Thursday, August 21, 2008

Detroit Athlete of the Decade Tournament: Round Two

POLLS ARE CLOSED: Chauncey Billups and Nicklas Lidstrom advance to the finals.

Round One is complete, with your winners from each team being Jason Hanson, Chauncey Billups, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Magglio Ordonez. Let the festivities continue!

Semifinal #1: Jason Hanson vs. Chauncey Billups

Jason Hanson (Big Al, SideLion Report)


When [Ace] asked me to pick the Detroit Lions player of the decade as part of his "Detroit Athlete of the Decade" project, I knew it would be a tough assignment. Pro football is a meat grinder, where short careers are the norm. The Lions grind up players like cheap hamburger. The Lions are in the midst of their worst decade ever, with players and coaches coming and going through Matt Millen's fast spinning revolving door. Players come and players go, most of whom make little impression.

But there's one player who's been a Lion seemingly forever, and is likely to retire with the same team who drafted him, an exception to the NFL rule. Even today, after 16 NFL seasons, he is still at the top of his game. This Lion has survived several regime changes, playing for 7 coaches, and has had countless teammates. Despite the constant adversity, he's persevered to become one of the franchise's All-Time greats.

I'm sure you've figured out by now who is my nominee for Detroit Lions player of the decade. Kicker Jason Hanson. Yes, a placekicker. But one of the best placekickers ever.

The stats speak for themselves. Hanson is in elite NFL company: 10th overall in scoring NFL history, 6th overall in field goals made, 16th overall in field goal percentage, along with playing in a pair of Pro Bowls (1997, 1999). Hanson has missed only 12 kicks inside the 40 in those 16 seasons. 12!

In many ways, the Lions' elder statesman is the face of the franchise. Hanson is one of the few players fans can point to with pride. In what's been a decade of disappointment, and full of more ugliness than we care to remember, Hanson has never wavered. The man is money, a big time player on what's been a penny ante franchise.

I've often jokingly called Hanson the Detroit Lions' Most Valuable Player. Thinking about it, it's no joke. As bad as the Lions have been over the past 10 years, it would have been much, much worse without Jason Hanson wearing the Honolulu blue and silver.

Chauncey Billups (Sam Weiss, The Ace of Sports)


If Ben was the heart, Rip was the legs, Tay was the arms, Sheed was the soul and Darko was the appendix, then Chauncey Billups was the head of the 2003-2004 World Champion Detroit Pistons. David Thorpe, Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG Academies, called Chauncey arguably the smartest player in basketball and most Pistons fans would probably agree. In addition to Basketball IQ, Chauncey brought good defense, unselfish play and a cool head to the world champions. One can use descriptions ranging from the vague terms of amateur sportscasters to numbers that only a stat-geek could appreciate. (Examples: unlike most players given the label from nimrod Sportscenter analysts, Chauncey is ‘clutch’. Also, a stat-geek might point out that his Free Throws Attempted per Turnover Committed is outrageously high, tops in the NBA year after year, demonstrating the ability to operate in traffic without losing the ball).

For the last 30 years, the team with the best individual player has always won the NBA finals. Except for the 2003-2004 Pistons. Because of their unique accomplishment, it is difficult to pick any one of them as most responsible. Any one of the starting five could have won the Finals MVP. Were someone to argue that Tayshaun, Rasheed or Ben was more deserving of this honor, his or her argument would certainly have merit, so I’ll keep mine very simple:

A. No sports accomplishment of the last decade meant more to the people of Detroit than the 2003-2004 NBA Championship.
B. By almost any statistical measure, Chauncey was the best player on that team and has been the best player on the Pistons ever since.
C. As a fanatic who has watched the team play (and who loved/loves all Stones equally, even Carlos Delfino and Ronald Dupree), I agree. Chauncey was the most valuable player.

Chauncey doesn’t need to become a symbol of the entire Piston’s team or the city of Detroit itself; he’s got a ring and a Finals MVP Trophy.

(Of course, he could go out and win another championship next year just to make my argument a ittle bit better. Just a thought.)


Semifinal #2: Nicklas Lidstrom vs. Magglio Ordonez

Nicklas Listrom (Dave, Gorilla Crouch)


Nick Lidstrom is widely considered to be one of the top 2 or 3 defensemen to ever play the game. He has been awarded the Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman six of the last seven seasons. He trails only Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey for most Norris trophies awarded to an NHL defenseman. This would be comparable to a pitcher winning 6 out of 7 Cy Young awards or an NBA player winning Defensive Player of the year award that often. It's an incredible feat that has been accomplished by a remarkable and rare talent.

