Archives 2019

CLICK HERE FOR FRIDAY FACE-OFF PODCASTS

February 25th, 2019

As trade deadline looms, remember:

Players are only human; scouts too

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

They’re only human, eh?

 

Yeah, all that praise and adulation – or the boos and badmouthing – are all part of job when you’re a professional athlete. So are protracted contract negotiations, salary arbitration, waivers, buyouts and trades.

 

We tend to forget about that, or dismiss it out of hand as just not that important, at times like these, when a trade deadline approaches and the rumors and gossip and hot-stove talk on the radio airwaves intensifies. And rarely do we think about the athlete when he goes home to a wife whose worried sick about having to pack up a household, move to another city, and maybe even another country, and get the kids situated in new schools.

 

I don’t pretend to know how it is around Jimmy Howard’s house these days, but it isn’t hard to imagine. Howard, who turns 35 next month, has played his entire 13-year professional career in the Detroit Red Wings organization. He and his wife, Rachel, have been married 10 years.

 

They have two little boys, James IV and Henry, who idolize their father and the way he earns his living. Check out the recent YouTube clip of Howard being interviewed at the NHL All-Star Game a few weeks ago, with the boys at his side. See how they look at him with such reverence – the way many of us look up to our fathers.

 

I wonder about them, how they react when the kids at school start teasing about how their dad is going to get traded. Part of me worries for them, too. So imagine how Dad feels, and how he must have to sit those boys down and discuss some of the harsh facts of life before they get to their multiplication tables in their classrooms.

 

Could that explain how, after a stunningly good first half that earned him his third All-Star appearance, Jimmy Howard suddenly can’t stop a beach ball? Seriously, in his past two starts, Howard has been a sieve, giving up nine goals on 32 shots.

 

That represents a goals-against average of 8.62, and a save percentage of .719, numbers that do not exactly inspire confidence, especially when the Wings’ asking price is said to be a first-round draft pick. That isn’t likely to happen at these rates.

 

For the second straight year in this ground-up rebuild, the Wings are serious sellers, Howard, along with winger Gus Nyquist and defenseman Nick Jensen are getting a lot of buzz because they’re all on expiring contracts.

 

General manager Ken Holland is looking for future assets – prospects and draft picks. But those come with no guarantee. Those picks are worthless if the Wings don’t select the right players. Which makes amateur scouts among the most important people in the franchise.

 

And scouts are only human, too. They make mistakes, some of them colossal. In the 1980s, Mike Ilitch’s first GM Jim Devellano built a brilliant scouting staff that had some extraordinary success. In their first draft, for instance, they selected, in order in the first three rounds: Steve Yzerman, Lane Lambert and Bob Probert. And in the fifth round, they added Petr Klima and Joe Kocur.

 

In 1989, with a rising Holland now the chief scout, they were even better, getting, in order through the first four rounds: Mike “Suitcase” Sillinger, Bob Boughner, Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov. And in the 11th round: Vladimir Konstantinov.

 

Occasionally, the Wings rolled craps at the draft table. In the first round in 1987, for instance, they took defenseman Yves Racine. Four picks later, the Quebec Nordiques took Hall of Famer Joe Sakic. In the second round, the Wings took another defenseman, Gord Kruppke with the 32nd overall selection. With the next pick, Montreal took John LeClair, one of the most dominant power forwards of his generation. And in the third round, at No. 41, Detroit yet another defenseman, Bob Wilkie. Three picks later, Montreal took defenseman Mathieu Schnieder.

 

That didn’t happen very often in the 80s and 90s, as the Wings drafted and developed players to sustain them through a remarkable run of 25 straight appearances in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But at the start of a new millennium, those draft picks often were used to add assets to help them sustain a certain level of excellence.

 

Case in point: Vladimir Konstantinov’s career-ending injuries in the limo crash a week after the Wings won their 1997 Stanley Cup left a gaping hole on the blue line. Holland plugged it with Chris Chelios – but it cost two first-round draft picks.

 

Soon began nearly a decade of bust after bust after bust at the draft table. Holland, the former minor-league goaltender who made his chops in this game as a scout, will admit privately that the organization got a little fat and lazy, resting on its laurels. Part of the problem was that Holland delegated the oversight scouting department to assistants, and he probably shouldn’t have.

 

The overhaul of the scouting staff began about five years ago, and it’s beginning to pay dividends. The cupboard of prospects is no longer barren. In the past couple of years as Holland finally accepted his team was in need of a rebuild, he has been stockpiling draft pics.

 

It’s too early to tell, but early indications are last year’s draft may one day rival 1983 and 1989 in terms of the number of keepers and trophy catches the Wings hauled in.

