Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can't Stop Talking Those Lions (Honolulu) Blues

What's happening in Detroit sports? The Tigers start their 2008 season Monday after trading and signing one of the best young talents in baseball with a good chance to get back to the World Series. The Pistons will finish second in their conference and try to make it six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Red Wings begin their 17th straight playoff quest for the Stanley Cup after finishing with the NHL's best record. But of course all Detroit sports radio can discuss (beside Mayor Kwame's recent criminal indictment) is the Detroit Lions.

In 2007, the Lions had their usual train wreck of a season. They started with one of the shakiest 6-2 starts ever, losing in 50 point blow outs to Washington and Philadelphia. Still, there was reason for optimism as fully 80 percent of teams that start 6-2 make the playoffs.

But as the second half wore on, we were once again reminded that the Lions are not like other teams, or really, any other professional sports team. They went 1-7 in their final eight games for a 7-9 record, which in the perverse recent history of the Lions made that their best record since the 2000 season. (The year before Matt Millen began his quest to become the worst front office executive of all time.)

Their first off season move was firing their genius offensive coordinator and replacing him with the offensive line coach. This was a bit curious as their offensive line was one of the worst in the league all season, one that was causing quarterback Jon Kitna to see miracles all season (what the less evangelistic might call concussions.) Apparently, it was just that the blocking schemes were too complicated, and they figure once those are dumbed down, by their new coordinator, they will find that running game that can never quite put together.

But the Lions are a few key pieces short of a running game: mainly an effective offensive line especially at the tackle positions and a running back. Despite the lack of excitement such a pick brings, Detroit media and sports radio callers are begging the Lions to take a OT. But it seems like they have other ideas, and I think it is time they drafted for defense. Which might be the plan for the Lions. Because as bad as the offense was last year, the defense was a whole lot worse.

Whatever happens we can be pretty sure it will be the wrong one, and the player will most likely eventually be waived, traded for a third round draft pick or go to prison for manslaughter.

Lions 2008 Calendar Update: (Gift for Christmas)

January - Jon "10 Win" Kitna
February - Kenoy Kennedy
March - Jeff "False Start" Backus
April - Boss Bailey
May - MIke "Call Me' Furrey
June - Ernie "You See, the Lions Can't Mess Up All Their First Round Draft Picks" Sims
July - Dan "Are You Sure He's on the Team" Campbell
August - Cory "Better Step Up This Year" Redding
September - Kalimba Edwards
October - Kevin Jones
November - Fernando Bryant
December - Roy "Not Here Much Longer" Williams

The Wings hit some Milestones

"They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high."

These words came to mind after the Wings made it three straight 50 win seasons. If you remember, after the NHL returned from its suicidal lock-out, many pundits and prognosticators predicted a steady decline and/or rapid demise for the Red Wings. No longer could the Wings pad their roster and pay rolls with their rent-an-overpriced veteran policy, as they did through much of the 90s. Without the money bags of Mike Ilitch to outspend the competition, "they" said, the Wings would need to compete with their competition on an equal footing.

But the salary cap era came about the same time the high payroll strategy was already wearing pretty thin anyway. So it was time to focus more on what the Wings do best. And in recent years, that is scouting Russia and Europe, and more specifically Sweden, for young players that fit the Wings puck possession style.

And the results are in. The Wings will be the President's Cup Trophy Winners for the 2007-2008 season. Though we have seen this before, being the best during the regular season, only to suffer lethal gut punches in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, let's chill at the excellence of this team. Because in addition to that third consecutive 50 win season, this will also be the Wings 17th straight playoff appearance. That is the longest streak in professional sports. (They are about as good as the Lions are hapless.)

And though you can never know what will happen in the playoffs, I like our chances to go deep like we did last season. (The conference finals.) It's time the new generation won a cup.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Ever Quotable Jim Leyland

Sportswriters who cover the Tigers must love the words that come out of Jim Leyland's mouth. (Of course nothing like having Rasheed Wallace to write your copy.)

