Motown Blues: the current state and outlook of Detroit’s sports franchises

Sam Britten, General Assignment Reporter

Detroit’s sports teams haven’t been the kindest to their fans in recent memory. There have been three championships this millennium, which is as many or more than some other major markets. But since the Red Wings hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2008, hard times have fallen on all the teams in the Motor City.

The city has seen 18 championships between its four teams which is fifth all-time among cities with professional sports, though the Red Wings organization has put Detroit on its back as it has 11 of these titles. Today we focus on the recent success and failure, but mostly failure, and an outlook of the four Detroit teams.

Red Wings

Last title: 2008

Last playoff series win: 2013 Conference Quarterfinals

Starting with Detroit’s most successful sports franchise, the Red Wings are the team fans can look to when they need to be reminded not all Detroit teams are struggling. Dating back to the 1983-84 season, Detroit was perennially in the postseason, including a playoff streak that spanned from the 1990-91 season until the 2015-16 season. Four Stanley Cups and six Presidents’ Trophies were won in these 26 years. Success like this isn’t seen frequently seen in professional sports.

Despite all the historical success, the Wings haven’t won more than 33 games in the last three seasons and they haven’t seen a conference finals appearance since 2009 when they lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Wings have committed to rebuilding and tanking for draft picks.

Despite the dedication to this strategy, the Red Wings won eight of their last 11 games this past season, propelling them to a lower spot in the NHL draft, which means no Jack Hughes. This all might be unfortunate for Hockeytown, but there is some other news that will make fans happy.

The Captain is back.

Steve Yzerman’s return to Detroit has reinvigorated the excitement of going to a Detroit hockey game. He was an executive on the 2008 championship team and accomplished plenty in Tampa Bay. Coupled with his success as a player, he is a beloved man in Detroit that no one will be unhappy to have back.

No, the Red Wings probably won’t turn it around in a season, but they still have a top draft pick and just got a successful general manager. The Wings have everything in their power to get back to where they once were as a franchise.

Outlook: It might take a year or two, possibly even more, but the Red Wings will be back.


Last title: 1984

Last playoff series win: 2012 ALCS

The Tigers aren’t one of the greatest MLB franchises, but there have been a few teams that had players good enough to get their numbers retired and win a championship, the 2000s, and the 2010s teams weren’t.

Five playoff appearances this millennium and two of them resulting in an AL pennant. Two World Series appearances isn’t an easy thing to do in seven seasons, and neither is winning just one game in those two championship series.

The Tiger’s winning percentage since 2000 is .475 and the struggles don’t look to be going away for a few more years. Signing Miguel Cabrera to a contract extension that will make him a Tiger until 2023 wasn’t a good move. When the organization realized the fallout of building a championship caliber team in the early 2010s wasn’t going away anytime soon, the organization finally committed to rebuilding.

This team is higher on this list, however, because of the young prospects coming up soon. One of these young players being the Tigers’ 2018 No. 1 overall selection Casey Mize who just pitched a no-hitter in his AA debut.

Having to pay Cabrera $164 million after the 2019 season hurts, and it’s tough on the Tigers’ payroll. Once this beloved player puts down the bat and decides it’s time to call it quits, or his contract runs out, the Tigers will have money to go out and chase free agents.

The organization, however, doesn’t need to get rid of Cabrera to go around spending money, they just need to get closer to the end of his contract, at that point it will be time to start winning.

Detroit hasn’t been known as one of baseball’s best teams, but it has a dedicated fanbase that wants to see things change soon and the up and coming prospects very well might change that.

Outlook: Fans might need to go through some more tough years, but there is a bright light at the end of a long tunnel.


Last title: 2004

Last playoff series win: 2008 Conference Semifinals

The Pistons’ titles have been some of the most interesting stories in the NBA. The Bad Boys of the 1980s were one of the most entertaining teams to watch while the 2004 squad defeated the Shaq and Kobe Lakers not with superstar talent, but with suffocating defense. This team has had the most success this millennium of a Detroit team behind the Red Wings.

They did see a decade of success in the 2000s but have since dropped off. The organization had 11 different head coaches since the 2000-01 season and six alone since the 2009-10 season. Since 2010, Detroit has had seven first-round draft picks. Just two of the selections are still on the team and Andre Drummond is the only all-star with two appearances.

