The Detroit Red Wings recently rewarded head coach Jeff Blashill with a contract extension. I’m clearly using the term reward loosely. Not very often will someone who often finishes last or thereabouts on a yearly basis earn a new deal, but this goes to show you how bad former general manager Ken Holland left things here in Detroit.
Holland certainly had his bright moments as GM being the man in charge for the franchise’s last three Stanley Cup championships. Many are reluctant to give Holland credit for his success but rather point the finger to Mike Ilitch for providing his general manager with an open checkbook.
There is something to be said about that. In 2001, Ilitch willingly financed the additions of eventual Hall Of Famers Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Dominik Hasek. Don’t forget it was Holland filling in the blanks by adding under the radar veterans such as Steve Duchesne, Fredrik Olausson, and Jiri Slegr.
Holland also orchestrated a deal in 1999 to land Chris Chelios for Andres Eriksson and two first-round picks, neither of which would materialize into anything at the NHL level. Chelios ended up spending more years with the Detroit Red Wings.
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Rebuilding became Holland’s downfall. Rather than realize the organization had been in dire need of a complete rebuild, the Detroit Red Wings tried to limp by and rebuild on the fly.
It didn’t work.
People seemed to get caught up in the team’s playoff streak, which was cute, but the last time I checked, being bounced in the first round of the playoffs year only hampered the organization’s ability to land a significant building block caliber player. Look at the team right now; what are they missing? Right, you’ve guessed it, an elite caliber player.
It’s not fair to place all of the blame on Jeff Blashill for the Detroit Red Wings’ lack of success in recent years.
Blashill certainly deserves his fair share of the blame, but absolutely not all of it. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve noticed with Yzerman as the boss, Blashill’s coaching philosophy has changed some. With Holland as his direct boss, Blashill continued the Babcock-like playing the veterans and letting the youth rot on the end of the bench playing 10 or so minutes per night despite playing in meaningless games.
Under Yzerman, it’s been a different approach. Finally, you can clearly see the organization is committed to developing its more talented prospects in critical roles. Rather than play the Valtteri Filppulas’ and Frans Nielsens’ Blashill elected to play Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina top-six minutes.
There is only so much a coach can do with the roster he’s given. Look at this Red Wings roster. Even the great Scotty Bowman would struggle to win hockey games with this group of players.
It seems Yzerman is willing to roll with Blashill behind the bench for at least another season, but we all expect he’s more of a stopgap coach rather than the coach who will see this rebuild finally come to fruition.
It’s no secret the Red Wings have struggled in all facets of the game, especially over the past two seasons. Their power-play unit finished the year with an atrocious 11.4% success rate. The league average was just a tick under 20%. Assistant coach Dan Bylsma who had been in charge of the teams’ power-play since being hired in 2018, won’t be back next season.
Detroit finished the 2021 season scoring just 127 goals (30th out of 31). I understand that injuries are partly to blame here, but the Red Wings were not a good team, even healthy. Blashill can only deploy who he has on his bench, and let’s be honest here, the talent on that bench is few and far between.
Personally, I would have liked to see Yzerman pursue his former teammate Gerard Gallant to take over as the team’s bench boss, but maybe he did and was denied. Coaching the Detroit Red Wings is not very desirable at the moment.