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The Norris family finally sold the Red Wings in 1982 to Mike and Marian Ilitch, who owned Little Caesars Pizza. One of their first hires was Jimmy Devellano as the team's general manager and he selected a shy, 18-year-old center named Steve Yzerman with the fourth overall pick of the 1983 NHL Draft.

Detroit made the playoffs in both 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons but lost in the first round each season. The Red Wings collected only 40 points in 1985-86 to finish last overall in the NHL, but the disappointing campaign would prove as one step backward before Detroit would take several steps in the right direction.

Detroit hired Jacques Demers, coach of the St. Louis Blues, as their new coach. Not only did the Red Wings make the playoffs in each of Demers first two seasons, but they advanced to the Campbell Conference Finals each season and lost to the Edmonton Oilers in five games both times.

Demers made the 21-year-old Yzerman the team's captain. The squad featured other young players like Gerard Gallant, Petr Klima, Bob Probert, Shawn Burr, Adam Oates, Joe Kocur and Steve Chiasson and veterans like Dave Barr, Lee Norwood, Tim Higgins, Gilbert Delorme and Harold Snepsts.

Demers won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year in both 1986-87 and 1987-88.

In 1988-89, Yzerman set team records for goals, assists and points with 65 goals, 90 assists and 155 points - which is the highest point total in NHL history for a player not named Gretzky or Lemieux. Yzerman and line mates Gallant and Paul MacLean combined for 319 points, the most by any line in Red Wings' history. Despite their stellar play, Detroit lost in the first round of the playoffs.