Yes it’s that time again.
The champagne is gone, the party hats have been put away and the resolutions have been made.
As appears here every year at this time, what follows is a look back at some of the fearless words I foisted upon you over the past 12 months. And, as usual, most proved to be false prophecies.
But not all. So I included some posts where I was proven to be right, after all.
Right or (mostly) wrong, I had a blast.
So without further ado, here is the Best/Worst of Greg Eno for 2015.
(Pistons) On Brandon Jennings’ injury and what coach/president Stan Van Gundy will do:
And here’s where Van Gundy’s dual role of coach and president comes into play.
As a coach, he doesn’t have to petition his GM for a certain player to take Jennings’ place on the roster.
As president, he doesn’t have to convince his coach of anything personnel-wise.
Van Gundy wears both hats, and this is a prime example of why the Pistons thought hiring one man to do both jobs was a good idea.
It’s an unwanted, unplanned example, but here we are.
Van Gundy, like his players, has no choice but to carry on in Jennings’ absence. But with the power invested in him by owner Tom Gores—power that all but a handful of NBA coaches don’t possess—SVG can move on without any hint of disconnect between the court and the front office, which happens more often in the NBA than you think.
SVG traded for Reggie Jackson, and while you don’t wish injury on anyone, Jennings’ situation opened the door for the Pistons to acquire what is turning out to be one of the best PGs in the Eastern Conference.
On the possibility of Mike Babcock bolting the Red Wings for Toronto:
But Babcock’s tardiness in re-upping with the Red Wings shouldn’t be confused with a desire to coach elsewhere. He has it good in Detroit and he knows that. He works for a terrific owner, has a good relationship with his GM and his family has firm roots in Northville.
In Toronto, Babcock wouldn’t be hired to just make the playoffs a few times. He’d be brought in to win the whole shebang, and sooner rather than later. Patience is already razor-thin in Toronto; even someone with Babcock’s name and resume wouldn’t be given a very long leash. It would be the shortest honeymoon since Cher and Gregg Allman’s.
Whether Babcock would choose to turn his cozy home and hockey life upside down to work in the pressure cooker of Toronto, which is Canada’s New York when it comes to hockey, is highly debatable. In fact, it’s worse—it’s damned unlikely.
On Jimmy Howard and whether he’ll start in the playoffs:
Howard, frankly, deserves to start in Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s earned that right. The Red Wings aren’t paying him millions to take a seat in favor of a rookie, for gosh sakes.
But don’t be taken aback if Babcock shows little patience with Howard and does a switcheroo. In the middle of a series.
It might not even be so much an anti-Howard move as a pro-Mrazek one.
Babcock loves Mrazek’s swagger. He loves it that the 23-year-old Czech firmly believes that he will be a star in the NHL. And the coach has liked what he’s seen from Mrazek in spot duty.
It may not be this spring, but sometime in the near future, Petr Mrazek will be the Red Wings’ no. 1 goaltender. That seems to be the track on which the Red Wings have the Czech.
Petr Mrazek was named the starter, and he played very well—pitching two shutouts at the Lightning.
On what the Lions’ front office needs:
There’s too much desperation with the Lions. There isn’t the feeling that the hand at the wheel is steady amid the rough waters of the NFL.
The Lions need such a steady hand. They need a veteran NFL guy to oversee things.
They need someone like Ernie Accorsi.
Accorsi is steeped in NFL knowledge. He’s held a variety of jobs, including general manager, assistant GM, PR flak and consultant. He helped the Bears in their GM search in December.
He’s 73 years old and he’s available for a full-time position.
Running the Lions might be intriguing enough for someone like Accorsi, who laid the groundwork for a Super Bowl win with the 2007 Giants.
The Lions haven’t had a heavy hitter upstairs. They haven’t had heavy hitters on the sidelines either, really.
But Jim Caldwell seems fine as head coach. The problems don’t start with the coach.
The dysfunction is with the guys in the suits.
Mayhew and Lewand have had their chance. They’ve had six years. Now they need a football man to report to.
