With the Detroit Red Wings on winter break until they play at the New York Rangers on Jan. 31, it’s a perfect opportunity for a series of mailbags.
Today’s question comes from Free Press reader Pat B., who wonders about the state of head coach Jeff Blashill. Blashill is in his fifth season behind the Wings’ bench.
“Can you please explain what’s going on with Blashill? The Wings have the worst record in the NHL standings by a mile. How many other coaches have lost their jobs this season, and some of them their teams were winning. What is Yzerman thinking?”
Seven coaches have been fired this season, five for on-ice performance issues: Gerard Gallant by the Vegas Golden Knights, Peter Laviolette by the Nashville Predators, Peter DeBoer by the San Jose Sharks, John Hynes by the New Jersey Devils and Mike Babcock by the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Bill Peters resigned from the Calgary Flames and Jim Montgomery was dismissed by the Dallas Stars for unprofessional conduct). In Gallant’s case it marked the third time he has been fired from an NHL head coaching job — he was dismissed by the Columbus Blue Jackets in November 2006 and by the Florida Panthers in November 2016. All three firings happened during Gallant’s third year with the teams.
More: How does Gerard Gallant’s firing affect Yzerman, Blashill and the Detroit Red Wings?
The Wings are 148-180-51 under Blashill. He came in at a difficult time — one of the reasons behind Babcock’s decision not to continue as coach of the Wings after the 2014-15 season was the organization’s lack of depth in the farm system. Babcock had hired Blasilll as an assistant in July 2011, on the strength of a resume highlighted by coaching Western Michigan’s hockey team to the 2011 NCAA Division I tournament. Blashill was named coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012 and coached the Griffins to the 2013 AHL championship. Blashill was named coach of the year in the AHL in 2014. When Babcock departed, Blashill was a natural successor.
More: Detroit Red Wings mailbag: What to truly watch during the rest of this dreadful season
To pin this dismal season on Blashill is unfair. The Wings lack an established no. 1 defenseman (that’s what the hope is Moritz Seider evolves into) and a game-changer up front (that’s the hope for FIlip Zadina). General manager Steve Yzerman has tried to strengthen the team via a handful of moves, but they have been minor ones: Signing free agents Valtteri Filppula, Patrik Nemeth and Calvin Pickard, and trading for Adam Erne, Alex Biega, Brendan Perlini and Robby Fabbri. Injuries have had an impact — the team’s top defenseman, Danny DeKeyser, was lost to a back injury eight games into the season. Anthony Mantha had 24 points in 29 games when his decision to challenge Toronto’s Jake Muzzin for a hit on Madison Bowey led to a ribcage/shoulder injury that may cost Mantha the rest of the season. Once the Wings resume their schedule there should be a better feel for when Andreas Athanasiou is expected to return from a lower-body injury that has sidelined Dec. 29.
More: Detroit Red Wings mailbag: Does it make sense to trade Luke Glendening?
There have been so many injuries that 11 defensemen have made appearances, and that Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are the only players not to have missed a game. Injuries happen to all teams, but the Wings don’t have the depth to mask theirs, resulting in a lineup patched with call-ups and underperforming veterans.
So what is Yzerman thinking? He keeps his cards close to his chest, but there has been no indication he is going to make an in-season coaching change. Gallant is a former teammate and long-time friend, but Yzerman also has a connection to New York Islanders assistant coach Lane Lambert, who was a fellow 1983 draft pick and Yzerman’s roommate when he first moved to Detroit. Lambert was an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
The bottom line is, if Yzerman didn’t think Blashill is having a positive impact on the young players — Larkin, Bertuzzi, Zadina, Filip Hronek — then Blashill would not still be behind the Wings’ bench. Yzerman doesn’t watch only games, he watches practices at Little Caesars Arena. That’s what Yzerman is judging, not where the Wings are in the standings. The optics of missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season may lead to Blashill not coaching the Wings next season, but to his credit, the Wings largely have continued to play hard even as they’ve tumbled to the bottom of the NHL.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.
Published at Wed, 29 Jan 2020 12:20:18 +0000