 

We will know by Monday at 3 p.m. whether Howard stays in Detroit or is moved to another city with a playoff-bound club that needs goaltending depth. And so will his family. Until then,

though, these are anxious times. We should keep that in mind when we watch the goaltender make that long, slow skate to the bench after he’s been pulled.

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his book “The Russian Five” at Little Caesars Arena during the Red Wings-San Jose Sharks game on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m.

He also will be appearing at the Traverse City Opera House on Friday, March 8, for a National Writers Series event. For details, visit: nationalwritersseries.org, or call (231) 941-8082.

 

Follow on Twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

February 18th, 2019

Hey Bub, Tigers think they’re going

to the World Series this summer!

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Detroit Tigers Pitchers and catchers arrived in Lakeland, Florida this week amid a cascade of optimism heading into the new year. But while it remains an open question whether they can actually improve after two straight 98-loss seasons we know this about manager Ron Gardenhire.

 

He doesn’t have to call most of his players, “Bub.”

 

In his second season at the helm, at least he knows most of their names.

 

He’s not settling, either. Gardenhire has high expectations of his team. Enormous, actually. Unthinkable, perhaps, but certainly irrational.

 

And he’s challenging his players before they even step into the clubhouse door. On several doors throughout the facility where players walk. On those doors, there is a picture of the Commissioner’s Trophy awarded each October to the World Series champion. And with it, the words: “Believe this is going to belong to US!! Don’t walk through this door until you do!”

 

For a team with so many open questions – from the health of its superstar to the strength of its pitching staff to the weakness at so many positions, especially up the middle – you have to love the Tigers’ moxie, eh?

 

--

 

Ten days remain until the NHL’s tradeline, which means you’re going to hear a lot of wild rumors involving several Red Wings players.

 

And some of them might actually be true.

 

General manager Ken Holland is in the middle of a rebuild, and he’s spent the last couple of deadlines collecting assets for players on expiring contracts, and he’ll do the same this year. That means there’ll be a lot of speculation about core players like goaltender Jimmy Howard and winger Gus Nyquist – both having outstanding seasons, thank you very much. To a lesser extent, we’ll hear about defensemen Nick Jensen and Niklas Kronwall and winger Tomas Vanek, whom the Wings traded at the deadline a couple of years ago.

 

Kronwall, a fixture on the blue line for 15 years, isn’t going anywhere. Though he’s enjoying his best season in a long time, he’s 38 and will likely be contemplating retirement this summer. Loyalty still has currency in Detroit – perhaps too much the way Holland hands out no-trade clauses in negotiations with players – and the Wings just don’t trade guys like that.

 

It’ll hurt to trade Howard, too, which is why the Wings’ asking price of a first-round pick might be a bit unreasonable. Unless, of course, a playoff-bound team loses its starting goalie. Howard, a deserved all-star this season, has been spectacular all seasons – and he knows the business. If the Wings traded him, he could still return in the off-season on a free-agent contract – albeit for less than the $5.2 million he’s being paid on his current deal.

 

Same goes for Nyquist. Holland has had many opportunities to trade him over the past 3-4 years, but stuck with him hoping he would eventually match or exceed the 55 combined goals he scored in his first two full NHL seasons. After three seasons in which he came up far short, Nyquist is on pace to have the most productive season of his career, and could fetch a prospect and a decent draft pick if Holland decides to cut him loose.

 

Signing Jensen makes a lot more sense than trading him, but that ship has probably sailed. Statistically, Jensen has been Detroit’s most successful defenseman this season, no matter whom he’s been paired with, and in the process he’s become a valued asset. That said, it’s hard to imagine the Wings getting anything near in a trade what he’s worth to them right now. Call his agent; get him signed.

 

Vanek, 35, knows the drill. He’s been dealt at the deadline in each of the past two seasons – by Detroit to Florida in 2017 for a prospect and a third-round pick. With 11 goals among 28 points in 50 games this season, he still has some value to a playoff-bound team that needs depth on the wing – and a solid team guy.

 

One rumored deal that makes absolutely no sense has the Wings trading forward Luke Glendening, who at 29 just so happens to be enjoying the best of his six NHL seasons.

 

With nine goals among 20 points in 58 games, Glendening also has a plus-11 rating – on a team with a minus-28 goal differential. Moreover, he has proven to be one of the best face-off specialists in the NHL – as proven in the 3-2 win at Nashville the other night when he won 15 of 19 draws.

 

Of course Toronto coach Mike Babcock loves Luke Glendening. The way Babcock talked about him early in his career when he arrived in Detroit from Grand Rapids made a lot of us think he wanted to adopt Glendening. Why Holland would even entertain the notion of trading him is beyond comprehension – which makes me conclude he isn’t.

 

This is what a rebuild looks like. It ain’t about playoff runs and hanging banners in Detroit anymore. It’s about trade deadlines and drafts. It’s not all that exciting, but it’s all we’ve got.