The Lions should give Ernie Accorsi a ring, but that phone call would have to come from Bill Ford Jr., who just might do something progressive, even by accident.
The Lions heeded my advice—kind of. They hired Accorsi as a consultant last month.
On Greg Monroe’s future with the Pistons:
Van Gundy will have to use a full court press to convince Monroe that the SVG Way is the path that will lead to competitive basketball in Detroit.
Monroe will have to feel good about the direction in which the Pistons are heading, or else he is sure to get big bucks elsewhere. Unlike Bob Lanier, Monroe isn’t tethered to the Pistons and he doesn’t have to beg for a trade.
Monroe can simply peel off his Pistons jersey after Game 82 this season and move on from them.
Unless he wants to stay.
Greg Monroe has leverage in today’s NBA that Bob Lanier could only fantasize about, 35 years ago.
Today’s Pistons are much closer to contention than the 1979-80 team (16-66) that Lanier begged to be removed from. But Monroe still has played five years in the NBA and all he’s known is losing, coaching changes and chaos.
The Pistons will be asking Monroe to take a leap of faith that, heretofore, has little basis on which to positively refer.
Monroe left, but that was probably a good thing in retrospect.
On Stephen Weiss’ future with the Red Wings:
Weiss started strong last November when he came back from his hernia surgery, popping in a couple of goals in his first game. But soon he went back to being invisible and pretty much useless.
The benching in March wasn’t entirely unexpected, though a tad surprising.
The playoffs in the NHL has always been a time for everything and everyone to reset.
The regular season is like an Etch-a-Sketch. The playoffs are what happens after that Etch-a-Sketch gets shaken and cleared.
It’s a clean slate for everyone, and for every team. Seeding matters little, unlike in the NBA, where only a handful of teams truly have a shot at the championship.
Weiss, like every player on the roster, got to hit the reset button last week.
But you can’t do it anymore, not two games into the first round. There is no time for mulligans.
But the beauty of playoff hockey is that Stephen Weiss could still be an impact player for the Red Wings. He could still score some timely goals and make some of those signature passes that were his hallmark in Florida.
He’d better do it soon. If he even gets another chance.
He didn’t. The Red Wings cut their losses and released Weiss over the summer.
On Jeff Blashill taking over for Mike Babcock:
The question to be answered will be, “How much will the Red Wings miss Mike Babcock?”
That’s where Jeff Blashill comes in, because if he’s able to lift the Red Wings to the next level, i.e. past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it won’t be about Babcock anymore.
With Dave Lewis, the shadow of Scotty Bowman always loomed. Lewis took over the defending Stanley Cup champs and a team that won three Cups in six years.
There was nowhere to go but down for Lewie.
Blashill is succeeding a high profile guy behind the Red Wings bench, but at the same time, it’s not a terribly tough act to follow.
Babcock has a great resume and the hardware to support it, but the hard fact remains that the Red Wings haven’t advanced to round three of the playoffs in six years.
Blashill, after a rough start and despite a current funk, has transitioned fairly seamlessly as the Red Wings’ new coach.
On whether the Tigers will be sellers at the trade deadline:
That’s why there won’t be any white flag raising and “selling” of the team’s assets on or around the July 31 deadline for interleague trades.
There’s no way that Ilitch will authorize President/GM/CEO David Dombrowski to engage in a fire sale, ridding the Tigers of as many fat contracts as Dombrowski can fob off on other teams.
Those who equate Miguel Cabrera’s calf strain and loss for at least six weeks, with the need to pack it in for 2015 and start a rebuilding project, mid-season, are whiffing.
First, the “sale” of expensive guys like pending free agents David Price and Yoenis Cespedes won’t bring back the king’s ransom that some fans think it will.
Price and Cespedes are rentals, if they’re moved at the deadline. The acquiring team(s) would essentially get those players’ services for two months and probably not more than that, unless they’re the Yankees or the Dodgers.
