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Surveying the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff landscape with 30 games to go

(Nicole Yeary)

(Nicole Yeary)

There will be no worrying about the playoff streak, no standings watching to see what middle-of-the-pack team found another creative way to lose and gift the Red Wings a spot in the standings, no last-minute chaos just to make a tournament that more than likely will end for Detroit after the first round.

With 30 games to go, it’s safe to say it: Barring a complete collapse, the Red Wings will coast into the playoffs, and they’re not collapsing. They’re not the Maple Leafs.

That means the main opponent watching to do down the stretch is Detroit’s probable first-round opponents. Let’s look at the landscape.

Right now Detroit sits in third place in the Atlantic division with 71 points, tied with second-place Montreal and two points behind first-place Tampa Bay with three games in hand. Boston is eight points behind Detroit.

Its unlikely the Bruins make up that much ground. Since the 2008-09 season*, just seven teams have made up eight or more points on a playoff team after February 1st of that season. (2011-12 Phoenix, 2010-11 Washington, 2010-11 Buffalo, 2010-11 Los Angeles, 2008-09 Pittsburgh, 2008-09 St. Louis and 2008-09 Vancouver).

So, the three seeds in the Atlantic will be Tampa Bay, Montreal and Detroit in some order. The highest probability is that the Red Wings earn either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed and either play Tampa Bay or Montreal in the first round.

Then again, the Red Wings are 9-1 in their last 10 games. Maybe they continue their run and maybe they take the top seed in the Atlantic. If they do that they’ll probably be the No. 1 seed in the East, considering the Metropolitan division leader, the Islanders, has 69 points, two less than the third-place team in the Atlantic.

If the Red Wings are to get the No. 1 seed and play the last wildcard team, The options open up. If the playoffs started today, the Bruins would be the opponent. The Rangers are the first wildcard, but they’re only one-point behind third-place Washington in the Metropolitan and four points behind the first-place Islanders. Any one of those four top Metropolitan teams (Islanders, Penguins, Capitals, Rangers) are in play.

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Breaking down the Red Wings’ fifth segment: Detroit sets record marks, but not everything cheery

(Photo credit: Bridget Samuels)

(Photo credit: Bridget Samuels)

Last season the Red Wings never accumulated more than 14 points is in a 10- or 11-game segment. After shutting out Colorado on Thursday, they’ve done it twice this season.

Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Avalanche ended the Red Wings’ fifth segment. They went 8-2-0 in it, earning 16 points — a record-high since I started breaking down segments at the beginning of last year.

But that wasn’t the only record they set. Take a look at the numbers.

2013-14 Averages Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4 Segment 5
GF 27.1 29 30 32 24 35
GA 27.6 22 27 25 22 26
5-on-5 GF 19.1 19 17 19 11 18
5-on-5 GA 18.4 15 18 16 11 13
PPG 6.1 5 12 10 10 9
OPP PPG 5.9 3 5 6 5 11

(*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 35 goals for is a record. The +9 goal differential ties the record high, set in Segment 3 of the 2013-14 season. … And the 11 opposing power play goals is a record. Coming into the Avalanche game the Red Wings had allowed at least one power play goal in seven consecutive games.

But Detroit’s penalty kill still ranks 11th at 83 percent. The bad stretch appears to be an anomaly, a footnote in the best 10-game stretch the Red Wings have had in two years.

Focus instead on the individuals who pushed the Red Wings to these heights. Here are the top five Red Wings in terms of Adjusted GRM.

(A note before the numbers: Straight GRM numbers favor forwards and punish defensemen. With a year plus of data we can somewhat overcome that by making adjustments based on position. I averaged all the GRM totals from every segment ever recorded — 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 0.755. For a defensemen it was -0.871. So a forward who posted a 0.00 GRM will have an Adjusted GRM of -0.75, while a defenseman with a 0.00 total GRM has an Adjusted GRM of +0.871.0

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How the Super Bowl triggered an sports existential crises regarding the Detroit Lions

Lions celebrate

Our seats were around the 35-yard line, about 11 rows up. I sat in-between my dad and a guy with a goatee who had missing a tooth. He was the type of dude who worked at a factory and he was a wearing an animatronic Santa hat. He would squeeze the little white ball at the top of the red hat and it would move from one side of his head to the other.

