The last time the city of Detroit had a chance to bring home a title was in 2012 when the Detroit Tigers made it to the World Series but were ultimately swept by the San Francisco Giants. The last time the Motor City was given the title of ‘Title Town’ was in 2008 when the Detroit Red Wings hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s already been over a decade since the Detroit Pistons were on top of the NBA world. And the Detroit Lions? Well…..they are the Lions.
Detroit ranks fourth among all U.S. cities in total championships for its professional sports teams. Their 22 titles only rank behind New York City’s 58 (and they have two in each sport), Boston’s 36, and Chicago’s 29. A proud and loyal sports town to say the very least, the Motor City always drives towards excellence on and off the field, the ice, or the hardwood.
However, the Detroit sports nation is going through a bit of a stalemate right now. If you ask me, the Pistons seem to be trending upward the most right now, showing some promise early on this season. The Lions have officially hit rock bottom, especially in the last few weeks after they decided to clean house. Many people believe the Tigers window for winning a title has already closed and it is time to rebuild. The Wings are a poster child for consistent success but have looked a bit sluggish at times so far this season.
When teams make a title run, a lot of things are factored in aside from the talent level of the team alone. What is the chemistry and communication like between the coaches and players, or those who play and those who work in the front office? What’s the level of the competition they play predominantly for any given season? Things like depth and momentum also factor in.
Let’s think about the positives and negatives of each Detroit team moving forward. Which team is the next to claim title in their sport?
DETROIT RED WINGS
The Red Wings are riding an incredible playoff appearance streak of 25 straight years, which is the longest current such streak in all of North American professional sports. In my opinion, they conduct their business in the best way possible – draft and develop through the system, and bring aboard proven veterans as role players to help fill any voids.
Before the great Nicklas Lidstrom retired, the winged wheel was the class of what was for a while (and still is, really) a deep Western Conference. He led by example both on and off the ice, and it was big shoes to fill for current Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. The other great thing about the Red Wings is that they can bring up younger players like Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser then and guys like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist now that can come in and instantly make an impact while earning significant playing time in the midst of a playoff run. It was another reason why they felt head coach Jeff Blashill was the perfect guy to replace Mike Babcock because he had coached most of the team before in the AHL.
You almost never associate the words ‘concern’ or ‘panic’ with the Wings and that’s not exactly where I am going with this. But this is a Wings team now that is gradually aging and it is showing. It is hard to rely on guys like Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk for a full 82 games. They are no longer a favorite to win their division and make deep runs in the playoffs and while they are still getting in, they have been bounced out in the first round the last two seasons. I still like their chances to make the playoffs, but that ‘edge’ is not there, not yet.
The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since the 2008-’09 season, which was a head-scratcher if you ask me. They fired the late Flip Saunders prior to that ’08-’09 season after he led the team to three straight Eastern Conference Finals before that. They traded away Chauncey Billups early in that season for Allen Iverson, effectively messing up the chemistry and success the team had for years before and thus beginning the gradual teardown.
The Pistons did not win more than 30 games for the next four seasons and had five different coaches directing traffic from the sidelines during that stretch. During those dark days, they did end up discovering two players – one that is without a doubt a cornerstone piece any team should build around, and one that is more of a working progress but has shown flashes that he can be great – center Andre Drummond and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The best part? They are only 22 years of age.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy is in his second season calling the shots. For those with knowledge of Van Gundy’s prior coaching days in Orlando, he thrives on spreading the floor with shooters and having a big man collect the garbage down low. Those teams made the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that was stronger then than it is now. A full season without Josh Smith and with Reggie Jackson at the point should help in terms of continuity and chemistry.
If I were to purchase and disperse stock among the four Detroit teams, I would give a good, fair portion to the Pistons.
Of the four, the Detroit Tigers might be the Detroit team with the current highest championship aspirations. They have been in full on ‘win now’ mode for quite some time now and have had numerous chances to bring home that title, but could never quite get over the hump.
They were the last team in the Motor City to almost taste the champagne and call themselves champions. Unfortunately for Tigers’ fans, they witnessed a rare sight which was no postseason baseball for the first time since 2010. People can say what they want about former General Manager Dave Dombrowski and how he conducts business. The ultimate goal for any sports franchise is to win a title and he consistently put the team in a position to win.
However, like their hockey counterpart across town, they seem to slowly be trending down and are not an obvious clear-cut favorite to win the World Series, let along the American League or even their own division. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have shown they can still put up All-Star caliber numbers, but they are also not getting any younger and no longer as much of a guarantee to stay healthy for a full season and consistently perform at a high level. The competitive balance in the AL and the Central division makes the road all that more difficult for the Tigers. They have some very talented young players with promise like James McCann and Nick Castellanos, as well as J.D. Martinez who is in the midst of a breakout in his career
For me, the window for the Tigers to win remains open as long as they have the strong urge to win right now and strive for a building a team that is complete and balanced in all facets, something they have struggled with in recent years.
The two playoff appearances in 2011 and ’14 for the Lions seem like mere fluke seasons the more time goes on. They continue to show football fans around the country, and really worldwide now since they make regular visits to London, that they are a laughing stock in professional sports. The Lions cannot seem to get rid of their multi-decade long losing culture.
It is quite sad to see one Detroit team in the Red Wings seemingly do everything right in terms of running a franchise while the city’s football team is positioned at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It’s hard to imagine any sports team hitting a low point as many as times as the Lions do. Everyone regained hope after they became the first football team ever to go 0-16 and they made the playoffs just three years later.
The city of Detroit is beyond aching for the Lions to show some life, some urgency to win. But when the fan base has adopted a saying of “Well, that’s the Lions for ya” or “Same old Lions,” then there is something wrong. There’s been something wrong for over 50 years. Where do we go from here?
The Lions have missed a wide-open net at times on fixing their needs via the draft. They have swung and missed on how to properly construct a winning team and develop players through the system. They have also thrown up air ball after air ball trying to find the right people to run the team from a coaching and business standpoint. Team owner Martha Ford has shown Lions fans something that her late husband did not show when he ran the team and that’s a voice, an openness to change.
No need to get our hopes up right now, but it certainly is a start what she has done. Their win in Green Bay last Sunday was one solely for the pride of the franchise. But as the Lions finish out the 2015-’16 season, the fans of the Honolulu blue and silver will sit and wait for more to come. After all, Who knows how much longer Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will stay in Detroit.
Until this team develops a winning culture and puts the right people in place, both on and off the field, this team is not meant to be taken seriously for bringing a title to Detroit.