Miscellaneous ramblings about the Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers...have I left out any of our professional men's sports teams? No!
Pistons - Did Joe D. do the right thing by making no major moves this summer? I say yes. He shouldn't have made a move just to make one, and he probably found that other GMs were hoping he would over deliver in a trade just to make a move to shake up his team. The Pistons have been a fixture in the conference finals with their current core, so tweaking, rather than a housecleaning, is in order. The Pistons have the luxury to see how the current squad performs under a new coach, and they will see how their younger players have developed. I still think a significant move will be made, but it will be close to the trading deadline, when the Pistons have a better feel for what the missing piece to their puzzle is, and what it will take to obtain it.
A new candidate to be traded? Jason Maxiell. For whatever reason, he is turning down $5 million a year (I guess I would do that too!), an indication he feels he should be a starter on another team. Jason Maxiell is a solid player - he could be a starter on many other teams. But frankly, the teams that would give Maxiell major minutes would be the type of teams that scrap to make the playoffs every year - is that what he wants? If so, make the move - as an upcoming restricted free agent, he'll be attractive, because even if he is traded, and doesn't sign a contract with his new team, he will be worth a high draft pick as compensation. The Pistons could very well get a star player on an expiring contract for their playoff run in exchange for Maxiell, which might be an attractive proposition. But, do the Pistons have a current replacement for the strong role Maxiell performs? Not exactly, but with more minutes going to Amir Johnson, the possibility of 25+ minutes a game going to Antonio McDyess as a sixth man, and the possibility for extended minutes for Kwame Brown and Walter Herrman, the Pistons could afford to make this move.
The end game for the Pistons? They have as good a chance to return to the NBA Finals as any Team in the Eastern conference, and despite the depth of overall strength of the West, the elite teams in the East are better than the elite teams in the west. The Pistons CAN win it all this year.
Red Wings - I stand by my pre-season prediction that the Wings will bring the cup back to Hockeytown in 2009, but I also have some concerns. Mike Babcok has acknowledged that he "doesn't like the way we're winning", and I understand why. The Wings are giving up too many goals, and they have needed to go to too many shootouts to win games. Proof of this? As of today (10/29) the Wings have allowed 28 goals, which is worse than all but three teams in the Western Conference. True - the Wings offensive production is impressive, they lead the league in goals scored, but there are scoring droughts that occur during the season, and good teams find ways to win games when they are not scoring goals. Of larger concern, games tighten up in the playoffs - the Wings can't hope for a long playoff run with the thought they will win playoff games by a 5-4 score, as they are currently - and there are no shootouts in the playoffs.
What gives? is it the defense? Is it the goaltending? Is it the style of play? I'll say it is the last two. The Wings could not hope to improve on the steady play of Dominic Hasek and the career season of Chris Osgood that they enjoyed last year. Osgood is Stillgood, and Ty Conklin is a solid back-up, but the Wings have not improved on their goaltending of last year. They simply will give up more goals. As to their style of play, a recent bit in the news identified the Wings as the oldest (certainly 46 year-old Chris Chelios skews this stat) shortest, lightest, least Canadian (translation - most European) team in the league. That sets up a team that does not play grind it out hockey, which frankly, is OK by me - I love to see the Wings skill players perform. But it does suggest a team that is going to take chances and give up some bad goals, which the Wings have done this year.
What does all this mean for the Wings? First, they are an excellent hockey team - truly the envy of the league. Marian Hossa is an absolute stud, the best free agent acquisition by any team in the league. They will improve their defensive play - they have the best defensive forwards in the league, and probably the best top-four defensemen. I feel the Wings can and will adapt to a defensive style of play when the situation warrants it, which is in the playoffs, and they will make another long playoff run. Can they win it all again? Yes. Will they? In my view, the answer is Ozzie. He won't have to be spectacular in the playoffs, but he will need to be solid, night-in and night-out, come playoff time. No team in the East seems capable of winning it all, but the team that I think can and will give the Wings a legitimate challenge are the San Jose Sharks, with their chances riding on goaltending as well - unlike with the Wings and Ozzie, however, their goalie will need to stand on his head in order to take the Sharks to the promised land.
Tigers - Prepare for another disappointing season for the Tigers. The reason? They can't make the moves necessary to take the team back to playoff contention, which is a bummer because the Central division is wide open, and is conceivably theirs for the taking. A season filled with a lot of promise turned into a season of numerous unanswered questions, and exposed all their weaknesses. The reason the Tigers can't correct their problems are their long term contracts. Inge has one. Willis has one. Robertson has one. None of these guys can be considered an answer to what the Tigers need to do to improve. Guillen has one, and as good as he has been, it looks like his most productive playing days are behind him. No team will take these guys. No team. The Tigers are stuck with them. So, what can the Tigers do? Spend more on free agents? Not likely. With the state of the local economy and the team, the Tigers will not enjoy the attendance in 2009 that they had this year - revenues will be down. Mike llitich loves his team, but he is also a smart business man - he can't justify spending more unless he is assured of a championship caliber team, and he thought he had made such an investment last offseason.
The Tigers won't make any major moves, unless they trade one of their two most productive offensive players, Magglio Ordonez, but for what? A pitcher? Pitchers don't go out there every day, and they are always risky. Another hitter? What would trading one .300 hitter for another one resolve? The Tigers are stuck with trying to figure out a way to improve dramatically with what they have. It will take a lot for that to happen. Verlander (in my view the Tigers best trade bait, but he is probably untouchable) needs to get back on track. Bonderman needs to return from a serious injury to display the type of form he has only shown flashes of during his career. Dontrelle Willis needs to be what he was 3 or 4 years ago, and with his mechanics, I say it will never happen. Robertson needs to become the pitcher the Tigers thought he could be, which was probably never more than wishful thinking on their part. Somehow, Rodney and Zumaya need to demonstrate what they are capable of, and neither seems to have the mental make-up to do that, and both are extremely injury-prone. Finally, the Tigers need to figure out a way to play defense, and not strike-out as much, but playing good D and putting the bat on the ball has never been a hallmark of this current team.
Prepare for another long, losing season, which looks like it will be the last for Jim Leyland with the Tigers. I'm a Leyland fan, but after 2009, the Tigers may need to overhaul their team, and Leyland does not seem like the type of manager that can take them through that process. 2006 seems like such a long time ago...