Detroit Red Wings’ Moritz Seider winning Calder Trophy validates Steve Yzerman’s genius

Detroit Free Press

This is about hockey, but it’s also about basketball — and just a little bit about football — so let me start off by using a baseball metaphor.

Because the fact is it was always going to be tough for Detroit to turn the rare double play of having concurrent rookies of the year in the NHL and the NBA.

No city has had that honor since Boston in 1980, when Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque and Celtics forward Larry Bird were voted the top youngsters in their respective leagues.

Oh, yeah. They also went on to become Hall of Famers and, in Bird’s case, an era-defining icon of the sport. So, you know, no pressure on the next two kids who accomplish this for their city.

But Tuesday night was about Moritz Seider, the Detroit Red Wings’ big, young, promising defenseman who did more than win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He validated the drafting genius of Steve Yzerman, who used his very first pick as Red Wings general manager to select Seider sixth overall in 2019.

Sixth. Overall. Do you hear me, Troy Weaver? Not first overall, like Cade Cunningham, or even fourth overall like Scottie Barnes, this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year. Sixth! SIXTH!

OK, I’m just having some fun. Picking a player first overall doesn’t guarantee rookie hardware — right, Mathew Stafford? But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be sore about Cunningham losing out to Barnes — even though he didn’t have nearly the supporting cast on a rebuilding Pistons team that the Barnes had on a perennial playoff contender like the Toronto Raptors with two All-Star teammates.

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Not that any of that bothers me, of course.

But this is about Seider and the Wings and, in a larger sense, Detroit’s pro sports teams that have logged more time on their rebuilds than Dan Gilbert’s Hudson site and the Roman Empire combined.

If you watched any Wings games this season, you watched Seider, because he played in all 82. He was an all-around excellent player, who showed poise at the blue line and a nice scoring touch, finishing with seven goals and 43 assists. That made him the first Wings defenseman to reach 50 points since Nicklas Lidstrom in 2010-11.

And like a seasoned pro, Seider made sure at the awards ceremony Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida, to thank the organization, as well as the most important people.

“Last but not least, also the city of Detroit,” he said. “Great fans and it’s very fun to be a Red Wing.”

There you go, Mo! Nothing wrong with a little butt smooching.

But Seider’s night was also about Lucas Raymond, the rookie Wings forward whose great stickhandling, nose for the net and 23 goals and 57 points in 82 games also put him in the early running for the Calder. Raymond was Yzerman’s first pick — fourth overall — in his second draft as Wings GM.

And that’s why Seider’s season, as well as Raymond’s season, is really about Yzerman’s success and the Wings’ ascending trajectory. It’s not just about one award or two young players or one season in which the team showed early promise.

It’s about the process, even though I’ve grown to hate the phrase that’s been appropriated by coaches and teams who use it as code to tell everyone to shut up and wait.

But in Yzerman’s case, it’s true. The man has the patience of Job and reveals almost nothing about his plans. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Yzerman still hasn’t hired a coach by the All-Star break.

But you don’t acquire two elite youngsters like Seider and Raymond by accident.

Look, we know each other by now, right? If not, then hello, I’m Carlos. They call me Los or C-Los or C-Money — and probably some other names we can’t print. But if you know anything about me, you know I’m not an easy grader. I’m not an optimistic pushover. I don’t traffic in false hope and the saccharine nostalgia of bygone eras.

I’m about the here and the now. Forget about Stafford and Justin Verlander and the Bad Boys and the Grind Line and all the rest of it. None of that matters now. Detroit’s last rookie of the year was pitcher Michael Fulmer in 2016 — and the Tigers haven’t finished higher than third in the division since.

Even if Seider hadn’t won the Calder, my outlook for the Wings and what Yzerman is doing with them wouldn’t have changed. Even though the Tigers are struggling, young players like Beau Brieske, Riley Greene and, yes, even Spencer Torkelson show us the team is moving – perhaps a bit slowly this year – on a path forward.

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Weaver will get his chance to try to one-up his Little Caesars counterpart when the Pistons pick fifth in the NBA draft on Thursday. There’s an abundance of options, but Weaver should find a player who pairs with Cunningham and moves the team forward in the near future.

Even the Lions have a weird buzz about them. But if their last rookie of year, Ndamukong Suh in 2010, could only help them to an 0-2 playoff record, don’t hold your breath or raise your hopes too high when you visit training camp in Allen Park.

It’s always hard to see a team’s future. Sometimes we need signs, like plaques and trophies, that tell us a team is on the right path. But the fact the Wings hadn’t had the NHL’s top rookie since goalie Roger Crozier in 1965, and still managed to win four Stanley Cups in the past 25 years, should tell us champions aren’t built with personal hardware.

So congrats to Seider. But more importantly, good luck to Yzerman, Weaver and the rest of Detroit’s GMs as they continue to construct their entire teams.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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