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For once, a different kind of Thanksgiving memory for the Detroit Lions

Lions fans thanksgiving

I watched the Lions game not huddled with my family but with two colleagues in the Dallas Cowboys press box. All three of us were Michigan natives and when we saw the Detroit f
all down 14-3 the same thoughts ran through our heads: here it comes.

On the drive over I’d talked with one of my colleagues about how this was the one game in the next four the Lions could not lose. With Chicago twice, Minnesota and Tampa Bay, 3-1 over those four was the most likely outcome. Detroit was going to lose a game it shouldn’t. That’s how the NFL works. But losing this one would wipe 3-1 off the table.

A loss at home to an inferior team in the Lions’ signature game to extend a losing streak to three would’ve been the official marker of the Detroit Lions trademark second-half slide. The three of us saw it. At 14-3, 25 straight drives without a touchdown and a shaky Thanksgiving Day history outside of last year when they played an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team, autopilot takes over.

We discussed Stafford and whether he was good enough, how his physical tools would allow him to be have a stranglehold on the starting quarterback position and how his limitations would prevent him from doing anything with it but put up big stats. We discussed Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi. We discussed the Lions’ failure to be able to get two rushing yards when they needed it. We discussed how easy it would be for them to miss the playoffs despite the schedule unfolding in their favor.

You know what happened next.

Stafford led three straight scoring drives, the defense allowed three more points the rest the game and the Lions not only won but an embarrassed an inferior team — as they should have. Two of us watched the events unfold silently. The third gleefully updated us with Stafford’s passing statistics after we’d spent the past five minutes trashing him.

“22 for 26, two touchdowns.”

“29 for 38, 370 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions.”

Stafford finished the day 34 for 45 for 390 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ second segment: This is the story of how special teams can save a team

Franzenstein

Franzenstein

Not too long ago, people were worried about the Red Wings power play. LOL.

The Red Wings completed their second segment on Monday. They went 5-3-2 in the 10 games, earning 12 points. When combined with their 15-point segment in the first 11 games, they’re ahead of where they were after 21 games a year ago.

They probably shouldn’t be. Look at the chart:

2013-14 Averages Segment 1 Segment 2
GF 27.1 29 30
GA 27.6 22 27
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19 17
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15 18
PPG 6.1 5 12
OPP PPG 5.9 3 5

(*The splits don’t add up to the total because I didn’t include empty-net goals, short-handed goals, 6-on-5 goals, etc. on the chart.)

The scoring has been good, but the Red Wings were a net minus 5-on-5 and gave up five more goals than their previous segment. Yet they sit tied for third in the division and hold two games in hand on their Boston mates thanks to continued wizardry on the penalty kill and a ridiculous 12 power play goals. The most power play goals the Red Wings had in a segment last year was eight.

So who’s responsible for the uptick? Here are the top five Red Wings this segment in terms of adjusted GRM.

(A note before the numbers: Last year I provided straight GRM numbers. These skewed towards favoring forwards and punishing defensemen just on the basis of their positions. With a year-plus of data we can somewhat overcome that by making adjustments based on position. I averaged all the GRM totals from each segment — including this one — separately for forwards and defensemen, and subtracted that number from a player’s score depending on his position. The average GRM for a forward was 0.708. For a defensemen it was -0.900. So a forward who posted a 0.00 GRM will have an Adjusted GRM of -0.708, while a defense with a 0.00 total GRM has an Adjusted GRM of +0.900.)

Top 5 

1. Johan Franzen,  2.01

2. Tomas Tatar, 1.70

3. Xavier Ouellet, 1.4

4. Justin Abdelkader,  0.79

5. Henrik Zetterberg, 0.6

Franzen has always used the power play to earn his money. This segment, he had a total, non-adjusted GRM of 2.72. Almost all of that came on the power play, where he posted a team-leading +2.34 GRM. When he’s he’s walking through entire teams like this, that should be no surprise.

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Jim Caldwell’s 11-game referendum as Detroit Lions head coach

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Jim Caldwell was trying to minimize the pain, get out before the bomb went off. The questions didn’t stop. Most of them were the same, some variation of, ‘Why has the offense sucked?’ Caldwell let the pressure pierce him. His demeanor changed. He spoke clear and fast, but with bitterness. He was either a man without answers or one with answers he’d rather not say.

Caldwell spent a lot of his press conference saying he needed to “look at the film.” The reason for the offensive struggles? We’ll have to take a look at the film. How were the Patriots so effective? We’ll have to take a look at the film. I know you’ll have to take a look at the film, but just from what you saw out there today how did you feel Matt Stafford played? We’ll have to take a look at the film.

At one point he told a reporter asking about Stafford’s inaccuracy:  “Well, that’s your opinion…We’ll look at the film.”

Last week we learned the Lions weren’t among the NFL’s elite. This week we learned how big the chasm was. The Patriots dominated, and they did so because they played off their opponent.

Golden Tate said the Patriots had a “good game plan” to limit him and Calvin Johnson, (Tate finished with 97 yards but, like the rest of the Lions offense, didn’t find the end zone). James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin both talked about the Patriots’ up-tempo offense and how it took the Lions defense out of rhythm.