 

Which is still better than a bunch of guys called “Bub.”

 

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his book “The Russian Five” at Little Caesars Arena during the Red Wings-San Jose Sharks game on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m.

 

Follow on Twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

February 7th, 2019

Pistons mercifully pull the plug on

playoff hopes with two trades

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Confession: When I sat down to pen this missive to the Pistons about what they should do ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, I’d planned to begin with just three words:

 

Blow it up.

 

Enough with this business of trading the future assets, uncertain as they may be, for expensive pieces that inevitably make the present that much more unpleasant. Enough throwing good money after bad. Take a page out of the files of the Tigers and the Red Wings. Collect prospects and draft picks and rebuild from the ground up. If that means trading superstars like Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, so be it.

 

Blow it up and start over. It may take 3-4 years, but disappointing product the Pistons have put on the floor year after year for more than a decade now is the worst kind of torture for fans. No wonder they’ve quit showing up. They deserve better. That beautiful new building deserves better. Just rip it apart and start building for the future.

 

Within 48 hours of the deadline, though, it appeared the Pistons might be doing the next best thing. Even after consecutive wins that put them within a game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they waived the white flag. Even while Reggie Bullock was scoring 19 points to help the Pistons to an easy win at New York over the tanking Knicks, the Pistons were putting the finishing touches on a deal that would send him to the Los Angeles Kings.

 

For an encore, the Pistons shipped Stanley Johnson to the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

Suddenly, there was no more talk from owner Tom Gores about how he believed his team was playoff worthy and he was willing to do anything to add the necessary pieces to help his team get into the post-season, even if it meant exceeding the salary cap forcing him to pay a luxury tax. No, Gores ultimately decided, likely with some gentle persuasion by Ed Stefanski, his right arm in the front office.

 

For once in Pistons-land, sanity prevailed. There would be no trading a first-round draft pick for a player who might lift Detroit into seventh or eighth place, only to become a colossal underdog in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And we know the history of post-season underdogs in that sport.

 

Instead, the Pistons added 22-year-old wing Sviatoslav (you can call him Svi) Mykhailiuk – also known as the LeBron James of Ukraine – and a 20-21 second-round pick from the Lakers for

Bullock, their best three-point shooter. They also acquired 7-foot-1 center Thon Maker, who turns 22 later this month, from Milwaukee for Johnson, Detroit’s first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2015.

 

Both Bullock and Johnson are on expiring contracts, and the Pistons weren’t likely to re-sign either, so they did the smart thing (so very rare for this organization), and got a couple of prospects for rentals in a trade. Those are the kinds of moves that well-run teams make.

 

But prospects are just that. Either or neither could be a good fit as the Pistons try to retool around Griffin, Drummond and the resurgent Reggie Jackson. One sure bet, though, is that coach Dwayne Casey will find out. One of his specialties in his redoubtable career is developing young players.

 

Mykhailiuk (pronounced me-HI-look) was the 47th overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft – eight spots after Detroit selected Bruce Brown. He may not be ready for prime time in the NBA, but Mykhailiuk came into the league with impeccable credentials out of Kansas. In 136 college games, he shot 41 percent from three-point range, including 44 percent his senior year.

 

In 38 games with Los Angeles, he averaged 10.7 minutes and 3.2 points. But if he can get it going like he did at KU, Pistons fans are going to love watching this guy shoot from the corner.

 

Maker isn’t much of a household name, either. He’s a South Sudanese Australian drafted by the Bucks in the first round, 10th overall, out of Canada’s Athlete Institute. He had played himself out of the rotation in Milwaukee, where he averaged 7.5 points per game on 38 percent shooting, 28 percent from long range. He is better known for his defense.

 

And if you’re less than thrilled by these moves, you’re not alone. Put a gun to their heads, and the Pistons would probably agree with you. But the ugly truth is, there just wasn’t much Stefanski could do with a roster pathetically assembled by Stan Van Gundy. Stefanski is tasked with making chicken salad from chicken droppings.

 

While it seems doubtful the Pistons will make another move, I can’t shake the feeling that another shoe is about to drop. With a few hours remaining, there’s still time to do something big, like trading one of their big stars.

 

They could still blow it up, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Shed some payroll, add some future assets. Still makes sense. But so does a short-term retreat.

 

With a debilitated lineup and 16 of their final 29 games on the road, the Pistons are a better bet to fade in the standings and in the process improve their draft status. If the NBA draft were held today, they would have the No. 9 pick.

 

They’re suddenly a serious contender for a top-five pick, which could bring them the kind of player who, with Griffin, Drummond and Jackson, could help to quickly reverse this franchise’s fortunes.

 

We can only hope. So for now, let’s put away the dynamite.

