Category Archives: State of the State

The Good Stuff.

denardrobinsoneasterntd rodneypump helmer-again1

Yes, I get it. I’ve been a little quiet over the past couple of weeks. I didn’t get on here and tell you how excited I was that we beat Notre Dame. I didn’t get on here to complain about the Tigers looking like they might have run out of gas on their playoff run. I didn’t get on here and go crazy because the Red Wings are in the middle of preseason hockey.

But just because I didn’t write about it doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it.

Folks, let me tell you something: right now is the most exciting time in the world to be a fan of Detroit/Michigan sports. There is so much going on that it’s almost unreasonable to expect to keep up with it on a regular basis. But this is our reward, this is our prize at the end of the rainbow. It’s funny that the summer, a time of relaxation, enjoyment and just general “feeling good” is for the most part a blank slate of sports. Summer, one of the most popular times of the year, doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for sports as the rest of us fanatics. Summer is our Sahara Desert. Summer is our barren landscape.

But now we have hit the tropical oasis. We have found the magical spring to quench our sports thirst. Drink up friends. The water is cool and refreshing.

The sweetest taste (for me) is obviously the rebound of Michigan football from last year’s mess of a season. With the right pieces in place, the Wolverines have already matched last season’s win total, scored as many points in three games as they did in six last year and have knocked off major foe Notre Dame. Now, the Maize and Blue head into the real deal: the Big Ten season. Every week will be a battle and there will be NO gimmie games. Have the Wolverines truly bounced back from the depths of despair, or is it just a mirage in a desert of uncertainty? I can’t wait to find out.

The Tigers, one season after finishing last in the division, are back in the thick of a division and playoff race. What a roller coaster ride they have been. Sometimes they offer the sweet taste of victory and the next night the bitter taste of defeat. But again, the ride is amazing. There’s nothing like the chase for the playoffs to stir the deepest echoes of fandom, and that’s exactly what the Motown kitties are doing for us right now. Can they deliver? Will they falter? I’m caught up in the anticipation and I’m letting it sweep me away.

And then there are our beloved Red Wings. Yes, they are only at the beginning of a journey that will hopefully last until June, but this campaign brings with it the need to justify their elite status to all those who have so quickly dismissed them. There’s nothing more fun than proving the doubters wrong and then laughing in their face afterwards, which is exactly what we have planned for this season. I can’t wait.

So sit back and enjoy my friends. This is an exciting time for all of us. One that is sure to be filled with ups and downs, trials and tribulations. But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey and I’m just happy to be walking down that road again.

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Centennial Celebration.

100th post

So I’ve been MIA for the past few days trying to find the right way to commemorate the 100th post for SIM. I’ve kicked around a ton of ideas. I thought about pulling in some friends to comment on the miserable predictions I’ve made over the last 99 posts. I debated tossing out some more ridiculous predictions that will fail miserably and only serve to further damage my sports writing credibility. I even thought about using the 100th post to call it quits and spare each and every one of you from the endless drivel of Michigan sports that (of late, rarely) graces this site.

But then I started thinking about all of the times we have had together. Yes, things got off to a rough start as Michigan football bumbled their way to the worst record in school history. Michigan hockey looked to carry the banner for the maize and blue, but a disappointing NCAA loss to Air Force ended the season on an incredibly sour note. You hung with me as I divorced that joke of a team that marauded as the Pistons. And you bravely hung with me as I watched my beloved Red Wings come within a game of raising their 12th Stanley Cup, only to be denied on home ice.

Yes, it wasn’t pretty at times. But let’s not forget that, despite some rough patches, there were also quite a few highs. For the first time in over a decade, Michigan basketball made it back to the NCAA tournament, even giving us a first round win. The Tigers, a middle-of-the-pack pick by most experts at the start of the season, currently lead the AL Central. Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge all made it to the All Star game. And, despite not bringing home the Cup, the Wings gave us a heck of a fun run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

We’ve had our good and we’ve had our bad. And while it’s true that no championships have come home to Michigan since the inception of this blog, that doesn’t mean we won’t see any in the future. Winning a championship is an incredible feat and it never comes easy. If anything, the losses and shortcomings make you cherish those championship moments even more. They will come. And we will celebrate.