Leyland's recent explanation of Jason Verlander's troubles and their possible causes:

“I’m not worried about Justin,” the manager told the Detroit Free Press. “He just has to work harder to keep the ball down. He got all out of sync and he never got back into it. He got radar gun conscious and he started to feel all macho.”

More quotes courtesy of the Motor City Forum:

"I remember somebody telling me, 'You can't trade (Tony) Pena. He's our most popular player,' " Leyland said. "Look, when you lose 100 games two years in a row and draw 700,000 (fans), you don't got no popular players."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Let's Get the NHL Playoffs Started Already

Though I do not have the blood lust for the Nashville Predators like other villains of Red Wings past, it was nice to see the Wings dispatch them handily last night and in their own building. (Now that they can't win at home- I guess the Predators have lost six straight in their building - maybe it's time to move the team north, where hockey is meant to played, like London Ontario or Kitchener.)

I especially like how the Predators took the early lead only to be answered by three straight Red Wings goals. Then they come back to tie the game at 3 and the Wings again score three straight, for an impressive 6-3 victory. Johan Franzen was the hero, getting the game winning goal in the third. Gotta love those Swedes.

I like the way we can score this year. We had some droughts this season and no doubt we’ll hit the skids in the playoffs as we so often do, but we got more offensive fire power this year than we have for a long time. (And now that I take a closer look, Hank Z. gets a hat trick Wednesday, scoring all three goals in a 3-1 win over Columbus.) Yes, I do love those swedes, with a special kind of love for Hank.

Down with (Columbus) Ohio. Down with the South (Nashville).

And pinch me if I’m dreaming, but it looks like we may get the Avalanche in round one of the playoffs. How nice would that be? Get that rivalry greased up again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Detroit Lions: Rebuilding Since 1957

The recent release of Kevin Jones has fired up the word processors of many a NFL columnist. It is an oft-told and sad tale about the ineptitude of Matt Millen and his disastrous reign as the president of the Detroit Lions. Hubris. Arrogance. Incompetence. Maybe it’s a good thing that he is running a football franchise rather than calling the shots in say, U.S. foreign policy. Or maybe he is doing that on the side too, which would explain a few things.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated gives a run down of drafts in the Matt Millen era (though I do disagree a bit with his evaluation of Jeff Backus as a "Very good player" ):

2001: Round 1, 18th overall, T Jeff Backus. Very good player --112 career games, all starts. Round 2, (50), C Dominic Raiola. Above-average five-year starter. Round 2 (61) DT Shaun Rogers. Perennial tease just traded to Browns.
2002: Round 1 (3) QB Joey Harrington. Booed out of town in '05. Now a Falcon. Round 2 (35) DE Kalimba Edwards. Six seasons, 26 sacks. Just cut.
2003: Round 1 (2) WR Charles Rogers. Injuries, substance abuse made him a bust. Round 2 (34) LB Boss Bailey. Five years, moderate impact. Now a Bronco.
2004: Round 1 (7) WR Roy Williams. Very good wideout. Unhappy. On the block. Round 1 (30) RB Kevin Jones. Cut after one good and three nothing years. Round 2 (37) LB Teddy Lehman. Hurt too much. Just signed with Bucs.
2005: Round 1 (10) WR Mike Williams. Lasted two pathetic years before being cut. Round 2 (37) DT Shaun Cody. Backup DT. Seven career starts.
2006: Round 1 (9) LB Ernie Sims. Genuine item. Solid player, great leader. Round 2 (40) FS Daniel Bullocks. Good rookie year. Hurt second year. Can he rebound?

The good news is the Lions can’t possibly draft worse in the next seven draft years (or can they?) And while pundits may now rain down contempt at Matt Millen's draft record, he usually does receive decent grades on draft day. And, even though there is major incompetence at work here, there is also some bad luck too (i.e. the Kevin Jones injury situation, Charlie Roger's broken collar bones)