“Brad May spent this past summer wondering if he’d ever get a 1,002nd chance,” wrote Bruce MacLeod of the Macomb Daily.
“The veteran of 1,001 regular-season NHL games was without a team, without a training camp, without a contract through July, August and most of September. On Wednesday, however, May was skating at Joe Louis Arena with the Grand Rapids Griffins, brought into town by the Detroit Red Wings on a professional tryout.
If all goes well for the 37-year-old forward, he’ll wind up with a contract and a spot on either the Griffins or Red Wings roster.
May is not going with the Red Wings when they leave for Sweden, Sunday, according to Detroit vice president and general manager Ken Holland, May will not be offered a contract before then.
May can play for Grand Rapids without signing a contract, getting new 25-game PTOs (professional tryouts). But before he can play an NHL regular-season game, May needs a contract.
“I’ve been through a lot of different things, but I’ve never had a summer like this,” said May. “The phone wasn’t ringing off the hook. I wasn’t waking up to messages every day. This happened and it was right. Now it’s work. It’s out of my control. That’s what you have to do as a player, just show everything you have.”
May is a left-handed shooting left wing who broke into the NHL as a 20-year-old with Buffalo back in 1991. May is perhaps most famous for scoring the Adams Division semifinal series clinching goal in overtime against Boston in 1993, a goal made legendary by broadcaster Rick Jeanneret’s “MAY DAY” call.
The 14th overall pick in the 1990 draft (there were just 21 teams in the league then), May was selected the same summer that the Red Wings took Keith Primeau third overall and Slava Kozlov in the third round.
May lasted 1,001 regular-season games by showing third- and fourth-line ability and a top-notch toughness. He has 287 career points and 2,182 career penalty minutes. May has 142 career fighting majors, including seven last season in a year he split between Anaheim and Toronto.
“That’s who and what he is,” said Holland. “He brings a physical element and that’s something we don’t have. Now, he’s 37 and he wants to see what he’s got left and so do we.”
May has average 9:50 of ice time per game since the 1998-99 season. His time was down to less than seven minutes per game over the past two years.
The pinnacle of May’s career was in 2007 when he won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim after being traded from Colorado late in the season.
“First of all, I want to play; I want to make this team,” said May. “The second thing is to be part of this tradition, a winner. I had a great opportunity to win a few years ago and it’s infectious. You want to do it again.”
May learned of the tryout opportunity with the Red Wings on Monday. His family had moved to Toronto from California at the beginning of September — just three days before his 13-year-old son Tyler and 10-year-old daughter Samantha started school.
Having a stable home life was the reason that May didn’t consider playing in Europe this season, cutting his chances to return as a player.
“At this stage, school and family and friends … we made a big enough move back to Toronto,” said May. “It’s unbelievable. We’ve lived in four or five houses in the last three years. My family’s set. Now it’s just cheer Dad on. … My son loves hockey. They said, ‘Keep going.’ They’re proud of me. Those days that you were beaten up or emotionally drained, that helped.”
So May skated on his own this summer without knowing if he’d have a 20th season as a professional hockey player. He had several discussions with Toronto general manager Brian Burke — May and Burke have been together with three NHL teams — but nothing close to an offer to return to the Maple Leafs as a player, according to May.
On Wednesday, May was on the ice at Joe Louis Arena with the Griffins on a day that the Red Wings were given off.
May is working to try to fill the role served by Aaron Downey previously, adding physical toughness to a Red Wings team that consistently is last in the NHL in fighting majors.
More than that, May is working to extend a playing career that has been more than gratifying.
“It’s not about anything else other than I love it,” said May. “I just love it.”