June 9, 2016
Tigers finally have their swagger back;
Wings’ GM Holland faces critical 2 weeks
By KEITH GAVE
Admit it. If someone had told you that 60 games into the season the Detroit Tigers would be matching defending World Series camp Kansas City game for game heading toward the middle of June, you’d have been OK with that.
Well, here we are, nearly 60 games in the teams have identical 30-29 records. Maybe not quite what either Central Division club had in mind coming into the season, but considering how inconsistent the Tigers have been – at least until the last week or so – their fans can’t be two disappointed.
Thanks to a bullpen finally appearing to be rounding into shape to support what appears to be a fairly good starting rotation with a tremendous upside, the Tigers hit the road feeling pretty good about themselves after a 5-2 home stand that put them back into contention in the Central Division.
Their next 10 games are important, if not entirely critical. Three against the Yankees in New York, three in Chicago against the White Sox and four at Kansas City. The final seven are against two divisional foes and could put some distance between the Tigers and the others, for better or worse.
But I’m liking their chances. Bolstered by outstanding starting pitching from veterans Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann and now rookies Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd, along with consistent hitting and run production since Cameron Maybin joined the club (and Justin Upton finally finding his swing), the Tigers have their swagger back.
Most important, manager Brad Ausmus has found his mojo after a wildly entertaining meltdown a month or so ago when his firing seemed imminent.
We’ll know a lot more after this road trip, of course. In the meantime, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
. . .
Hockey’s “hot-stove” league warming up
The Red Wings’ offseason is about to get a whole lot more interesting in the next week or so, and the moves general manager Ken Holland is able to make could well determine the course of the franchise for years to come.
One of his most important decisions came today, when he rounded out his coaching staff by hiring assistant John Torchetti, who adds more valuable NHL experience to Jeff Blashill’s staff. Torchetti has served as a head coach in the NHL on three occasions, each time on an interim basis – and most recently with the Minnesota Wild. Most recently, the 51-year-old Boston native was head coach of Minnesota’s top farm club, Iowa, of the American Hockey League.
Torchetti also served as an assistant in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. He also was the head coach of the Red Army club in Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2013-14. He will work with Wings forwards and help resuscitate an impotent power play.
A few weeks ago, the coaching staff shuffle began when Holland hired former Wings defenseman Doug Houda to replace Tony Granato, who left to coach the University of Wisconsin. Houda will coach the defense and work with the penalty killing unit.
On or about next Wednesday, Holland is expected to hear Pavel Datsyuk confirm that he’s leaving Detroit to play in his native Russia next season. Holland already has been shopping Datsyuk’s contract to other teams, hoping to trade away the $7.5 million cap hit (which likely will cost the Wings a package of young players and draft picks).
Holland is trying to sign two of his unrestricted free agents, forwards Darren Helm and Drew Miller. He’s letting two others go: defenseman Kyle Quincey and center Brad Richards. Holland is also trying to unload an expensive backup goalie in Jimmy Howard while he re-signs No. 1 goalie Petr Mrazek, a restricted free agent.
Other restricted free agents include Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, Alexey Marchenko and Teemo Pulkkinen, though those signings could stretch well into September.
Meantime, Holland appears willing to roll the dice on a one-year contract with Russian winger Alexander Radulov, who wants a multi-year deal to return to the NHL after playing the past for seasons for the Red Army club in Moscow.
Holland has made no secret of his intention to make over his roster, and he could be one of the busier managers in the NHL heading into the entry draft in Buffalo June 24-25. Don’t be surprised to see him do something big.
Finally this: The Red Wings were lucky to have made the playoffs. We all know that, right? But seriously, if the NHL awarded points for success the way the rest of the world does it, the Wings would have finished out of the tournament and Boston would have been in.
Detroit and Boston each finished with 93 points. Boston won 42 games to Detroit’s 41, but since the Wings won 39 games in regulation and overtime to Boston’s 38, Detroit made the playoffs and the Bruins did not.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) awards teams three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss – a system, which ensures that the same amount of points are up for grabs every night and provides the best incentive to win in 60 minutes.
Had the NHL used the IIHF system last season, Boston would have finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with 126 points. Philadelphia would have earned the eighth spot with 124 points. And the Wings would have finished ninth with 123 points, ending their streak of playoff appearances at 24 straight seasons.
In other words, there is zero margin for error for the Wings. Which makes the next few weeks or so perhaps the most critical in Holland’s two decades as GM.