But in the meantime, I’m committed to enjoying the ride with all of you. These writings have forged new friendships and facilitated endless discussions. They have opened the doors to new opportunities and helped me embrace the passion of sports fans outside of the state of Michigan. But mostly, they have given me the chance to share something that I strongly believe in with a group of folks that share the same ideology: that sport can unite us, bring us together and provide us with incredible experiences and memories.

To each and every one of you that read this: Thank you. For all of those who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting through SIM and Winging It: Thank you. And for those of you that have passed my little corner of the blogosphere along to others: a HUGE thank you. The first 100 posts have been great and have led to wonderful experiences. Here’s hoping to even better over the next 100.

OK. Enough of the sappy shit. Let’s celebrate!

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**Apparently, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t wait to give us our first present! According to Wyshynski over at “Puck Daddy”, our good friend Marian Hossa could be out until December with a shoulder injury. Which they knew about when they signed him. So basically, the ‘Hawks drop an injury risk in Martin Havlat to sign damaged goods in Hossa, all while shelling out more cash for him in the process.

*Slow Clap*

He’s the gift that just keeps on giving, ‘Hawks fans. Until you get to the playoffs, that is. ENJOY!

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Who’s Staying and Who’s Going In Motown?

*I’m reposting this from over at “Winging It”, as this is a topic I have been bugged about like crazy today and I want to give all readers a chance to weigh in…even those without memberships at SB Nation (GET ONE!!!).

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(Photo courtesy of Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

Before we move forward and look at who might not be around, let’s take a look at who is already locked up. Up front, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are all taken care fo for next season. Defensively, the Wings have already secured the services of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson, Andreas Lilja, Derek Meech and Brett Lebda. In net, Chris Osgood will be back as the starter and Jimmy Howard is signed for the next two years.

Which leaves us with the following question marks and probable results (which of course are all IMO):

Marian Hossa

  • Hossa is an unrestricted free agent entering the off-season, but it is widely believed that he will be back in the winged wheel next season, and for quite a few seasons after that. Despite all but disappearing in this postseason, Hossa is still a superstar in the NHL and the Wings are a better team with him in the lineup. However, his price tag is guaranteed to be high, as he garnered 7.45 million this past season. Even if Ken Holland can work his magic and get Hossa to take less money over a long-term deal, his presence bodes pretty unfavorably for some of the other free agents on the Wings roster.
  • Staying or going? Staying.

Jiri Hudler

  • Here’s where things begin to get complicated. Hudler is a restricted free agent, so all the Wings have to do is offer him, and he stays with the team. However, as Hossa is widely expected to sign a long term deal with the Wings, Hudler becomes one of the players on the outside looking in. Normally, this wouldn’t be a major issue, as Hudler has enough NHL experience to receive a crop of offer sheets from other clubs. However, and unproductive playoff – three assists and zero goal in his last 12 playoff games – could lead some clubs to reconsider Hudler. In the end, though, someone should take a chance on him, and Hudler will be playing for someone else when the fall rolls around.
  • Staying or going? Going.

Mikael Samuelsson

  • Samuelsson, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to be another victim of a Marian Hossa re-signing. Despite being productive for the Wings early in the playoffs, Sammy fell of the map in the last 10 games, netting zero points. His contract is just over one million dollars, which is completely reasonable for a 20 goal scorer, so someone will scoop up Samuelsson off the market.
  • Staying or going? Very much gone.

Tomas Kopecky

  • Kopecky is another major question mark, as the Wings will likely need to shed one more salary, in addition to Hudler’s and Samuelsson’s, to keep Hossa in a Red Wings uniform for the foreseeable future. The likely answer appears to be Kopecky, who has been out since Game 5 of the Anaheim series after suffering a broken orbital bone. But it won’t be easy to cut ties with him, as Kopecky played 79 regular season games and is only 27 years old. But the reality is that Kopecky only put up 19 points over those 79 games, and with younger players like Leino, Abdelkader and Helm gaining experience and playing time, Kopecky’s lack of production might help to show him the door in Detroit. 
  • Staying or going? Probably going.