 

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his book “The Russian Five” at Little Caesars Arena during the Red Wings-San Jose Sharks game on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m.

 

Follow on Twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

February 7th, 2019

Pistons mercifully pull the plug on

playoff hopes with two trades

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Confession: When I sat down to pen this missive to the Pistons about what they should do ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, I’d planned to begin with just three words:

 

Blow it up.

 

Enough with this business of trading the future assets, uncertain as they may be, for expensive pieces that inevitably make the present that much more unpleasant. Enough throwing good money after bad. Take a page out of the files of the Tigers and the Red Wings. Collect prospects and draft picks and rebuild from the ground up. If that means trading superstars like Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, so be it.

 

Blow it up and start over. It may take 3-4 years, but disappointing product the Pistons have put on the floor year after year for more than a decade now is the worst kind of torture for fans. No wonder they’ve quit showing up. They deserve better. That beautiful new building deserves better. Just rip it apart and start building for the future.

 

Within 48 hours of the deadline, though, it appeared the Pistons might be doing the next best thing. Even after consecutive wins that put them within a game of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they waived the white flag. Even while Reggie Bullock was scoring 19 points to help the Pistons to an easy win at New York over the tanking Knicks, the Pistons were putting the finishing touches on a deal that would send him to the Los Angeles Kings.

 

For an encore, the Pistons shipped Stanley Johnson to the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

Suddenly, there was no more talk from owner Tom Gores about how he believed his team was playoff worthy and he was willing to do anything to add the necessary pieces to help his team get into the post-season, even if it meant exceeding the salary cap forcing him to pay a luxury tax. No, Gores ultimately decided, likely with some gentle persuasion by Ed Stefanski, his right arm in the front office.

 

For once in Pistons-land, sanity prevailed. There would be no trading a first-round draft pick for a player who might lift Detroit into seventh or eighth place, only to become a colossal underdog in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And we know the history of post-season underdogs in that sport.

 

Instead, the Pistons added 22-year-old wing Sviatoslav (you can call him Svi) Mykhailiuk – also known as the LeBron James of Ukraine – and a 20-21 second-round pick from the Lakers for

Bullock, their best three-point shooter. They also acquired 7-foot-1 center Thon Maker, who turns 22 later this month, from Milwaukee for Johnson, Detroit’s first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2015.

 

Both Bullock and Johnson are on expiring contracts, and the Pistons weren’t likely to re-sign either, so they did the smart thing (so very rare for this organization), and got a couple of prospects for rentals in a trade. Those are the kinds of moves that well-run teams make.

 

But prospects are just that. Either or neither could be a good fit as the Pistons try to retool around Griffin, Drummond and the resurgent Reggie Jackson. One sure bet, though, is that coach Dwayne Casey will find out. One of his specialties in his redoubtable career is developing young players.

 

Mykhailiuk (pronounced me-HI-look) was the 47th overall pick in last summer’s NBA draft – eight spots after Detroit selected Bruce Brown. He may not be ready for prime time in the NBA, but Mykhailiuk came into the league with impeccable credentials out of Kansas. In 136 college games, he shot 41 percent from three-point range, including 44 percent his senior year.

 

In 38 games with Los Angeles, he averaged 10.7 minutes and 3.2 points. But if he can get it going like he did at KU, Pistons fans are going to love watching this guy shoot from the corner.

 

Maker isn’t much of a household name, either. He’s a South Sudanese Australian drafted by the Bucks in the first round, 10th overall, out of Canada’s Athlete Institute. He had played himself out of the rotation in Milwaukee, where he averaged 7.5 points per game on 38 percent shooting, 28 percent from long range. He is better known for his defense.

 

And if you’re less than thrilled by these moves, you’re not alone. Put a gun to their heads, and the Pistons would probably agree with you. But the ugly truth is, there just wasn’t much Stefanski could do with a roster pathetically assembled by Stan Van Gundy. Stefanski is tasked with making chicken salad from chicken droppings.

 

While it seems doubtful the Pistons will make another move, I can’t shake the feeling that another shoe is about to drop. With a few hours remaining, there’s still time to do something big, like trading one of their big stars.

 

They could still blow it up, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Shed some payroll, add some future assets. Still makes sense. But so does a short-term retreat.

 

With a debilitated lineup and 16 of their final 29 games on the road, the Pistons are a better bet to fade in the standings and in the process improve their draft status. If the NBA draft were held today, they would have the No. 9 pick.

 

They’re suddenly a serious contender for a top-five pick, which could bring them the kind of player who, with Griffin, Drummond and Jackson, could help to quickly reverse this franchise’s fortunes.

 

We can only hope. So for now, let’s put away the dynamite.

 

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his book “The Russian Five” at Little Caesars Arena during the Red Wings-San Jose Sharks game on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m.

