland. "We made an offer (Thursday), upped it (Friday) and told him that's where we're at. We were interested in him as a sixth or seventh defenseman, as an insurance guy. So we'll look internally."
Earlier Friday, the team got news that prospect Kyle Quincey has a broken hand and will be out for 2-3 weeks.
That leaves Detroit with eight defensemen on its roster. Meech and Ericsson are the two now vying for a roster spot. Ericsson can be sent to Grand Rapids without clearing waivers while Meech cannot.
"I don't really know what to think," said Meech. "Obviously it might help me a little bit, but it's not the way I wanted. I can't think of it like that. My mindset was to come in here and try to outplay these guys to make the team. A situation like this, it's not home-free for me. I've still got to make the team, play my best hockey."
The Red Wings got goals from Kris Draper (two), Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk last night. The exhibition game, however, was secondary to the defection of Sopel.
"I don't know the rules for sure, but I thought when he was trying out for you, he was trying out for you," said Babcock. "He just told me before the game he wasn't playing. Obviously we were planning on him playing. I guess I don't know the rules very good and we'll have to figure it out.
"If you don't want to be a Red Wing, you don't want to be a Red Wings. It's real simple. I think the opportunity here is fantastic. Over the last few years, anybody that's come here has had a career year. If we just look at finances, if you have a career year, you get paid a ton the next year."
NOTES: There was a bizarre play that led to Toronto's sixth goal. Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja went back to touch the puck behind the goal line with a linesman yelling, "Ice, ice, ice." When Lilja slapped the puck, the official waved off the icing, saying that goalie Jimmy Howard left the crease. Darcy Tucker scooped up the puck and Chad Kilger fired it in for an insurance marker. … Quincey's broken left hand was an injury that happened in training camp, but wasn't discovered until Friday. Quincey was battling for one of the Red Wings' seven defense spots. … Mattias Ritola's eye is fine. The prospect was hit by a puck in the first period of Thursday's game at Joe Louis Arena and didn't return after the injury. … Forward Dan Cleary's rib injury isn't getting much better. The forward isn't going to play in tonight's preseason finale. His status for Wednesday's season-opener is unknown. … Between periods, crowd shots for the movie "The Love Guru" were shot at the Air Canada Center. The film will star Toronto native Mike Myers. Case member Verne Troyer was at the arena last night.