Ville Leino

  • No drama here. Leino is a restricted free agent, who hasn’t played in enough NHL games to really warrant an offer sheet from another team. Leino will be back and will probably get increased time with the big club, especially if Kopecky doesn’t get re-signed.
  • Staying or going. Staying.

Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey

  • With the young talent making its way up the ladder, I just don’t see both of these guys staying. McCarty played in 13 games this season to Downey’s four. Combine that with McCarty’s status as a fan favorite and someone who is willing to grind it out in the minors to get his shot, and he’s my pick to be back in a Wings uniform next season.
  • Staying or going? McCarty: Staying. Downey: Going.

Chris Chelios

  • Unfortunately, Cheli’s time in Motown is up. With young defensive talent like Jon Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall leading the charge, Chelios’ minutes just aren’t there anymore.
  • Staying or going? Gone.

Ty Conklin

  • So this is one situation that has managed to stay under the radar for the most part, but Conks finds himself as a free agent and the Wings potentially find themselves with an untested backup goaltender in Jimmy Howard. At this point, things get really tricky, and Ken Holland is going to earn his paycheck when this is all said and done. Conklin made $750,000 last season, but happened to turn in 25 wins while Osgood was interested, and will most likely ask for more money. But Jimmy Howard is making $717,000 a season, and also can’t be sent back down to the minors without being waived. And if Howard got claimed off waivers and  called back up from the minors, half of his salary would be on the shoulders of the Red Wings. It’s a predicament, for sure. However, I don’t think that the Wings staff is 100 percent confident in Howard’s ability to succeed in the NHL, and surely don’t consider him a full time backup at this point. Combine that with the fact that there isn’t a huge demand for starting goaltenders this off-season and, in the end, I think it looks something like this: Howard gets a few more chances to prove himself during the regular season, but…
  • Staying or going? Conklin is staying, at least until the trade deadline.

That covers off on all of our free agent action, but there is one more area of concern:

Andreas Lilja

  • Lilja is signed to play this year, but after getting his block knocked off during the regular season last year, he hasn’t been able to return to the ice because of persistent headaches. For awhile, it looked as if he was turning the corner, but now he claims that the pain is worse than ever. I hate to say it (and I hope it’s not true), but Lilja sounds like a player who might possibly have played his last game in the NHL. I may very well be wrong about this, but he doesn’t sound like he is making a ton of improvement here and I, for one, do not expect him to be ready for the start of next season.
  • However, if he does somehow make it back to the lineup, it puts Derek Meech in a really tough position. Meech has had a really tough time cracking the starting lineup over the last two years, and if Lilja can return, Meech finds himself squarely on the trade block. However, if Lilja can’t return, then Meech finds himself on more secure footing, as long as he isn’t passed by another guy from the minors.

All in all, it’s going to be a tricky off-season in terms of roster movement. Without a doubt, there will be changes, but the Wings remain in good shape since their core players have all been taken care of. With young, playoff proven talent ready to step up for anyone who leaves town, the Wings should find themselves in a pretty good position when the playoffs fire up again next season.

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Filed under If you didn't know now you know, State of the State

Playing Catch Up

So I went on vacation, came back and the real world punched me straight in the grill. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and breathe, let alone write, so please forgive me.

That said, it looks like I have a BUNCH to catch up on from a series of sports goodness over the last few days. Before I start offering up my thoughts and analysis, let me just preface with something: I have watched ZERO games over the past few days. ZERO. (Save ten minutes of the Michigan/Clemson game.)

There goes the shred of credibility I was hanging on to…

I promise, I was doing something really, REALLY cool, so go easy on me. Don’t believe me?

nimitzchris

That’s me sailing around on the USS Nimitz. Yea, SAILING on the Nimitz. Be jealous.

Anyways, like I was saying, important things were a-happening, even as I sailed the ocean blue and subsequently putzed around San Diego.

Michigan basketball in the NCAA Tournament

gibson lee

After my prognostication that this hoops squad was “destined for the NIT”, I decided it would be best to quickly eat my crow, say sorry and hop back on board the Beilein Express. Call me fair-weather if you want, but it isn’t true. It was just hard to be excited for this team for the longest time.