 

Follow on Twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

January 25th, 2019

Big money, bigger

egos killing baseball

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Let’s get out the tiny violins and perform the Symphony of Sympathy for Miguel Cabrera

 

Can you believe it? A Florida judge has ordered the Detroit Tigers’ philandering first baseman to pay $20,000 a month to his ex-mistress to care for the two children he fathered with her.

 

Yep, $20,000 a month! Outrageous, eh?

 

Outrageous indeed. Especially when you consider that at the rate he is being paid -- $30 million this season as part of an eight-year, $248 million contract that finally, mercifully expires in 2025 – he will collect $60,000 for every at bat if he goes to the plate 500 times. And at the rate he has been nursing injuries the past several seasons, that’s a huge “if.”

 

In fact, injuries have limited Cabrera’s at bats to 603 over the past two seasons. That, friends, averages out to a few hundred dollars less than $100,000 per at bat – the monthly child-support amount his ex-mistress had asked for in court proceedings. So Cabrera got off easy.

 

That’s like a judge ordering a poor workaday schmuck who earns $40,000 a year to pay about $27 a month to support his two children after a divorce. At that rate, someone’s going to suffer, and it isn’t likely to be the children. The schmuck’s going to take a much bigger hit on his paycheck.

 

So what’s the point here? Maybe it’s just my meager attempt at suggesting that the salaries of some of the biggest stars in professional sports are so staggering that it’s hard to even put them in a context we can relate to, or even remotely understand.

 

And all they want, of course, in this day of ego-driven greed, is. . . more.

 

A lot more.

 

And when the Brinks truck fails to back into their driveways and offload mountains of cash they whine. Oh, the humanity!

 

We’re about three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to most MLB camps, and several marquee free agents remain unsigned. Most notable among them: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel – all expecting to command the wildly exorbitant contracts that the late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch handed out to guys like Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann.

 

(Verlander, now in Houston, is on the last year of a seven-year, $180 million deal that averages about $25.7 million a season. Zimmermann is in the fourth season of a five-year, $110 million deal that averages $22 million a season, which makes him, like Cabrera, a diminishing asset worth far less than his production value and, as a result, virtually untradeable.)

 

This is the second straight off-season in which some of the game’s most coveted players have found it difficult engaging teams into the kind of bidding wars that resulted in those horrible contracts. Last year, remember, teams were two weeks into spring training when J.D. Martinez, one of the game’s most productive hitters the previous three seasons, finally signed his five-year $110 deal with Boston.

 

Now Machado, the all-world shortstop, and Harper, held in similar esteem among center-fielders, sit and wait – both arguably more valuable assets to a team than Martinez.

 

Could it be, finally, that baseball owners, the people most responsible for so many stupid contracts that drove salaries to ridiculous altitudes, are getting smarter? We can only hope.

 

But we know this for sure: The players are taking note, and they’re less than at the prospect that their gravy train is showing signs of slowing down.

 

Phillies pitcher Jake Arietta shared his opinion on Twitter recently: "All of you 1-3 yr players out there better be paying attention to what’s going on in our game," he wrote. "You’re next. @MLB."

 

Evan Longoria is the ridiculously compensated third baseman in San Francisco who is being paid an average of $16.667 million on a six-year contract – that has four painful years remaining. He hit .244 last season. But while his bat isn’t talking much these days, his phone surely is.

 

"We are less than a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest stars remain unsigned," the Giants third baseman wrote on Instagram recently. "Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents.”

 

More accurate, perhaps, would be to suggest these advanced statistics are helping us to better understand how many of these clowns have been stealing money after a decent statistical season or two.

 

But Longoria argues that fans shouldn’t care if owners of the teams they cheer for are reckless about how they spend their money.

 

"As fans, why should ‘value’ for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.”

 

How’s that for some shameful, contemptible reasoning: Hey fans, just shut up and continue to cough up your hard-earned cash for $50 nosebleed tickets to a game and pay $11 for a beer and $6 each for hot dogs for the kids.

 

And we wonder why the schmuck making 40 grand a year and ordered to pay $800 a month in child support (by that same formula, Cabrera would be paying $600,000 in support), has trouble scraping up enough dough to take his kids to a ballgame.

 

It’s beyond shameful

 

Wouldn’t it be better if those gluttonous players and their blood-sucking agents cared for the game even half as much as they do their bloated bank accounts?

 

Ah, never mind. I recognize that tune: Now I’m the one being delusional.

 

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

January 17th, 2019

Tigers, FOX turn to familiar voice

to bring us baseball on TV

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

No chance Matt Shepard can get away with missing the Detroit Tigers Opening Day game at Comerica Park this year.

 

Shepard, one of the most versatile and hardest-working sports media personalities in the country, confessed the other night on live TV that he had never been to Tigers’ opener.