Trading away a first-round pick for Blake Griffin looked like a novice move originally, but has since proven to look at least somewhat promising. The former 2009 No. 1-overall selection has shown he’s still got it after averaging almost 25 points per game and being selected to his sixth all-star game.

Fortunately for the Motor City, Detroit will take a player in the first round this year, but it’s not a lottery pick. After getting manhandled by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, the question has been asked if snagging the No. 8 seed was worth it. In the long run, it probably wasn’t enough for missing out on a lottery pick.

The outlook is bleak for the Pistons. Being able to draft first round talent is nice, but it would be nicer if it was top talent, and Detroit’s track record in the first round isn’t great. They will have a former coach of the year in Dwane Casey back, but if they have another season like this year’s, that won’t mean much.

They will have Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond again, but there’s no telling how much longer they’ll be willing to stay. Both players contracts will come to an end soon. The Pistons have to go all in. Whether this means tanking for talent or making aggressive offseason moves, the franchise won’t be turned around without doing one way or the other. Consistently taking a first round exit, or a low lottery pick that is as bad, if not worse, isn’t a way to turn a franchise around.

Something needs to change at Little Caesars Arena fast if the Pistons want to see a turnaround anytime soon.

Outlook: It feels like the Pistons will forever be .500, and if they don’t make an aggressive free agency move or trade up in the draft for a promising player, this might again be the case.


Last Title: Never (Super Bowl era)

Last playoff win: 1991 Divisional Playoff

The Lions, Detroit’s most unsuccessful professional sports franchise with one playoff win in the Super Bowl era and the current record holders of the most consecutive postseason losses in the league. Detroit has also gone 27 seasons without a playoff win, which is currently the second-highest active drought among teams behind Cincinnati.

Whether it’s “The Curse of Bobby Layne” or the Fords still struggling to figure things out all these years later, Detroit has been one of the NFL’s laughingstocks. With Cleveland seeming to finally figure things out, Detroit stands alone.

Hiring Matt Patricia seemed like a good decision, and it still very well might be, but after watching a rookie quarterback pick apart the former defensive coordinator’s defense in week one, he didn’t look too promising. Finishing the year with a 6-10 record after the team finished 9-7 the year prior didn’t rub fans the right way, but it still was Patricia’s first season, and for that reason, he deserves more time.

The draft was an opportunity to make up for a long season, especially with the No. 8 overall pick. Most fans were expecting a pass rusher, someone to make Darius Slay’s job easier in the secondary. In a draft rich with defensive players, the Lions take a tight end.

T.J. Hockenson was selected over Montez Sweat, Ed Oliver, Rashan Gary, and Devin Bush. While some of the aforementioned players might not have been worthy of the No. 8 overall pick, as Sweat fell to No. 26, it seemed that a defensive talent would still have been the way to go.

It’s not about who the Lions took as Hockenson may very well be a great player, but it’s the position they drafted. Starting with the fact that struggling teams don’t need tight ends, the Lions should have taken a defensive talent. Tight ends are a luxury pick that teams coming off of a playoff run take. If a team like the Lions were to take a tight end, they should have done so in a later round.

It is questionable draft picks like this that have kept the Lions in such disarray for all these years. Signing Matt Stafford to a contract extension that at the time made him the highest paid player in the league was also a bit of a head-scratcher. Stafford is a good quarterback that deserved an extension, but he hasn’t done anything to prove himself.

Stats are permanent and the Texas native has proved he can sling a football, but he hasn’t done anything in the postseason. Even if the penalty had been called against the Cowboys in the 2014 wildcard game, one playoff win doesn’t justify a big pay raise.

An organization that won’t commit to tanking might be doing the league some favors in the sense that tanking is boring and bad for the NFL, but it certainly isn’t doing the team any favors. Stafford, Patricia, and GM Bob Quinn will have all the eyes, as many as a Detroit team gets at least, on them this year. If anything that happened last year repeats this next season, changes should happen.

One year might be too soon to judge a new coach’s approach. If it works out for Patricia, then Lions fans will finally have something to cheer about for the first time in a while.

Outlook: Bleak. The Lions can never seem to do much of anything, even if they do make it to the postseason. If what Matt Patricia is doing does prove to be effective, then there might be some hope.