New England knew the Lions had a dominant rush defense, so despite rushing for 246 yards the previous week, the Patriots went away from the run and relied quick passes instead, forcing the Lions’ weakest unit to do the work. Caldwell and Lions meanwhile, insisted on balance in the first half. Before Stafford threw six straight passes in the half’s final minutes, the Lions ran 17 pass plays and 15 rush plays. It earned them a 24-6 deficit.

“We thought they would actually try to run the ball,” Ihedigbo said. “You run for 200 yards, you think you’d kind of stick to it, but when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady you can do whatever you want.”

For as good or as bad you think Caldwell (or offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi) has been tactically, he came to the Lions with the reputation as a quarterback engineer. He’d built Peyton Manning. Now he had the quarterback with all the raw tools anybody ever wants in front him to craft. Matt Stafford was going to be more efficient and stop forcing things but retain all the good things he’d done before.

Stafford’s raw numbers are way down. His completion percentage is up by less than three percent. His QBR and quarterback rating are nearly the same as last year. Calvin Johnson has been hurt and his receivers seem to enjoy dropping balls, but this updated version of the Stafford robot hasn’t been what was promised, at least not yet. Whether it’s Stafford or Caldwell’s fault doesn’t matter.

Caldwell was brought in to do two main things, besides win: groom Stafford and instill discipline.

The Lions sit with a worse offense, a stagnant quarterback and just as many penalties as they had last season. Yet the Lions are 7-4. Good but not great, better than last season but by how much? With two games against the Bears and one each against the Vikings and Buccaneers, the record could be significantly better. They can make the playoffs, get a home playoff game, win that and possibly get a few lucky bounces to get to the NFC Championship game. But if whatever is about to happen in the next month and half to two months is positive, will it be because of Caldwell or in spite of him?

It’s probably the latter if the offense keeps sputtering along at 21st in the league.

“We’re going to have to figure it out,” Tate said.

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Tracing the Detroit Red Wings’ roster roots: How one draft pick in 1990 is still paying dividends

slava-kozlov

Thank this guy for Darren Helm

On June 16, 1990, the NHL converged upon BC Place Stadium in Vancouver for the NHL Entry Draft. The Red Wings’ Bryan Murray was in his first year as coach and GM and was tasked with improving a team that had posted a 28-38-14 the previous season and finished last in the Norris Division

Murray selected Keith Primeau with the third overall selection. The Red Wings had no second-round selection, so Murray’s next pick came in at the top of the third, when he selected Vyacheslav “Slava” Kozlov with the 45th overall pick.

Primeau would become an All-Star. The Kozlov selection would turn into the most productive draft pick in Red Wings history — although Murray had no way of knowing it at the time.

On Thursday Grantland put together a list of the longest MLB transaction trees for each team: What’s the longest back that we could trace a current player’s roster spot? It’s fascinating. Read it and learn how Fernando Rodney eventually yielded the Tigers Robbie Ray and Ian Krol.

In this same spirit (i.e. pirating their idea), I traced the origins of every player to have played one game for the Red Wings this season — except for Andrej Nestrasil because he’s in Carolina now so screw him, amirite?

Click any of the charts to get an enlarged version.

Forwards:

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Defensemen/Goalies 

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Some notes:

–Seventeen of the 25 players are Red Wings draft picks, including all of their top forwards. Only four of those have come in the first round (Kindl, Kronwall, Sheahan, Smith)

–Both of the second-round picks the Red Wings received when they traded their 2011 first-round pick to Ottawa have yielded players already in the NHL: Tomas Jurco and Xavier Ouellet. Matt Puempel, the player the Senators took with the Red Wings pick, is yet to play in an NHL game.

– Detroit essentially flipped Sebastien Piche and Andrei Vasilevski for Kyle Quincey. Piche is playing Austria, but Vasilevski, 20, could still swing the trade in favor of Tampa Bay. He came into the season the top goalie prospect according to ESPN.

But back to that 1990 draft pick. Kozlov played 607 games and helped win two Stanley Cups for the Red Wings before he, along with a 2002 first-round pick, was traded to Buffalo for Dominik Hasek. (Buffalo later traded the first-round pick to the Blue Jackets who traded it to the Thrashers (R.I.P) who selected Jim Slater). Hasek played 79 games in that stint with the Red Wings (he later returned but that doesn’t count for our purposes) and led Detroit to the Stanley Cup in 2002. In 2004, after retiring and unretiring, Hasek left Detroit for Ottawa in free agency. The Red Wings were awarded a fifth-round pick in compensation. They used it on Darren Helm, who has played 310 games with Detroit and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2008.

When Helm was three years old, the Red Wings set in motion the series of events that would lead him to Detroit.

Since the Red Wings also sent a first-round pick to Buffalo, let’s halve Hasek and Helm’s production when looking at the impact of that 1990 third-round pick. It still yielded 1.5 solid players, 801.5 games played, a part in three Stanley Cups, and half of a Hall of Famer. The Red Wings might’ve had better draft picks, but there’s none that produced more.