Then they took the floor against Clemson. I was like a little kid all over again. After hanging on to win, I was completely giddy. I knew that Oklahoma would be a huge test, but I didn’t care. We had WON in the dance. Anywho, we know how the rest of the story goes: Blake Griffin dominates, he dominates some more, and Michigan’s season comes to an end.

In the end, this was a remarkable season for the Wolverines, one which obviously blew alot of people’s expectations (including yours truly) out of the water. This team should be very proud of their accomplishments. They are relevant again, they have one of the top coaches in the game and they have some tournament experience now.

As for next season, pretty much everyone returns, including most of the core players. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims have both stated that they will be returning, and will help the already maturing freshmen to keep growing. Hopefully, next year will give us the chase for a Big Ten title and a top four seed in the NCAA tourney.

My ship is burned. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Michigan Hockey in the CCHA Tournament

While the hoops squad was doing their thing in St. Louis, the hockey squad made their annual trek to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA tournament semi-finals and finals(sans me and my usual crew). After a workman like win over Alaska to advance to the finals, the Wolverines jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Notre Dame and looked to be in great shape.

Whoops.

Five unanswered goals later, Notre Dame was hanging a banner in the rafters and the Wolverines were headed out of the Joe on their way to a first round NCAA matchup with Air Force. Not quite what we had in mind.

Despite losing the championship, the Wolverines still managed to secure a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and look to have a favorable region…(more on this later today.)

Red Wings

For those of you who read this blog frequently, you know I recently announced that most of the hockey chatter would be moving over to my new hockey home at PuckScoop. In my first column over there, I took a look at how, over the span of one week, Chris Osgood had unseated Ty Conklin for the starting spot in net come playoff time. Pretty much everyone in Detroit was crowing Ozzie king again due to a strong week that included two shutout performances. Manna was falling from the heavens. World peace was imminent.

Not so fast my friend…

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After a Friday game against Atlanta, the Wings hit the road, heading up to Canada for showdowns with Calgary and Edmonton, both playoff contenders in the West. Against hard-charging Calgary, Osgood fell on his face. Against Edmonton, Conklin stood on his head and got a win.

Look, I am not trying to say that a win from Conklin and a loss from Osgood this week should determine who starts in goal come playoff time. And I am definitely not trying to call out Chris Osgood. My point is simply this: both of these guys were solid this year in net. Not spectacular, but solid. And no matter who we draw in the playoffs in whatever round it may be, we will more than likely be at a perceived ‘disadvantage’ in a goalie comparison. IMO, it doesn’t necessarily matter who we have in net; the key will be how well our defenders play and if we can score goals. (For what it’s worth, I think Conklin should get the nod. However, I expect to see a pseudo “platoon” system, with both netminders on a short leash. Think “Hasek/Osgood last year.”)

In the meantime, San Jose continues to find ways to make this race for the West interesting, and currently finds themselves tied with Detroit at 107 points, with only one game in hand. Should be an interesting last couple of weeks, as Detroit continues to methodically “reel in” the Sharks (BOOM!).

GK

Finally, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least make mention of the passing of one of the greats of the game, both on and off the field, HOF third baseman and former Tigers announcer George Kell. A true gentleman and one of the best to ever play third base, Kell’s legacy is one that will never be questioned.

Personally, (with no offense to Ernie Harwell), Kell will always be the voice of the Detroit Tigers in my mind. I used to watch Tiger games on TV in my living room, and it would always be Kell and Al Kaline bringing the action right into my home. Kell’s easy going, southern gentleman delivery is one that will never be matched in my own mind, and will always take me back to being a kid in Michigan watching the Tigers on a hot summer day.

God Bless you, George Kell.

kell

Well then, it looks like everything is back in order. Check back later today for my NCAA hockey breakdown, and I might even see if I can find some time to toss up a post over at PuckScoop.

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The State of Hockeytown

Help Button

Hey, hey Hockeytown! (Pun intended) How goes it?

Confused? Worried? Incessantly smacking that big red button on the side of this page?