What team in its right mind will send the Tigers a boatload of top level prospects for a player it likely won’t be able to sign to a long-term contract?
Got this one wrong, though I think the whole scenario cost Dombrowski his job, ultimately.
On not letting the Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader become a free agent:
Abdelkader is signed through June 30, 2016. After that, when midnight strikes, it will be a league free-for-all to acquire the Michigan State grad and Muskegon native’s services.
Unless the Red Wings step in and shanghai Abdelkader to a long-term contract extension.
This is no joke. The Red Wings can’t let Abdelkader go. There really isn’t anyone else on the roster who can, right now, step in and do what Abdelkader does for 17 minutes (not including time in the penalty box) on a nightly basis.
We all knew that Abdelkader was scrappy and pugnacious and relentless, especially along the boards, which is the slop to his pig.
But then, last season, no. 8 broke out another aspect of his game—that of consistent scorer.
The Red Wings listened to me and extended Abdelkader shortly after the season began.
On the future of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:
Watching the Royals run away and hide, and suffering through discouraging injuries to key people, and trying to play through yet another bad bullpen year, have finally caught up to the Tigers, mentally.
They are sleepwalking through games anymore, and they are under legitimate indictment for one of professional sports’ worst transgressions: they’re not competing.
Look at the scores. The Tigers are routinely getting their clocks cleaned.
They’re making mental errors and the overall hustle is waning.
The Tigers are a last-place team and playing like they can’t wait to get this season over with.
Ausmus, who seems helpless at this point, is the Tigers’ 2015 version of Mayo Smith, 1970.
I’m not sure when Smith realized that his days as Tigers skipper were numbered, but certainly he knew, at some point in 1970, that he wasn’t coming back in 1971.
Maybe even his players felt the same way, which might have contributed to their uninspired play down the stretch.
Ausmus is a smart man, and he’s been around baseball long enough to know what gets managers fired in the big leagues.
It’s one thing to be saddled with a bad bullpen. It’s another to have a starting rotation in tatters, and a lineup that is frustratingly inconsistent.
But it’s quite another to have players forgetting how many outs there are, and failing to run out ground balls and giving away at-bats with zeal.
Those are the things that get managers fired.
But not in 2015. Ausmus was brought back for the third year of his contract.
On the future of Lions OC Joe Lombardi:
Caldwell has been steadfast in his support of Lombardi, who is proving on a weekly basis that football genius isn’t necessarily hereditary.
The fans are practically begging Caldwell to at least snatch the playbook from OC Lombardi, if not fire him altogether.
Wayne Fontes saw a season crumbling around him in 1993. He had been on the precipice of the Super Bowl two years earlier and after a nosedive in 1992, Fontes didn’t want to miss out on another chance at playoff glory.
So despite a 7-5 record, Fontes blew things up at the Silverdome.
And it worked.
Jim Caldwell is a fine man of high character. I know it likely goes against his grain to embarrass Lombardi by taking over the play calling. And Caldwell doesn’t seem to have the demeanor to fire a coordinator in mid-season.
But it’s exactly this kind of “nice guy” stuff that the owner, Bill Ford, displayed for years, to a fault—particularly as he aged.
Caldwell eventually pulled the trigger on Lombardi in late-October—though probably too late.
On whether Dylan Larkin should make the Red Wings out of training camp at age 19:
Larkin, not as shy as Yzerman was (and still is), has made no bones about it. His intention is to make the Red Wings. Right now. He’s trying to avoid a bus ticket to Grand Rapids at all costs.
“It is what I have been waiting for and I’m ready for it,” Larkin said about playing in the NHL, sooner rather than later.
“I think I’ll be a dominant player all over the ice,” Larkin continued. “I’ll be a player than can play against the other team’s top line and can still produce offense. It might take a while, but it does for everyone to become a dominant player.”
You never heard Steve Yzerman talk about himself in that manner at age 19—and Yzerman never really did, not even after he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, for goodness sakes.
Coach Blashill is helping by letting the teenager show off his wares against other top-line NHL players in the pre-season matches, and Larkin has been responding.