And more than 24 years later, it’s still contributing.

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Jimmy Howard isn’t getting better, he’s just sucking less

Red Wings Twitter exploded after Jimmy Howard made the save above in Detroit’s 5-0 win over Columbus on Tuesday. Most of them said roughly the same thing: “I’ve been a Howard detractor, but he’s been really good this year.”

Howard’s goals against average is down to 1.97 from 2.66 and his save percentage has risen 14 points — from .910 to .924 — in comparison to last year. Want to bring analytics into it? Howard had 8.3 Goalie Point Shares for the Red Wings last season. That’s 8.9 percent of Detroit’s 93 points. This year Howard has already accounted for 2.5 Goalie Point Shares this season, or 10.9 percent of Detroit’s 23 points. In short: Howard is significantly better than he was last year, thus he’s contributing more to the team and thus the team is on pace to earn more points than they did last year.

This doesn’t look like the product of a small sample size or an easy schedule either. Howard is outperforming the “expected shooting percentage” a goalie should have against the Red Wings’ opponents thus far. If we take the overall shooting percentage of the teams Howard has faced and combine it with the number of shots that team had against Howard in that game, we can get an expected number of goals and saves. Howard’s expected save percentage is .909. He’s at .924 after makign seven more stops than the “average” NHL goalie should make in the 15 games he’s played.

Howard hasn’t taken his game to a new level. He’s just sucked less. Last year Howard had a quality start in 54 percent of his outings last year. This year that number is almost the same: 53.3 percent. But on the opposite end, Howard has just one really bad start (RBS) — lower than a .850 save percentage — in 15 starts this year. (It happened two games against Montreal). The 6.7 percent RBS percentage is less than half of what it was last year (14 percent).

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What facing a real-life Monstars football team taught us about the Detroit Lions

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Jim Caldwell was calm. Matt Stafford was calm. Ndamukong Suh was short — but calm. They stood at the podium and in the hallway and spouted off about how they had to be better, how that Cardinals team was good, how the offense needed to score off those two interceptions.

Those could be their true emotions. But I imagine when they reconvene on Tuesday there will be a little fear.

Let’s get it out of the way: the officiating wasn’t good. Fox’s officiating analyst, Mike Pereira, came on TV and proclaimed the Ebron play at the end of the half was a certain first down only to have Jerome Boger come back and say the spot on the field “stands.” When Boger overturned Jeremy Ross’ punt return, Pereira said “you always account” for a player catching a ball and throwing it back into play. If you want to complain about the Fitzgerald spot at the end go ahead, although that was much closer. In real time, it looked like he got the first down — although not by as much as the officials gave him.

So yes, the refereeing was part of the issue. The days reverting back to a refs’ initial impression as he watched in real time needs to be changed. It’s time for the replay gimp. But the other part of the issue is much more serious: The Lions couldn’t move the ball.

Arizona stops the run. They rank third in the league, allowing 78.6 yards per game. They don’t stop the pass.  The Cardinals rank 30th (274.2) pass yards allowed per game. Matt Stafford threw for 183 yards and interception. He had the same amount of yards against Arizona as Brandon Weeden did. But it wasn’t just the numbers. It was the way it happened.

Remember “The Big Green,” the soccer movie about the rag tag bunch of kids who come together with the help of a ringer and and beat the Knights for the championship? Remember the goalie? He had confidence issues, so he would picture the kids dressed as whatever their team nickname was. Instead of a pack of eight years old closing in on him it’d be ninjas and pirates and knights.

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Red Wings rumor roundup: Tyler Myers, Mike Green, Marc Methot, Tom Gilbert all linked to Detroit; Daniel Alfredsson deadline coming

Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction rumors from the previous week.

• TSN’s Darren Dreger (via Chris Nichols) say the Red Wings have been “the most persistent and consistent” team in their pursuit of Tyler Myers. The last Dreger heard the Sabres were asking for Dylan Larkin, another prospect and maybe Jakub Kindl.

Dreger also says the Red Wings are one of the teams interested in Senators defenseman Marc Mehot but Ottawa hasn’t had any serious negotations in three weeks. Things should be clearer a week from now though.

• According to TVA reporter Louis Jean and SportsNet, Daniel Alfredsson will either skate with the Red Wings in the next week or so or retire.

ESPN’s Rob Vollman took a look at Mike Green’s trade value and determined Detroit would be the best fit in terms of the Red Wings benefiting most from him and having the pieces to get him. Vollman suggest Darren Helm and a prospect for Green would be a fair deal.

SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman says Montreal could be interested in trading defenseman Tom Gilbert. He mentions the Red Wings were interested in Gilbert in the summer.

Mike Babcock said in a radio interview (via SportsNet) that he’s going to “do what’s best for me,” regarding his contract situation. He also said, “In the end I think we’re going to find a way to work things out.”

MLive’s Ansar Khan says Stephen Weiss could be ready to play for the Red Wings by Nov. 24 against Ottawa.

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