I hear you. Right now, things are a bit…confusing. One night it’s a 5-0 win. The next, we’re getting snowmen pasted on the scoreboards by our divisional opponents. Not quite as consistent as you hoped? Me neither.

And then there’s the media. Sports radio in Detroit is leading the campaign of fire, brimstone and kneejerk panic spreading. The papers question GM Ken Holland’s decisions about goaltending at the trade deadline. Don Cherry puts on his ugliest suit and slings insults at the way the Wings play hockey.

It is indeed a grim time to be a Wings fan.

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PUHHHHHLEASE!!!!

Wings fans, get with it. You have exactly ONE thing to be sad about when it comes to this organization, and that is the loss of a great hockey ambassador in Colleen Howe. (God Bless You, Mrs. Hockey).

But when it comes to the guys wearing the Winged Wheel, it’s time to wake up, splash some water on your face and take a good long look at what is really going on.

Immediately, most of you reading this are dismissing me as a homer/idiot/ignorant fan/wishful thinker. Fine. You go on worrying about what MIGHT happen next month because of some inconsistent play this month. While you’re at it, please go ahead and worry about what color shirt you will wear next week too. As for me, I already know what color I’ll be wearing: Red. For the Red Wings. Because I’m not worried.

“Again, you’re just a homer/idiot/ignorant fan/wishful thinker.”

Fair enough. But here’s why I’m right. Take it or leave it.

Media Panic

This might be the most ridiculous reason for worry, EVER. Why, you ask?

Imagine, if you will, that you are a sports writer. If you’re a Wings writer, you write the same thing pretty much every year as the squad plods along methodically to the playoffs. The regular season quickly gets taken for granted and you find yourself grasping for a unique and different story angle (“Babcock wears TAN SUIT!”)

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On the other side of the coin, those NHL writers who aren’t dedicated to Hockeytown greatness have had to listen to how great this team is for the entirety of the season, trying to find something to harp on.

Then, “8” happened. Twice.

Now all of a sudden, you as a local writer have your ammunition to panic (Wings look like s*#t!!!) and the out-of-market writers have spotted the “chink” in the armor. Commence Operation: Impending Doom and Gloom.

The fact is that every writer writes so people will read. In an 82 game regular season, there will be points where sometimes the only thing worth writing about will stir the masses and create doubt. However, all writers will tell you that they  are objective folk just doing their job and writing what they perceive to be the truth. Fair enough. But don’t believe everything you see or hear as all writers (including myself) make mistakes and report a “truth” that doesn’t always come to fruition.

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“That’s great, but it’s not the media’s fault.”

OK, so the media didn’t give up those eight goals. Twice. But two games does not make a season. Let’s dabble in a few facts and even more theories.

FACT: The Wings aren’t immune to lazy play.

  • Hey, my barista does his/her job very well most every day of every week. Some days, though, I have a little extra room in my Americano. Eh, it happens. And sometimes they might get distracted and even make me the wrong drink. Ugly. But while my faith might temporarily waver, I know that on any given morning, my Americano will be hot, overly caffeinated and made the way I want it. The point is that over an 82 game season, it shouldn’t be surprising that lapses will happen. I worry when the Wings lose a string of close games, not when they spew turnovers and give away goals late in the season. Hey, how many times have you been working on a long project and done everything perfectly and without a stupid mistake, especially near the end? That’s what I thought.

FACT: We are right where we need to be.

  • A few weeks ago, I boldly/foolishly predicted the Wings would lose the West by 2.5 games. At last check, we are tied in points with San Jose at 96, with them having two games in hand on us. We are two games back. We aren’t five or seven or nine games back. We are two back. That is not a cause for panic. We also have a 7.5 game lead in our division. This is a good thing. Pretty much every team in the West is battling for a playoff spot, meaning we are going to get everyone’s best shot every single night we hit the ice. It’s difficult to get excited to play every one of those games, especially when we have such a sizable lead with a month to go. Just ask San Jose.

FACT: Inconsistent lineups lead to inconsistent play.