 

“My dad took me to a lot of games, but never on Opening Day,’’ Shepard told his interviewer. “We couldn’t afford the tickets.” And since his father died, well, Shepard just found a way to avoid that assignment for more than three decades he’s been around Detroit sports.

 

Like the hockey player who won’t touch the Stanley Cup – until his name is one it.

 

So instead, Opening Day became an early Father’s Day, of sorts. He took the time to reminisce about those games of catch and sitting in those green, wooden seats at the ballpark on The Corner, watching his heroes play the game he grew up loving and talking baseball with his father.

 

But now Shepard will be talking baseball with all of us as the new TV voice of the Detroit Tigers. He was introduced with the new broadcast team Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena during the Red Wings game with Anaheim.

 

Shepard, 54, will be working the booth with Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, stars of Detroit’s last World Series Championships team in 1984. Gibson and Morris will split analyst duties. Another key member of that team, former pitcher Dan Petry, will share studio analyst duties with Craig Monroe in studio on FOX Sports Detroit broadcasts.

 

Our loss – his “Shep, Shower ‘n’ Shave” morning drive show that airs on the Blarney Stone Broadcasting network in Northern Michigan (WGRY, 101.1-FM) will be coming to an end – is the Tigers gain. And their fans.

 

I’ve known Shep since his career in Detroit began more than three decades ago, and have seen him outwork the competition in any role he has commanded. His preparation is literally off the charts for every gig, whether it’s as an emergency fill-in in the Tigers’ broadcast booth after the club suspended and ultimately fired its two longtime announcers, working as a reporter around the rink during Red Wings games, calling U-M basketball games or high-school football games.

 

Tigers fans who tune into games on their TVs are about to become a lot smarter – about their team and all of Major League Baseball. In the amount of homework he does before every

broadcast, Shepard rivals Tiger’s radio play-by-play man Dan Dickerson, one of the country’s hardest-working and knowledgeable baseball minds behind the microphone.

 

(This is not a knock on the so-called team of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, fired after a physical alteration after a game in Chicago late last season. OK, yes it is; those guys were lazy in their prep, and pedestrian at best in calling a game. Tigers fans deserve better, and now they’re going to get it.)

 

As Gibson and Petry described it so well the other night, Opening Day in Detroit is about so much more than baseball. It marks the turning of an important page on the psychological calendar – even if batters must try to hit those nasty cutters coming at them through snow flurries.

 

It’s about a city awakening from a long hibernation with early morning tail-gate parties and brats and $11 beers at the ballpark.

 

And now, finally, Matt Shepard can join the party. Just imagine how proud his father would be.

 

A basketball school now?

 

If they survive Saturday’s noontime tussle at Wisconsin, the Michigan Wolverines should find themselves atop the national standings after No. 1 Duke was decked by Syracuse just one game after the Blue Devils needed a buzzer-beating basket to upend Florida State.

 

Michigan is No. 2 in The Associated Press poll of sports writers, editors and broadcasters, while Michigan State is No. 6.

 

Interestingly, the Coaches poll has Duke second to Virginia in its national poll with Tennessee third, Michigan fourth and Michigan State sixth.

 

Which just goes to prove a point I’ve been trying to make for years: members of the media are just way smarter than coaches.

 

Bottom line, though, is that we should be grateful these two elite state university programs are giving us something to cheer about. Especially with all four professional sports franchises in Detroit all among the bottom feeders in their respective leagues.

 

Of the four, the Pistons, at 19-24, are having the best season. They’re 22nd among the 30 NBA teams. The Red Wings (18-23-7) rank 26 among the NHL’s 31 teams, just three points from the very bottom. The Tigers, with their second-straight 98-loss season, finished 25 among MLB’s 30 teams. And the Lions, those not-so-lovable losers, followed up two 9-7 seasons with a new coach who led his team to a 6-10 finish, 24th among the 32 NFL franchises.

 

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

January 7th, 2019

A Pavel Datsyuk return to the

Wings? It’s not so far-fetched

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

So how does a 41-year-old center-ice man who hasn’t played in the NHL for three seasons figure into the Red Wings rebuilding plans?

 

Would it make a difference if he’s one of the greatest Red Wings of all time?

 

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

 

Like many others, I was thrown for a loop by a 43-word Tweet from my pal, Bob McKenzie, of TSN, when he wrote, just before the holidays last month:

 

“Heard some idle chatter that 40-year-old KHLer Pavel Datsyuk might consider a return to the NHL next season but his agent Dan Milstein says: ‘Every year we sit down and talk about options but (returning to the) NHL isn’t something he has entertained.’”

Datsyuk, returning to Detroit? The scene of the crime he committed by forgoing the final year of his contract to return to Russia to, presumably, finish his playing career in the Kontinental Hockey League?

Say it isn’t so.

