By Jeff Riger

“This isn’t my first rodeo!” Isn’t that the saying?

Now that football is officially over, what are people going to do?

You see it happens every year. When the NFL is done, it seems like the overall passion for sports hibernates until the spring hits, more specifically March Madness. The month of February is the roughest as far as covering and watching sports is concerned. There is no championship or playoff game of any kind near, and all we are left with is brutal cold weather (even though it has been great of late) and regular season minutia. Seriously….

Is anybody really concerned about the Wings lackluster power play with, considering they have so much skill and over 25 games left to play?

Both Michigan and Michigan State seem to be automatics to go dancing in March, so regular season Big ten drama really doesn’t exist.

And then there are the Pistons, ahh, hmm, well they are on a 2 game winning streak.

So again, what are people going to do now?

Well don’t worry about it; I have decided to help out. Below I have listed the top 3 story lines to observe as we all wait for March to roll on in.

1. Who will win the Wings backup goalie gig?

As of now Jimmy Howard has solidified himself as one of the best goalies in the game and obviously Detroit’s number one man. But who is the second string? Who will the Wings be forced to trust if something happens to Howard, a guy that is out right now suffering from a broken finger?

The way I see it, Detroit has three choices when it comes to their back up. Ty Conklin, Joey MacDonald or trade for someone at the deadline. Right now it’s not looking like Conklin can be the choice or is even trustworthy. Conk’s got lit up in the 1st period on Saturday night in Edmonton allowing 3 goals on just 9 shots before being replaced by MacDonald. In fact Conklin, throughout the course of the year has not been dependable at all going just 3-5-0 with a 3.40 goals against average and a .878 save percentage. You have to wonder how many chances Conklin will have left to prove himself?

As for MacDonald, he is a lifelong minor leaguer; however that in it will not exclude him from the conversation. Joey Mac knows what it takes to play in the NHL, but does he have what it takes? MacDonald is 31 years old and has played in limited action with 4 different teams, and never once has he got to remain in the NHL for an entire season. I have seen games where MacDonald has been lights out in both a Wings and Islanders uniform, however he never get the chance to start a season with a NHL team, instead he is forced to play in the AHL. Right now MacDonald is, maybe the best opportunity to finish the season on the Wings roster if he seizes the chance. If MacDonald plays well before Howard comes back, he could very well be the backup.

As for the third option… Trading for a back up, I don’t foresee happening. There are many possibilities out there for the Wings to look at if they want to, however I would assume the majority of money that Detroit has to spend will go to the likes of a forward that can play on the 3rd or 4th line and has the ability to kill penalties. So again, the competition seems like it will come down to Conklin or MacDonald. My money is on MacDonald!

Other storylines to watch for are…

Henrik Zetterberg is having a down season as far as points are concerned, Z has all the ability in the world to bounce back and finish strong, but will he? Zetterberg has just 38 points and 9 goals this year. He is a plus 9!

Can the home success continue? Detroit is in a real good spot the remainder of the year as they have just 10 road games left for the season. The Wings are 20-2 and 1 at the Joe and 15-16 and 1 on the road.

2. What seeds will Michigan and Michigan State be in the NCAA Tournament?

We start with MSU who has the ability to be a 1 seed if they win the conference. Even if State finishes behind Ohio State and makes a run in the Big Ten tournament, they still would possibly be a top seed, if not a 2 seed for sure. The Spartans right now have all the makings of a typical Tom Izzo “tough out” in the big dance. Draymond Green, after a sensational performance against Michigan seems like he gets it now. Green is a senior that no doubt is the leader and is capable of beating you from anywhere on the floor. “Day Day” also should be motivated from an early out in the tournament last year. Keith Appling and Branden Dawson seem to be coming into their own as well and could play a huge factor down the stretch too.

MSU has yet to play Ohio State, so the conference is still very up in the air.

As for Michigan, the Wolverines need to find a way to win on the road. Michigan has won just one time in enemy territory which came in West Lafayette last month against Purdue. Currently, the Wolverines seem to win one game only to lose the next one. When on, the “Maize and Blue” can hang with or beat anybody in the country. Freshman guard Trey Burke has proven to be a solid leader for the team, however the freshman mistakes still pop up at inopportune times. Michigan has plenty of senior leadership as well in Zack Novak and Stu Douglass who desperately want to know what it feels like to make it to the “Sweet 16” of the tournament. The one x-factor this season is the play of Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway last season proved that he could take over a game at times, but this year he has not shown that ability very often.

I say Michigan, when it’s all said and done finishes 3rd in the conference and earns them a 4 or 5 seed.

3. Will the Pistons come closer to getting the first pick of the draft or making the playoffs?

Currently Detroit is 4-20 and actually has a better record than the Wizards, Hornets and Bobcats. Of course you can look at things from a positive viewpoint as well and discover that Detroit is just 5 and a half games out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a lot of basketball left to play. If I had to bet on it, I would say Detroit will come closer to the lottery balls than a postseason berth but believe it or not, and this may sound crazy, it seems like the Pistons actually have a core forming. The games of Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight will only evolve as the season continues and Austin Daye has shown at times like he can contribute as well.

Make no mistake, the Pistons are awful, however with a good draft pick to maybe find a frontcourt mate for Monroe, this team might be competitive sooner rather than later. In the meantime, it could be fun watching Monroe and Knight mature. I did say could! It could be brutal as well! If nothing else, you can watch other teams in the game tear Detroit up as the Pistons will play both the Lakers and Clippers this season as well as the Heat a couple more times. Those games could be intriguing.

So there are my top 3 storylines that hopefully will get you to the month of March.

Of course Spring Training starts as well soon so there will be plenty of drama there, seeing if Miguel Cabrera can actually play third base?

If none of the above suggestions work, try watching a movie…or the TV show “Justified” that works for me!


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