  • Much hulabaloo was made of Chris Osgood’s “10 day mental rest.” I’m not really sure why. I get tired at my job. Sometimes I just need a break to refocus. You know what I do? Take a vacation. Clear my head. That’s all that Osgood did. Yes, I’m aware he isn’t in top shape, but you can’t leverage all of the blame at him when the defense decides to take a couple of nights off.
  • Here’s another thought: long seasons lead to wear and tear. It’s easy to forget that in the midst of a couple of bad games, but Wings leadership has to find places to meet certain obligations to developing players, and we happened to get caught in an unfortunate period of injuries and minor league call-ups. It happens. But here’s the thing: the Wings are still 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and were able to do that without having guys like Hossa, Holmstrom, Hudler and Leino in the lineup on any given night. This is an organization planning for the future, which includes both the playoffs and years to come. Anytime that these guys can get the minor league guys some playing time, they will. I PROMISE that you much prefer it this way, as *knock on wood* we will have a healthy and rested lineup come playoff time.*
  • *This prediction does not cover Andres “Glass Joe” Lilja. He should never fight again.glasslilja

FACT: We aren’t alone.

  • No, I don’t speak of aliens. I seak of the fact that most of the top teams in the league are finding issues with their play too. San Jose is 5-4-1 over their last 10. Boston is a putrid 3-6-1. Heck, even our “hated rival” Nashville has found a way to lose three in a row. Save Pittsburgh’s seven game win streak and Carolina’s four game streak, nobody is playing ‘terrific’ hockey. These are the ups and downs of the season. We should be used to them by now.
  • If you’re worried about goal differential being a major indicator of concern, think again. While Boston is +69 on the season, our Western counterpart San Jose currently sits at +52 while Detroit is +48. Chicago is +45. Columbus is -1. Nashville is -14. Calgary, who currently leads the Northwest division and is everyone trendy ‘dark horse’ all of a sudden, is +16. What does this mean? Nothing. If anything, it means that, despite having mental lapses and giving up some big goal numbers, Detroit consistently scores more than they give up. That usually leads to wins.

OK, I’ve made the best argument I can.Whether or not you want to listen to me is up to you. But I’m kindly asking you to think twice before you beat your panic button into submission. One way or another, we will find our way to the playoffs. Whether that is riding high or limping in remains to be seen. But until then, I would suggest taking a deep breath and letting this run its course. You’ll thank me later (hopefully).

And in case you want one more thought to ease your mind:

Columbus and Nashville hung 8 on us.

8+8 = 16.

16 = Number of playoff wins for the Stanley Cup.

16 = Number of arms on two octopi.

octopioctopi1

See? It’s all in the numbers.

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Inaugural State of the State (Minus ‘Little Brother’)

Hear ye, hear ye all you sports fans in the great state of MEEEECHIGAN. As the snows of winter continue to swirl (in Michigan…it’s 50 and sunny in Seattle), it is time for a new voice to join the discussion. This is a voice in the Michigan nation who yearns to be back where the Maize and Blue roam, where the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings are toasted and where the Molson Canadian flows from the taps like golden rivers of holy water, baptizing those in the Churches of A2 and Hockeytown.

For many of us, economic recession is wearing us down at an emotional, physical and financial level. Unemployment is up, checking account balances are down and overall happiness is being challenged daily. It is times like these that we turn to the sports world to provide us a distraction from the mundane. For many of us, though, this world of sports has become something that extends away from spending three hours watching a game. We arrive at work and talk about RichRod’s recruiting. We meet at the pub and dissect Zetterberg’s silky moves. And when the time comes to hunker down for the ultimate in sporting challenges, we lose sleep. We toss and we turn, yearning for the championship that will lift us to new heights of euphoria and further empty the bank accounts as we buy up all sorts of memorabilia to adorn the walls of our offices, dens or ‘man-rooms.’

I come to you tonight asking for you to indulge in my obsession; to join and contribute to a new discussion of sports and Michigan. And what better way to begin this discussion than with an assessment of where we stand and where we are going.

And now, Michigan: the State of the (sports) State.

(Applause.)

