Detroit Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings remain stuck in rebuilds: Which GM feels most heat?

Detroit Free Press

One of these days, one of these teams is gonna get it. No, not comeuppance. But the brass ring, or a helpful free agent at the trade deadline; that’d be nice, no?

Instead of selling off good players for draft picks?

Seems like it’s been forever since one of our four major pro teams did that. Yes, the Detroit Lions shipped T.J. Hockenson to Minnesota before last season’s deadline and they got better, though the principle of cause and effect may not have applied — the Lions surely would’ve improved with Hockenson, too.

Still, the second-half ascent caught some prognosticators by surprise.

So … yay, I guess?

We needn’t name any of the glass-half-empty types, there’s enough dark energy in the world. Sometimes, though, even those who revel in the muck have a point, or at least a fair and relevant question:

How long do the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers need to rebuild? Or to retool? Or to keep arguing it’s all about draft picks and collecting young talent?

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As Steve Yzerman noted Friday during his season-ending news conference:

“Players are known quantities.”

Draft picks?

Not so much.

And when the Wings’ general manager traded away a couple of “players” for some more draft picks just before the NHL trade deadline in early March, he, by his own definition, swapped the known for the unknown and essentially gave up the rest of the season.

The long play is fine in theory. As it is for the Pistons, who just lost 65 games, as it certainly is for the Tigers, who suddenly look like the bottom-feeder again in this triumvirate. Remember, a little more than a year ago the Tigers broke camp declaring themselves playoff contenders.

Turns out they weren’t, by a mile, and if we’re comparing rosters, and we are, then the potential of each team’s best youngsters is more promising for the Pistons and Wings. Round and round we go.

And what are we betting here anyway?

The Tigers, as of this writing, are the proud owners of a three-game winning streak and some feel-good vibes after the manager, A.J. Hinch, temporarily benched their biggest free-agent signing in recent memory because of one too many baserunning errors.

Javy Báez responded, at least for a night, and played his best game of the young season. A turning point?

Who knows?

Maybe the Tigers will stun everyone and rip off a winning streak and recalibrate what looked like a historically bad season just a few days ago.

Ah, who is anyone kidding? The bullpen is the bullpen. The best pitching prospects are still recovering from injury. The lineup is hardly the ’27 Yankees, or even the 2022 Tigers. And, well, you get the idea.

The Tigers, though, have time, because they have a new man running the front office, Scott Harris, and if we’re ranking the heat each GM/shot-caller is feeling among the Tigers, Pistons and Wings, he feels the least.

Harris deserves time to rebuild the roster and the farm system and if he does, it’s up to to owner, Chris Ilitch, to spend. That remains to be seen.

The Pistons and Troy Weaver, meanwhile, have less time. Weaver is entering his fourth season as the team’s general manager, and folks are anxious. He gets a slight reprieve as his best player, Cade Cunningham, was lost for the season after 12 games.

He also gets a chance to hire a coach, and that will buy him more time. But if the Pistons are truly ready to become competitive next season — as in the play-in game area, not a conference-finals run, obviously — then Weaver will not only need to nail his upcoming draft but also any trades or free-agent signings.

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He has salary cap space and an intriguing collection of young players, and that should be enticing. Which means, barring more injury, the Pistons should be better next season, and will be better if Weaver makes the right moves.

And then there is Yzerman, who is setting up for his fifth season as the Wings’ top boss, and while he arrived back in Detroit with street cred as a local icon and the architect of a Stanley Cup champion in Tampa, even those credentials will only last so long.

Yzerman reminded everyone during his news conference Friday that he said it would take a while to rebuild the team when he took over it.

“I started out four years ago saying it’s going to take time,” he said. “We’re trying to draft well. Time will tell if we’ve drafted well, that’s reality. … But I intend to stick with the process. … (While I) continue to look for opportunities to expediate the process.”

Yzerman said the past four years have gone “OK.” And that he’d “love to be further ahead in the process.”

What made this past season so dispiriting for some is that the team looked like it was ahead of the process, then lost twice to Ottawa and sold off “players” for draft picks. One of these years he’ll have to take a swing the other way, sooner rather than later.

“I would love to make the playoffs next year,” he said. “But I’m not going to do anything out of desperation. Ultimately, I’ve got to decide on any move I make (if it’s) the right move in the long term (and if) it is the right move in the short term. I would love it to be next year. As you know, I can’t guarantee it.”

For all three teams, the long term is still the proper play. No one is suggesting any of them sell the farm for a run to the back end of the playoffs, as the Pistons did when they traded for Blake Griffin in early 2018.

With each losing season, though, the long term matters less; you can’t keep rebuilding with no end and, right now, it feels like that. Part of the problem is that all three teams are in similar states of rebuild. The demoralizing effect is accumulative.

And the Lions can’t cover forever.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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