This season, Detroit Red Wings players and fans will see a new head coach lead the team for the first time in a decade. The Red Wings chose Jeff Blashill this summer to replace Mike Babcock, after he signed with Toronto to coach the Maple Leafs. Blashill certainly should not feel any pressure taking the reins of one of the most prestigious Original Six NHL franchises and replacing the winningest coach in team history.
Well, maybe there is some pressure, but Blashill is inheriting a competent group that almost knocked out the Stanley Cup runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. In addition, he will likely fare better than most recent coaches in team history if the Red Wings play to their potential. Let’s take a look at how recent Detroit Red Wings coaches, and their teams, performed in the coaches’ respective first years.
The winningest coach in team history started winning right away in his first season with the Red Wings. Babcock led his team of aging superstars, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and Nicklas Lidstrom, and budding all-stars, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, to the President’s Trophy, before getting knocked out by Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs.
Joining the Red Wings from Pittsburgh before the 1993-94 season, Scotty Bowman dynamically changed the franchise into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Unfortunately, it took two years to actually reach the finals. In Bowman’s first year with the team, the Red Wings finished with 100 points in the regular season for only the second time in franchise history behind Sergei Fedorov’s MVP season. The success did not translate to the playoffs, however, as the Red Wings were bounced in the first round by the San Jose Sharks. The series was capped off by Jamie Baker’s goal on a memorable (for the wrong reasons) Chris Osgood turnover.
It was under former coach Bryan Murray that the Red Wings’ current streak of 24 consecutive playoff appearances first started. Like Babcock and Bowman, Murray’s Red Wings were defeated in the first round, this time by future Red Wing Brett Hull the St. Louis Blues. The Wings, led by Yzerman, Fedorov, and Tim Cheveldae in net, opened the series winning three of the first four games, before fizzling and losing three straight.
Finally, some success. Jacques Demers inherited a talented bunch in the fall of 1986 and led the Red Wings to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers. He would also capture his first Jack Adams Award that season. Demers’ Red Wings would go on to repeat the Western Conference exit against the Oilers the next year, but at least Demers brought home Trader Jack’s trophy once again. Demers remained as coach through the 1989-90 season, the last season the Red Wings missed the playoffs.
Though there are some famous names on the list of previous Red Wings coaches, it’s not out of the question that Jeff Blashill could join their ranks by the time he is done in Detroit. Advancing to the second round of the playoffs will put him ahead of Murray, Bowman, and Babcock in terms of first year success.
So is it too much to ask Blashill to lead the Red Wings to their 25th straight playoff appearance and do better than those three prolific coaches? No. His confidence and winning ways were major factors in the decision to hire him within the organization and eventually as the next head coach of the Red Wings. Keep the expectations high for Blashill.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.