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Lions offer more than just hope

June 10, 2016

 

Lions offer fans more than hope?

Wings post-Datsyuk options slim

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

So the Detroit Lions have big plans to make home games this season more enjoyable for fans.

 

No, we’re not talking about adding cheerleaders to the on-field show, although an all-female squad roaming the sidelines might help distract fans between fumbles, interceptions, dumb penalties and three-and-outs.

 

The real big news? They’re working with their service provider to enhance Wi-Fi service at Ford Field so fans can at least surf the Internet, check in on other games to determine how their fantasy teams are doing, and even send pictures to the cheerleaders to their friends.

 

“We’ve had a lot of support from the NFL and working with Verizon, who’s going to assist us on it. We’ve actually started laying out that process right now,” team President Rod Wood said before mini-camp began this week. “We really don’t know how complicated it is until we start getting into the building and drilling into the facade, but the hope is to have an effective Wi-Fi sometime early in the regular season.”

 

Oh, and coach Jim Caldwell says his team is going to try to win more games, too.

 

OK, I get it. It’s mid-June and the team is two days into camp, so it’s a bit early to take cheap shots at the beleaguered franchise. There will be plenty of time for that this fall, probably well before Thanksgiving. Or not.

 

Truth be told, although I may not be able to articulate my reasons with a lot of detail or authority just now, I don’t need cheerleaders or enhanced Wi-Fi to be more optimistic than I have been in many years about this team. Though it may not happen overnight, it feels like this team finally has a chance to succeed if only because after a dramatically overhauled front office the franchise is being run by competent football people.

 

On the field, this should be an entertaining team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said during OTA’s a few weeks ago that he believes defense end Ezekiel Ansah is capable of recording 20 sacks this season. That’s a number to rekindle some glorious memories. Al “Bubba” Baker registered a team-record 23 sacks with the “Silver Rush” defense that harassed quarterbacks in 1978 – when the Lions had neither cheerleaders nor Wi-Fi.

 

Austin also mentioned he likes what he’s seen from defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson in his first NFL camp after the Lions made him their second pick in the draft.

 

“The early reviews are good,” Austin said. “He’s a big, powerful man. He’s still learning our techniques. . . but he picks up things fast. He has the athletic ability to do it, and he has the strength and size to do it.”

 

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, quarterback Matthew Stafford will be playing behind a less experienced offensive line with a big upside with first-round pick Taylor Decker, who is working out at both left and right tackle.

 

“He’s working,” Caldwell said. “That’s the thing, you know? He’s smart, he’s athletic and he’s working at it, growing and developing. He’s still a long ways off yet, but he’s working extremely hard at this point and doing well.”

 

Coaches tend to always see the glass not just half full but overflowing – especially this time of year before losses and injuries start piling up – but entering his third season in Detroit Caldwell likes what he’s seen from his group so far. He also knows how essential it is to have the kind of success that will enable him to keep his job beyond this season.

 

“Everything is really important, particularly in the spirit of trying to get better each and every day,” he said, “so every opportunity that you have is priceless. I think our guys are taking advantage of it.”

 

. . .

 

Wings running out of options?

 

Because of Gordie Howe’s funeral Wednesday, Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland postponed his meeting with Pavel Datsyuk that was scheduled for that day. The meeting’s delay may wind up being costly.

 

Datsyuk is back in town, preparing for his first – and quite possibly his last – youth hockey camp in Detroit. He’s expected to inform Holland that he’s walking away from the final year of his contract with the Wings. Which means Detroit is on the hook for a $7.5 million hit against the salary cap unless Holland can trade it to a team that could use that sum to reach the cap threshold.

 

Six days ago, the list of those teams was rather limited – Carolina, New Jersey and Phoenix.

 

Friday, New Jersey took the $4.1 million cap hit of Marc Savard – along with a second-round pick in 2018 – in exchange for two minor-leaguers. Savard has been on long-term injured reserve after several concussions. The Devils are rebuilding and had plenty of cap space.

 

On Wednesday, Carolina took forward Bryan Bickell and his $4 million cap hit off Chicago’s hands – along with one of the Blackhawks’ budding young stars, Teuvo Teravainen, for two draft picks. They include a second-rounder the Canes will use in the NHL Entry Draft next weekend and a third-round pick in 2017. Carolina still has plenty of cap space, though, and GM Ron Francis says he’s not done retooling his roster.

 

But as Detroit’s options get slimmer, the price to dump Datsyuk’s contract gets higher. Want to sign a big-ticket free-agent? The Wings need cap space – and getting it might cost them a prospect like Anthony Mantha.

 

Do you make a deal like that, or bite the bullet, keep your prospects and draft picks and hope the younger forwards can elevate their games enough to make up for Datsyuk’s loss?

 

It’s a tough call, but Holland has always been a bit of a riverboat gambler. Remember his first deal after assuming his role as GM in 1997? He traded Conn Smythe Trophy winning goalie Mike Vernon to San Jose for a couple of draft picks shortly after he led the Wings to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. So stay tuned and see if Holland has more magic up his sleve.

 

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