The University of Michigan

  • Football – After a 3-9 season, hope begins to spring again for the Wolverines. A solid recruiting class has begun to stir the pot of optimism, and dreams of Forcier optioning his way down the field to a winning record will have to tide us over until the realities of the spring game.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 2 (out of 5). While my optimism remains tempered, this number would be much higher if it wasn’t only February. Check back as we move closer to kickoff.

  • Hockey – Wolverines hockey is young, ranked in the top 10 and progressing ahead of schedule. A second straight GLI championship and 5 game season sweep of Little Brother (they DID make it into this post!) are the high points of this season so far, but with the CCHA tourney looming, each weekend becomes more and more important.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 2. While the squad continues to compete and improve, they still have a tendency to lose games they shouldn’t (see ‘Western Michigan’ and ‘Bowling Green’.) It looks like they will hold on to a top four spot in the conference, but they need a strong finish and solid tourney performance before they can be seriously considered for a national championship run. Event that may not be enough, as this team looks to be a year away from being something REALLY special.

  • Basketball – The hoop squad got off to a roaring start, knocking off top five ranked UCLA and Duke, and a berth to the NCAA tournament seemed imminent. Then the Big Ten season started and things went rapidly downhill. For a team that lives and dies by the three, inconsistent shooting combined with poor defense has led to a rough few weeks.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 1. This team is NIT bound unless they have a huge run through the end of the season. But the schedule is treacherous from here on out, and a big matchup with ‘Little Brother’ still looms. However, this season has been a step in the right direction after only 10 wins last season. After being hopeful of an NCAA appearance early in the season, it’s time to face reality.

Detroit Red Wings

  • The gold standard franchise of the NHL, the Red Wings continue to power towards the playoffs. The Stanley Cup Champions are loaded from top to bottom and will be a force to reckon with in the postseason. The addition of Marian Hossa this year has paid dividends, and has provided Detroit with a lethal scoring punch of Hossa, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 1. While the Wings are as close to a lock for the playoffs as you can possibly be, some questions still linger. Conklin has been solid in goal this season, but Ozzie has been plagued with injury and is a wild card at this point. And with Holmstrom going out with an injury, the question of health begins to creep into the minds of fans. Look for a Feb. 25th matchup against Western Conference leader San Jose to be an indicator of how focused and ready the Wings are for a deep playoff run.

Detroit Pistons

  • For a team that has been to six straight Eastern Conference finals, this season hasn’t been what most fans had hoped for. Even with the acquisition of Allen Iverson, the Pistons continue to be outclassed by the Celtics and Cavs. Whether you want to put this on the head of rookie coach Michael Curry or not, the Pistons are not the elite team they used to be. Upside: the younger guys like Stuckey and Johnson have shown high upside and continue to improve.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 3. The Pistons lag way behind the Cavs in the Central Division, and a top four seed in the playoffs seems distant at this point. It’s hard to imagine the Pistons making it to a seventh straight Eastern Conference finals if they keep struggling against the powers of the East.

Detroit Tigers

  • In case you hadn’t noticed, spring training is right around the corner. Leyland and the boys will kick off the annual festivities in Lakeland on Feb. 25th, and optimism about the squad seems to be high. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has even gone so far as to call the ’09 edition of the Tigers “the most likely team to be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays.” This seems a bit excessive, given that the Tigers made it to the World Series only three years ago, but still exciting nonetheless.

Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 0.5 (I guess this would be a throw pillow?). Pitching and team health will go a long way to determining how legit this squad is, but until the season gets underway, it’s too early to lose sleep over this team. Caveat: It’s been three years since the World Series run. It’s time to find out if the organization is for real or just got lucky.

In closing, Michigan, it’s a time for optimism to be high, at least as it pertains to sports. Together, you and I can walk through the tough losses and celebrate the great wins. Maybe we will even find a championship or two (or three or four!!!) somewhere along the way.  No matter what happens, know that I am in this with you and will be cursing turnovers and cheering excellence just like you are…even if I’m on the other side of the country. Hey, at least one of us will be able to stay awake for the Wings’ all but guaranteed “It’s so late, I’ll be sleeping on my desk tomorrow” playoff games.

Here’s to a bright future, Michigan.

Chris

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