By Jeff Moss
January 12, 2017
It was late July of 2015. The Detroit Tigers were only four games out of a Wild Card slot and Justin Verlander — who had missed the first 2 1/2 months of the season with an injury — was starting to resemble the old Justin Verlander.
There was still two months left in the season and General Manager Dave Dombrowski could have easily drained whatever remained from his dilapidated farm system and attempted to make one more run at the World Series ring that had eluded him while in Detroit.
The writing was already on the wall that Dombrowski would not be returning to the Tigers the following year. He was on the verge of his own free-agency and Mike Ilitch had shown no inclination to get into a bidding war for his longtime executive’s services. There was very little reason for Dombrowski to sell and every motive to buy with whatever prospects remained in the system.
One more kick at the can — the acquisition of a starting pitcher and a reliever coupled with Verlander’s resurgence — would have been extremely sellable to the man writing his paycheck. And with Dombrowski rumored to be headed to Toronto or Boston by the end of the year, resistance to rejuvenate the farm system by trading David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria would pay dividends since Dombrowski was almost guaranteed to be an American League rival of the Tigers.
But Dombrowski didn’t selfishly gut the Tigers’ minor league operation any further. Instead, he went to Ilitch and told him the right thing to do was to deal the team’s impending free-agents and rebuild with prospects like Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and JaCoby Jones.
And for that altruistic deed, Dombrowski was unceremoniously fired by Ilitch a mere five days later and replaced with his second-in-command, Al Avila. After 15 years of loyal service to Little Caesar, Dombrowski was tarred and feathered for an incredibly selfless act.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the lesson Dombrowski’s former Olympia Entertainment counterpart Ken Holland learned from that act was not that “tanking” and dealing assets could set his team up for the future (as evidenced by reigning AL Rookie of the Year Fulmer’s 2016 season), but that it probably isn’t a good idea to go to the Ilitches and tell them the truth about a sports franchise they own.
Because while Dombrowski was hoisted with his own petard, Holland has been selfishly running a Ponzi scheme for years in a clear effort to never meet the same fate as Dave did. Salary Cap Era Ken Holland has never put the interests of his hockey team in front of his own. Ever. Instead he has done everything to keep his gig for as long as humanly possible.
The most obvious example of this occurred back in 2010 when Steve Yzerman was offered the GM gig with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mike Ilitch didn’t want to see Stevie Y. leave so he asked Holland to move upstairs as Team President while letting “The Captain” make personnel decisions.
This type of move would not have been unprecedented in the Red Wings organization as Jimmy Devellano had done something similar years earlier. But Holland refused and #19 fled south.
And in the ensuing years Holland has made transaction after transaction that can only be described as robbing Peter to pay Paul in a quest to continue the team’s playoff streak and keep any heat off himself. That list of transgressions is longer than Boban Marjanovic’s left arm and includes trading a first round pick for Kyle Quincey and giving ridiculous contract extensions to Jonathan Ericsson and Justin Abdelkader. And don’t even get me started on the cavalcade of awful free-agenct signings.
Not to mention trading Calle Jarnkrok, Mattias Janmark and others for aging forwards at the deadline in an effort to qualify for the postseason and become cannon fodder for a higher seed.
Ah, yes. The playoff streak. The absolutely meaningless run that has only been extended during the final weekend of the regular season over the past few seasons and continues to do more harm than good to the future of this organization. A streak which SHOULD have ended last spring if not for Boston goalie Tukka Rask getting diarrhea from some bad chicken wings.
And while Dombrowski gave up on his last chance in Detroit to win it all, Holland has clutched that playoff streak like a man shipwrecked and clinging to a life preserver. Holland passed up his latest chance to start the rebuilding process in Detroit this past summer when he wasted every cent of the salary cap on a collection of “talent” that currently has the team in last place in the Atlantic Division.
In fact, Holland’s decision to deal Pavel Datsyuk’s dead contract to Arizona — and in the process pass on a potential top-pairing defenseman in the body of Jakob Chychrun — while spending up to the cap on Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott has accomplished the wonderful feat of Detroit owning the fourth worst record in the NHL as you read this.
Yep, if the season ended today the Red Wings would have the fifth best chance in the draft lottery of obtaining the number one overall pick. (The expansion Las Vegas franchise automatically will have the third best shot.)
Hell, the last time the Wings were this bad the Internet hadn’t even been invented yet, so you couldn’t spend all day playing with an NHL Draft Simulator. And for the record, it took me six spins before the Wings received the first pick.
And while the Red Wings are only six points out of a playoff spot, they’d have to pass FIVE teams to continue that stupid fucking streak. That’s not happening, so it’s BEYOND time for Ken Holland to make the decision that Dombrowski made a year and a half ago.
Now, dealing Vanek, Brendan Smith, Jimmy Howard, Mike Green, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar is probably not going to get you a hockey equivalent of Fulmer or Norris, but it’s LONG past the time for this team to start regrouping while trying to surround Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou with some more young talent.
For too long the Wings’ GM has seemingly only cared about his own resume. He’s acted like a cancer patient who has been told his disease is incurable yet he insists to his oncologist that radiation and chemo treatments need to continue.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer decision and not worthy of a 1,200-word article, but this is the same GM who nine months ago thought Joakim Andersson should be included on the Wings’ playoff roster over Mantha.
(And while Mantha has been the team’s best forward since inexplicably spending the first 15 games of the season in GRAND RAPIDS, Andersson is now playing for something called Örebro HK in Europe. I would tell you what Andersson’s stats are but you can’t find them on the Internet. Seriously. I couldn’t dig them up. He must really be playing in a prestigious league.)
The same Ken Holland who said this about Mantha when Detroit fans were irate over the Mantha snub ….
Yep. Why would anyone think that Mantha could help a goal-starved franchise in their postseason series against Tampa? He only has 11 goals in 26 games this year. In his ENTIRE NHL career of 205 games, Andersson had 15 fucking goals.
Anyway, it’s now bloody obvious that Holland needs to pick up the phone, call Chris Ilitch and advise him that the prudent decision is to commence the rebuild now. That starts with trading any veteran with remotely any value.
And one can only hope that after the deed is done, Holland meets the same fate as Dombrowski.
Thanks for the memories and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. We don’t think you are the answer any longer.