February 18th, 2019
Hey Bub, Tigers think they’re going
to the World Series this summer!
By KEITH GAVE
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