The hockey world is on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a great deal of questions — and little certainty regarding answers.
This Detroit Red Wings mailbag focuses on Jeff Blashill’s future. Grant B. emailed to ask: When is Steve going to make a coaching change?
The Wings (17-49-5) have been at or near the bottom of the standings since early November, and will finish in last place no matter what happens to the rest of the regular season. They’ve been bad all season — that 3-1 mirage of a start was shattered by a 1-11-1 stretch. A three-game wining streak — the longest of the season — segued into an 0-10-2 stretch.
Words like “catastrophic” were used to describe the season — and that was by one of the players, Dylan Larkin.
Throughout the many losing streaks, there was no indication general manager Steve Yzerman was considering removing Jeff Blashill from his head coaching duties. Yzerman backed Blashill going into the season, and did so again as recently as Feb. 24, in what was Yzerman’s last availability with media, following the trade deadline. Yzerman called it “unfair” to judge Blashill on “our team’s record.”
The Wings have been undermined by injuries — defenseman Danny DeKeyser was lost to a back injury after just eight games — and underperforming veterans. Goaltender Jimmy Howard is 2-23-2 with a .882 save percentage and 4.20 goals-against average — the worst in the NHL for goalies who have appeared in at least 25 games. The only reason Blashill kept playing Howard — in order to relieve Jonathan Bernier — was because there were no other options. Calvin Pickard, the goalie Yzerman signed last July to be the third string guy, fared so poorly in three NHL appearances he has a .797 save percentage and 5.46 GAA. And the guy Yzerman traded for in November, Eric Comrie, was placed on waivers after posting an .864 save percentage and 4.28 GAA in three games.
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That was the situation in goal. Up front, Frans Nielsen (nine points in 60 games against a $5.25 million cap hit) and Justin Abdelkader (three assists in 49 games against a $4.25 million cap hit) are on the leaderboard for disappointing return on investment. Blashill benched Abdelkader when possible (at least five times) but injuries limited that option. Andreas Athanasiou belonged on that same board; a 30-goal scorer last season, he had 10 goals and a league-worst minus-45 rating when he was traded Feb. 24.
The defense was such a patchwork that 14 players made appearances.
So does Blashill bear the blame for this bleak season? Yzerman clearly thinks otherwise. It’s doubtful Blashill would have lasted the season if he hadn’t done the one thing Yzerman emphasized he needed to do last summer: the development of the young players key to the rebuild.
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Blashill was signed to a two-year extension (the second year is optional) on April 2, 17 days before Yzerman took over the team. Maybe Yzerman wants another coach in charge next season, but the uncertainty of whether the NHL season will resume makes any change right now unlikely. The NHL may decide it’s worth waiting as late as August to resume the season — if so, would the Wings still have to participate?
Given this is the fourth year under Blashill the Wings have missed the playoffs, Yzerman may well install a new coach for the 2020-21 season. The leading candidates are two former teammates: Gerard Gallant, who has been available since being let go by Vegas in January, and Lane Lambert, an assistant coach with the New York Islanders and Yzerman’s former roommate.
But the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 crisis — will the season be un-paused at some point, or canceled — has pretty much put everything on hold.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.
Published at Thu, 26 Mar 2020 14:08:45 +0000