While awards help to make the point, statistics show what a player actually did on the playing surface against his competition. Over the past 10 regular seasons, Nick Lidstrom has averaged playing in 80 of his team's 82 games, and averaged 14 goals and 49 assists per year. That comes out to 63 points per season with an average plus/minus rating of +24. Night in and night out he's faced the absolute best talent in the league and the Red Wings have outscored the opposition by 24 even-strength goals on average every year for the past 10 years.

Regular Season:

Lidstrom's 142 goals is the 3rd most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's 489 assists are the most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's +237 rating is the best by a defenseman over the past 10 seaons.
Won 6 of the last 7 Norris trophy awards.

Lidstrom's 26 goals is the most by a defensemen over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's 76 assists is the most by a defenseman over the past 10 seasons.
Lidstrom's +20 rating is the 4th best by a defensemen over the past 10 seaons.
3-time Stanley Cup champion over the past 10 seasons.
He was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in the 2002 playoffs.


Lidstrom has averaged just under a point a game in Olympic competition over the past three winter competitions and scored the gold-medal winning goal for Sweden in the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nick Lidstrom is the best athlete in Detroit over the past ten seasons. He's been acknowledged as one of the best defensemen in the history of hockey and his regular season and playoff stats bear that out. He's also a three-time world champion over the past 10 seasons, once winning the playoff MVP award in addition to an Olympic gold medal.

Magglio Ordonez (Blake, Spot Starters)


I've heard the argument that the Pudge Rodriguez signing back in February on 2004 was the turning point for the Tigers over the past decade. I think there's some truth to that, but I think there was an even bigger signing and turning point than Pudge's arrival.

The Tigers were hardly contenders in Rodriguez's first season with the team, they went 72-90. They were way better than the year before when they lost 119 games, but still a long ways off. In February of 2005 the Tigers made another free agent splash with the signing of Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez was a four time All Star with the White Sox. While Magglio was coming off of some injuries, he still could have signed with most teams as a free agent. He decided (with some help from a huge contract offer) to sign with the Tigers.

Since joining the Tigers, Magglio has been an absolute beast. He hit the biggest home run by a Tiger since Gibby went yard back in 1984 in the World Series. Magglio's home run off of Huston Street in the 2006 ALCS still gives me goose bumps when I see it. I have a beer cozy (I got it as a wedding gift) that plays the audio of Dan Dickerson's call of the home run, it's seriously chilling stuff.

On top of the big home run, Magglio has a chance to become the first Tiger to win back-to-back batting titles since Ty Cobb won three straight from 1917-1919, not bad company. His .363 mark from 2007 is the best average by a Tiger since Charlie Gehringer hit .371 in 1937. Again, pretty impressive company.

Above all, Magglio helped bring respectability to Detroit Tigers baseball again. The Tigers picked Pudge up at the tail end of his career, they nabbed Magglio in his prime. Just watching him take a change up to the opposite field makes a guy feel lucky to have him on his team.

Whenever you doubt how much this guy has meant to the Tigers, try to remember exactly how you felt when you saw him rounding the bases with his fist raised high as he sent the Tigers to their first World Series in 22 years. Feel those goose bumps?



Ace said... looks like Magglio got a tough draw.

Anonymous said...

Yzerman should be there instead of Lidstrom. Sorry, but Yzerman was the better player for the Wings. He carried this team on it's back for 18 years until after 2002. I know he doesn't have the awards, but who cares? Lidstrom had no competition whatsoever and he played with great partners. Besides, the Wings wouldn't have won any cups without Yzerman, but without Lidstrom we'd still win all the cups. In fact I think we would've won a couple more cups if we wouldn't have had Lidstrom on the team. He has always been a terrible playoff player and he has done more damage than good. Let's not forget that Yzerman did it with a bum knee for 18 years. He was told to retire, but didn't. The fact that a one legged player was better than a healthy Lidstrom speaks volumes about what a great player that Yzerman was. It's a great dishonor to Yzerman and all Detroit fans that the truly best athlete of the past decade is not on here.

Anonymous said...

The only reason Lidstrom is still in it was because the write up for Yzerman so poor and some blogger told everyone to vote for Lidstrom rather than the actual best athlete. So much was left out about Yzerman it's no wonder that he didn't win. No mention of his conn smythe, selke, Bill Masterton, that he was the wings best player in the 02 playoffs, and the majority of the other playoffs, no mention of him carrying the team while Fedorov held out in 98. There was also no mention of the playoff chokes when Yzerman was out with injury, no mention of Yzerman being the wings second best player in his last playoff, no mention of 10 game point scoring streak (longest on the team) in his last season, no mention of him winning a gold medal and a stanley cup in the same year on one leg. No mention of Yzerman playing 18 years on a bum leg, etc. I could go on and on. What the bloggers did to Yzerman was a joke. Lidstrom may be their favorite player, but Yzerman was the better player and it's no knock on Lidstrom.