Or say it is.

Problem is, as Milstein says, no one knows. It’s up to Datsyuk, and he’s always played his hand close to the vest. And leaving a year early left some hard feelings at the highest levels of the franchise – not unlike his countryman, Sergei Fedorov, leaving Detroit as a free agent and taking a deal worth $10 million less to go to Anaheim.

It’s about loyalty.

Datsyuk still had one season left on his three-year, $22.5 million contracts and him leaving didn’t get rid of that cap hit. Because of that, the Red Wings were forced to trade him to dump the salary. On one of GM Ken Holland’s shrewdest moves, he found a willing trading partner in Arizona – though the deal didn’t look so good until this season.

In June 2016, Datsyuk’s contract was dispatched to Arizona – along with Detroit’s first-round selection (No. 16 overall) in the NHL entry draft. The Wings received Arizona’s pick (20th overall) and the contract of a minor-leaguer. Arizona selected Jakob Chychrun, who went straight from junior hockey to the NHL and has been a productive player ever since.

With the 20th pick, the Wings took Dennis Cholowski, who are turning out in this rookie season of his to be a promising fixture on the Detroit blue line for years to come.

Meantime, there’s this rumor that Datsyuk hasn’t entirely closed the book on an NHL career that spanned 953 games in which he scored 314 goals and 918 points. He helped Detroit win two Stanley Cups. Three times he won the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. Four times he won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which goes to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

At the risk of repetition, Pavel Datsyuk was one of the most talented players ever to wear a Wings sweater, up there with Steve Yzerman and a bunch of other guys whose numbers are hanging from the rafters at Little Caesars Arena.

Which begs the question: Should Datsyuk’s No. 13 be up there with them?

Of course, it should. Just like Fedorov’s should be. But the smart money says it won’t be after the scent of betrayal that followed Datsyuk’s return to his motherland.

That could change dramatically should Datsyuk decide to return to Detroit for a curtain call – at a reasonable price – and play even remotely close to the level he performed in his final seasons in Detroit.

And those close to Datsyuk say that if he decides on a return to North America, it would only be to play in Detroit. Nowhere else.

Bottom line: The Wings would be crazy not to bring him back, as much for what he could deliver on the ice as for the example he provides a team getting younger every season as their rebuild continues.

Datsyuk’s contract held by Arizona expires on June 30. Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of the first moves new Detroit General Manager Steve Yzerman makes is to bring on old Wings teammate in out of the cold?

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

January 2nd, 2019

New year, but same old worries

and problems for our sports teams

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Now that we’ve turned the calendar to a new year, we can start counting the days until Tigers pitchers and catchers report for spring training in Lakeland, Florida. But before we get into whether they’ve tweaked their lineup enough to avoid a third straight 98-loss season, let’s review the dumpster fires around the other major sports teams we love. . . to hate.

 

Detroit Lions

 

After playing what appeared to be their most impressive game of the season – a 31-0 season-ending win at Green Bay – the 6-10 Lions declared progress in their rebuild of a team that went 9-7 the past two seasons. (They’ll have the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft this spring.)

 

Then, predictably, they fired offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who failed to make chicken salad from a chicken droppings lineup that included a beat-up quarterback who in the second half of the season had few playmakers to target in an injury riddled offense. But even at 100 percent, before they inexplicably traded receiver Golden Tate, the Lions were mediocre at best.

 

With Matthew Stafford on the wrong side of 30 and having to endure breaking in yet another offensive coordinator, would it be wise to draft an understudy quarterback in the early rounds of the draft. To be sure, they need to continue to build (rebuild?) and offensive line that has been under construction for three years running. And a safety to replace a gaping hole left by Glover Quin, who is likely to depart as a free agent.

 

 

University of Michigan football

 

The Wolverines finished 10-3, which feels like an abject failure considering that they were in the national playoff picture heading into their Big Ten finale at Ohio State. Then the best defense in the land, allegedly, gave up 103 points in their final two games. After its 62-39 shellacking from the Buckeyes, Michigan lost in the Peach Bowl, 41-15, to Florida.

 

And now it’s back to the drawing board for coach Jim Harbaugh, who exorcized some demons with wins over rival powers Michigan State and Penn State, but continued to have those monumental end-of-season fiascoes.

 

Sure, the Wolverines played Florida without four of their top players who pulled out to preserve their NFL draft status. But shouldn’t a team that perennially finishes in the top 10 among recruiting classes in the nation have the depth of talent to at least compete against a team like Florida, which finished 4-7 just a year ago?

 

One of these years, the Wolverines will actually live up to all that Harbaugh hype. Right? Maybe even in Year Five coming up, now that the bogy man is out in Columbus.