I was eleven and my arm was in a sling. I had broken collar bone from hockey. It was mid-December. The Lions were facing the Vikings. Detroit was in its first year under Marty Mornhinweg and sat at 0-12.

Jay Leno was ripping the Lions in his monologue every night. 0-16 seemed possible if not likely. No one knew it would be the first of a couple scares before the feat was finally accomplished in 2008.

I was just happy to be there. The Vikings sucked too. If the Lions were going to win a game, it was this one. They took a lead late, but Minnesota had one final chance near midfield. The Vikings threw a pass to left side. It was either tipped away by a leaping Lions defensive back or overthrown, it was hard to tell. Either way, that was it. Players took their helmets off and rushed the field. The crowd went insane. Pure joy. Twelve weeks of disappointment extinguished with one game and one final play.

My earliest Lions memories are brief clips of Barry running, my dad making fun of Scott Mitchell on TV and this one time when my dad and I were at a preseason game and some guy gave us his second-row tickets for the second half. Robert Porcher came out of the locker room eating a bagel.  But those are just flashes. My first complete memory of the Lions is that 2001 game.

I understood the emotion. I still remember the glee in the face of the guy with the animatronic Santa hat. Everybody joked, ‘The Lions celebrated like the won the Super Bowl.’ Looking back, the celebration was excessive but the moment and the jokes got me wondering what it would be like if the Lions ever make it there. It gave me a visual.

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The Lions fan’s rooting guide to the Super Bowl

(Photo: Phillip Robertson)

(Photo: Phillip Robertson)

This might be shocking, but for the 49th straight year the Lions didn’t make the Super Bowl.

Once you get over that disorientation from that knowledge bomb, you’ll realize you’re going to watch the game anyway and don’t know who to root for.

I’ve figured this out for you. Both choices are wrong.

On one side you have the defending champion that pulled off one of the luckiest wins you’ll ever see in your life just to get to this game. On the other you have the most successful team of the past 15 years that has a track record of cheating and a crotchety old coach.

There’s no underdog, no good story, no hope for humanity. They’ll play the game anyway though, so you might as well pick one of the wrong sides rather than sit in the corner and ponder you place in the universe.

When choosing your team don’t try to drum up your rooting interest by doing illegal gambling. If you’re at a party with those Super Bowl squares run up and rip the sheet to shreds while declaring that every person there could be arrested. You’ll the party’s hero when people realize you saved their freedom.

Just look at the game from a Lions fans perspective.

New England has zero former Lions. Seattle has two: Cliff Avril and Landon Cohen.

Avril you know. He played well for the Lions and then left in free agency before the 2013 season. Last year you could root against him.  You could say the Seahawks got lucky, that they were going to get killed by the Peyton Manning’s Broncos anyway, that with Suh and Fairley he could’ve had more long-term success in Detroit than Seattle.

Now, it’s clear he made the right choice. He’s got one Super Bowl win and could have another on Sunday. It worked out for the Lions too. Avril’s departure left a void at defensive end. Detroit drafted Ezekiel Ansah. He had seven and a half sacks this year. Avril had five.

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A JMMA update: What the landscape is for our former winners headed into spring training

ONE MORE YEAR

ONE MORE YEAR

We’ve reached a turning point. Almost every baseball team ever held their Fan Fest/Winter Caravan/rally event/excuse to sell season tickets this weekend. Spring training is less than a month away.

Another hunt for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) will begin soon. But before that happens we most honor the past.

The baseball side of the JMMA has three winners. Improbably, all of them could be in camp for somebody next year.

Blaine Hardy and Jose Alvarez are guarantees.

Hardy went from spring training destroyer to American League arson with his flaming hot stuff (actually his off-speed pitches earned him the job but keep that on the down low). Despite some late bumps in the road he’s a given to be in the Tigers’ bullpen next year.

Alvarez missed almost the entire season last year for the Angels after being traded from the Tigers for Andrew Romine in March. A year later he’s somehow closer to the big leagues than where he started.