GM Kenny Holland has said that there’s no rush in getting Larkin to the NHL.
But that was before training camp and the exhibition schedule began.
The Red Wings made the right choice in keeping Larkin. He needed no further minor league seasoning.
On Martha Ford’s level of impatience:
Now Martha Ford has a chance to do something bold. She has a chance to show that loyalty and patience shouldn’t trump the lack of on-field success.
There’s little doubt in my mind that if her husband was alive now, coach Jim Caldwell, GM Marty Mayhew and President Tom Lewand would have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Despite the 0-5 start. Despite the realization that draft picks are, once again, not playing to the value of their selections. Despite the utter disorganized product on the field. Despite a so-called franchise quarterback melting down before our very eyes. Despite players loafing it on the field. Despite the feckless response of the coach to a robbery in Seattle. Despite the Lions again being looked at as a joke nationally.
None of that would matter, thanks to the loyalty and patience of one Bill Ford.
Ironically, the only sign of disloyalty and impatience has come from Golden Tate, toward the fans.
But Martha Ford can change all that.
She did indeed make her bold move in early-November, releasing Mayhew and Lewand.
On which pitchers the Tigers should target in free agency:
Two names that should intrigue Tigers fans the most as Avila goes shopping are Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir.
Samardzija (righty) and Kazmir (lefty) could probably be signed at second tier money—not that that’s cheap, though it would be considerably less than what would be required to bring Price back or lure Greinke to Detroit.
The Tigers could benefit in two ways if they ink Samardzija, who will be 31 when next season begins.
One, they could take advantage of Samardzija’s less-than-great 2015, which followed an uneven 2014, when he pitched for the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics.
Samardzija was among several new players that the Chicago White Sox brought in with the idea of making a run at the Central Division title in 2015.
But Samardzija was, basically, awful this season.
He was 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29. He led the league in hits surrendered with 228 and he gave up more hits than innings pitched since he threw just 19.1 innings in 2010.
The other way the Tigers could gain an edge with the addition of Samardzija is by a division rival’s subtraction.
Think about it. The Tigers’ gain would be the White Sox’s loss, despite Samardzija’s down year.
With Kazmir, the Tigers would be getting a seasoned big league lefty.
Kazmir, who pitched for Oakland and Houston in 2015, will turn 32 in January—not ancient but old enough to have been around the block a couple of times.
Kazmir was good with Oakland (5-5, 2.38 ERA in 109.2 innings) but not so much with the Astros (2-6, 4.17 ERA in 73.1 innings).
Kazmir’s schizophrenic season could drop his market value, to the Tigers’ delight.
The Tigers went in a completely opposite direction—signing Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey.
On retiring Sergei Fedorov’s no. 91:
Sergei is in the Hockey Hall of Fame now, fair and square. He was formally inducted on Monday night, along with Lidstrom, who goes by the nickname The Perfect Human.
Fedorov, the Imperfect Human (tying him with billions of people around the world behind Lidstrom), has waited long enough. It’s time to put aside whatever rancor is left about Fedorov and string his stinking number into the rafters at The Joe.
I can still hear some gasps of indignation.
But he left! He left us!
He held out! He was a Johnny-come-lately in 1998!
He had a weird relationship with Anna Kournikova!
Yes, yes, and yes.
This one remains to be seen.
On the still-maturing Pistons:
The Pistons of today are probably not yet ready to contend to the degree that Van Gundy would feel that a bold move for a high profile player late in the season would make a big difference.
After 17 games, the Pistons are too flawed and too soft mentally. Too prone to stretches of malaise.
They obviously can’t even handle the small, marginal success of a 5-1 start. They can’t be taken seriously—not yet.
But they’re getting better.
It’s a process.
The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency—especially on defense. But SVG has them moving in the right direction, for sure.
So there you have it! Another year, another set of false prophecies, with some accurate ones tossed in like some pepper with the salt.
Here’s to a joyful, healthy and prosperous 2016 for all who read this blather!