 

 

Michigan State Football

 

Mark Dantonio describes himself as a “stay-the-course” kind of coach, which should make this off-season a bit unnerving for a man facing a horrible truth that his offense just isn’t good enough to compete at the highest level.

 

The worst Spartans offense since the coach Bobby Williams fiasco in 2000 – 18.7 points per game and just 26 touchdowns in 13 games – are to blame for MSU’s 7-6 record. And that’s despite having perhaps the consistently best defense in the Big Ten, a group that held the high-flying Oregon offense to just a single touchdown in a 7-6 loss in the inaugural Red Box Bowl.

 

To be sure, injuries were to blame for a lack of production on the offensive side. But to have a month to heal – and both quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back L.J. Scott were healthy – and still manage just two field goals against a Ducks defense that gave up 27 points per game? Shameful.

 

Like it or not, and he won’t, Dantonio is going to have to make a change at the coordinator’s position. He’ll also need to find some playmakers, starting at quarterback. A great defense, and this was Dantonio’s best in his 12 seasons at MSU, can only take a team so far.

 

 

The Detroit Red Wings

 

A month or so ago, when they were at their healthiest, the Wing put a pretty good run together and sat at least momentarily 18th overall and just a point out of the post-season wildcard chase. Today, with serious injuries sidelining their top three defensemen, the Wings sit just three points from the 31st overall in a 31-team league.

 

“Lose for Hughes” indeed.

 

Finishing among the bottom-feeders for the third straight season and vying for the first overall pick and the privilege of selecting center Jack Hughes in this summer’s draft suddenly looks as undeniable as it was when the Wings started their season with one win in their first 10 games.

 

You just can’t win consistently in this league with rookie defensemen. Youngsters like Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek are getting a baptism under fire in the extended absences of Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser and now Trevor Daley. Green especially; the Wings are 13-8-2 in games that he’s played and just 2-11-5 without him.

 

Heading into tonight’s game against Calgary, which begins the second half of their season, the Wings have lost five straight and eight of their last night. With 37 points, they’re on a pace for 74 – which represents a one-point improvement over the previous season.

 

 

The Detroit Pistons

 

Hard to figure this enigmatic team – ad first-year coach Dwayne Casey is quickly learning.

 

With just three wins in their last 10 and their offense foundering, the Pistons are on the cusp of falling out of playoff contention with Brooklyn (Brooklyn!) and Orlando breathing down their necks.

 

Very much like the Lions, Red Wings and Michigan State football, the Pistons cannot score enough to win consistently. As a result, they rely far too heavily on Blake Griffin to run the offense and Andre Drummond to go get the ball.

 

Until they resolve the point guard position – and swapping out Reggie Jackson isn’t a reliable option because his trade value is limited – expect this team to continue to struggle.

 

Not even Casey, last season’s NBA Coach of the Year in Toronto, is enough of a magician to turn this into a playoff team if his players can’t live up to their paychecks.

 

 

The Detroit Tigers

 

In a word, no. They haven’t done enough to improve their roster and look more like a 100-loss team than one that might manage a few more than 64 wins, which they ended up with the past two seasons

 

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

On Air Now

Rock & Roll Music Block
12:00am - 6:00am
Rock & Roll Music Block

Connect

REQUEST LINE

(989) 348-Q100

NEED-LAWYER.COM

TEXT LINE

(989) 889-0900

Weather

Community Calendar

March

S M T W T F S
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            

SnoCountry Ski Report

<object type="text/html" data="//www.snocountry.com/widget/widget_resort.php?code=vr-undefined,vr-313001,vr-616014,vr-906001,vr-906004,vr-616001,vr-616002,vr-616003,vr-616004,vr-616005,vr-999487240,vr-999486239,vr-616006,vr-999496244,vr-906005,vr-909010,vr-906013,vr-313002,vr-616019,vr-313003,vr-616021,vr-616008,vr-313004,vr-906007,vr-313012,vr-906009,vr-517004,vr-616013,vr-616015,vr-517005&state=mi&type=NA_Alpine&region=us&pettabs=3&size=xsmall&color=white&noads=no" style="width:300px; height:250px;"><embed type="text/html" src="//www.snocountry.com/widget/widget_resort.php?code=vr-undefined,vr-313001,vr-616014,vr-906001,vr-906004,vr-616001,vr-616002,vr-616003,vr-616004,vr-616005,vr-999487240,vr-999486239,vr-616006,vr-999496244,vr-906005,vr-909010,vr-906013,vr-313002,vr-616019,vr-313003,vr-616021,vr-616008,vr-313004,vr-906007,vr-313012,vr-906009,vr-517004,vr-616013,vr-616015,vr-517005&state=mi&type=NA_Alpine&region=us&pettabs=3&size=xsmall&color=white&noads=no" style="width:300px; height:250px;"> </embed> Error: Embedded data could not be displayed.</object>