The Angels have a severe lack of starting pitching depth. After their top three the caliber rolls down a hill at a major-league and minor-league level. Alvarez didn’t have the chance to show he was terrible last season and that helped him. He ranks somewhere around No. 7 on the Angels’ organizational starting depth chart. Two injuries and he’s back in The Show.

Chris Bootcheck, on the other hand, couldn’t be further away. Right now he just needs a uniform. The 36 year old played last season in the Phillies organization. An injury ended his season prematurely. For the third time in three seasons, I figured that year was his last year.

Then, in early December he started tweeting about winter ball.

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An appreciation of Dominic Raiola and a depreciation for how his last days were handled

(AP)

(AP)

When his season was over, when what would be his best and last chance was taken away from him by a strange picked up flag, Dominic Raiola did what he’d done for the past 13 years as the Lions’ starting center: stood in front of his locker and took it.

He spoke in barely above a whisper, trying not to disturb the silence in that surrounded the locker room. He gave some thoughtful answers, deflected some dangerous questions and dished out solid quotes.

“Like what the [expletive] just happened,” Raiola said of the picked up flag. “But you got to make a decision quick, right?”

This display was Raiola’s routine. The Lions are 69-139 since Raiola took over at center for the 2002 season. He’s talked after losses a lot.

During his tenure he’s also flipped off fans when the Lions went 0-16, stomped on linemen, gotten a (deserved) reputation as a dirty player and gotten fined more than most. But throughout the past 13 seasons he’s always stood in front of his locker and addressed the allegations. Sometimes he didn’t choose the best way to talk about it, or was unapologetic for something that went beyond the rules, but he never ran and hid.

A long time ago, before the Lions had reached the playoffs twice in the past four years, I spoke to someone who covered the Lions. For a while, the offensive line was so bad that that person’s job was to write almost exclusively about how awful they were. One time that person went over to interview a new addition. Raiola was nearby and stepped in.

“She’s going to ask you how much you suck, but she’ll be nice about it,” Raiola said.

He understood his profession. He understood that other people had jobs to do. He understood it was best to address something and get it over with than to let it linger.

The Lions’ front office doesn’t have the same attitude. Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell declined to talk about Raiola at the Senior Bowl. Instead the Lions issued a written statement that included quotes from Mayhew and Caldwell, which were probably constructed by the team’s PR staff.

According to Raiola, the team never told him the reason they were letting him go,Just the team moving forward.”

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A prequel to the Mock Draft game: Which prospects could the Lions take in the 2015 NFL Draft?

(Photo: flguardian2)

(Photo: flguardian2)

Twelve and a half percent of the teams in the NFL remain. The storylines for the conference title games are set. Coaching vacancies are filling up. The newsiest part of the season is over. Reporters are already getting bored.

When that happens, the speculation steps up to new levels. There’s only one event capable of both handling all the educated and uneducated guess and still making the reporters/analysts/blowhards sound smart: the NFL Draft.

Last year we established that none of the internet’s draft experts, from Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. to the bloggers, knew what they were talking about when it came to the Lions. Through a three month process only one person (NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks) picked the Lions to take Eric Ebron, and he changed his pick two weeks later.

But hey, at least Ebron was in the conversation. At least the mock drafts gave us a pool of players to watch when draft day came. Football enters its dark period in a couple weeks. We need something to talk about.

Fortunately, Thursday was mock draft day across the internet. A number of “Mock Draft 1.0″ made their way onto websites for your consumption. Those will give a us a pool of possible Lions to follow throughout the combine and pro days, right?

Lol.

The Lions draft 23rd. The deeper you go the harder the projection is. The fact that the Lions have some huge soon-to-be free agents they might or might not re-sign (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) doesn’t help either. It’s so hard that six “draft experts” can’t agree on a single player the Lions might take. Here’s is who they have the Lions taking.

SB Nation’s Dan Kader: A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina

“Cann, the draft’s top true guard prospect, could be plugged in immediately at left guard and boost Detroit’s run game.”

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang: Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State

“The 6-4, 320-pound Goldman is powerful and surprisingly quick, making him a good fit and potentially much cheaper option in Detroit.”

CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

“Bennett had a slow start to the season, but was the MVP of the Buckeyes’ defense down the stretch, using his quickness live in the backfield.”

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